The Public Perception of “Cults” and “New Religious Movements”

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Abstract:

The term “cult” has attracted much criticism from several sociologists of religion and religious studies scholars in recent years, and many scholars have dropped the word for a less pejorative term such as “new religious movement” (NRM). This research note seeks to determine if simply substituting an alternative term for cult changes people's attitudes toward a religious group. To this end, over 2,400 randomly selected Nebraskans were asked how comfortable they would feel if their neighbor joined a cult, NRM, or a “new Christian church,” and whether the government should regulate the activities of these groups. The survey results reveal the remarkably negative view Nebraskans have of cults, their general acceptance of NRMs, and their broad support for new Christian churches.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-5906.2006.00008.x

Affiliations: Paul Olson teaches in the Department of Sociology, 3303 Rebecca St., Briar Cliff University, Sioux City, IA 51104., Email: paul.olson@briarcliff.edu.

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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