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It is widely acknowledged that the United States has always provided fertile ground for the growth of new religious movements and cults, but modern organized efforts to oppose and restrict them have been less well understood. In Agents of Discord, Anson Shupe and Susan E. Darnell offer a groundbreaking analysis of the operations and motives of these oppositional groups, which they generally group under the umbrella term of the anticult movement.
Historically there have always been parallel groups opposed to certain religious movements, whether these be anti-Quaker, anti-Roman Catholic, or anti-Mormon. The authors establish the cultural context of such movements in the nineteenth century. They point out the link between modern anticult movements and nativist movements in American history. Turning to the postwar era, the authors discuss the rise of anticult movements and focus specifically on one of the most prominent, the Cult Awareness Network (CAN). CAN was a two-tiered organization. Partly composed of volunteers, donors, and families affected by cult movements, it also included what the authors call an "inner sanctum" of behavioral science professionals, attorneys, and deprogrammers. Using never-before-reported data on CAN's activities, the authors cite an extensive history of financial impropriety that finally led to the organization's bankruptcy. They offer a pointed critique, informed by current scholarship, of the "brainwashing" model of mental enslavement presented by the anticult movement that has been a central assumption undergirding its activities. At the same time, they show how increasing professionalization has gradually begun a shift of such movements to a therapeutic model of exit counseling that rejects the crude methods of earlier intervention strategies.
In their analysis of the anticult movement nationally and internationally, Shupe and Darnell merge sociological concepts and social history to make unique sense of a heretofore relatively unexplored phenomenon.
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Anson Shupe is professor of sociology at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne. A prolific writer dealing with religious movements, clergy misconduct, violence, and inequality, he is the author of Agents of Discord; Rogue Clerics; Self, Attitudes, and Emotion Work (all Transaction); and Spoils of the Kingdom.Review:
"The popular stereotype of dangerous 'cults' as grave, and growing, social menaces has persisted despite considerable scholarship debunking such claims. Shupe and Darnell show how which a relatively small special interest group, the anti-cult movement, has had great influence despite its own many foibles and a lack of real evidence for its conclusions.Members of the anti-cult movement see themselves as saving 'cult victims.' This engrossing and thoroughly researched volume, however, shows another reality: a movement that has achieved widespread public backing for poorly-conceived ideas and for activities that have often crossed the line into illegality. "
—Tim Miller Religious Studies, KU
"There is a plethora of research on religious "cults" but little information on the countermovements that made them infamous. Through determined sociological detective work, Shupe and Darnell have produced a hard-hitting, revealing, sociologically informed analysis of these "Agents of Discord."
—David G. Bromley, Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies, Department of Sociology, Virginia Commonwealth University
"This is masterful, copiously documented, work on one of the foremost issues in the study of new religious movements, namely, the negative and belligerent reaction to their presence and activities. It provides the historical, political, and ideological backgrounds of the Anti-Cult Movement, especially those of the Cult Awareness Network, one of the leading proponents of the brainwashing theory and the practice of deprogramming. It is also a fine example of the resource mobilization approach applied to an anti-cult movement."
—John Saliba, University of Detroit Mercy
“This is a very important historical source for all who are interested in the ‘cult wars’ that have taken place in America and elsewhere. The meticulous research that has gone into this volume is without peer. The authors document the machinations of the anti-cult movement’s leading figures, and also reveal the many connections between the American ACM and developments in other countries. This effort is couched in a sound sociological theoretical approach that makes it a valuable source for a number of different courses, as well as for scholars and policy makers.”
—James T. Richardson, University of Nevada- Reno
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