Cults & How They Work



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Description: This course is designed to explore what cults are and how they function. We will focus our attention to examine the methods by which cults recruit, convert, retain, and influence members, and we will use social psychological principles--for example, conformity, isolation, deindividuation, brainwashing, among others--to explore inner workings of cults and strategies of manipulation. In the latter portion of the course, we will examine cult leadership qualities and organizational/group processes to i) understand broad profiles of individuals and groups that may be using the abovementioned manipulation strategies and ii) identify contextual cues that signal cult and cult-adjacent behavior. The goal of this course is to understand the psychological effects of cult membership, not to classify or qualify any specific organization as "good" or "bad".

Required Texts: Readings will be posted on Canvas and will primarily be empirical readings from the psychological literature.

Criteria for Evaluation: Regular attendance to online class/discussion/activity sessions (i.e., no more than 3 absences); active and engaged participation in class discussions and debate; a 1-page "If I were in a cult..." paper; one brief workshop presentation to discuss a manipulation tactic; two infographics (or similar visual representation) on two separate cults or cult-like organizations; and one final assignment targeting cues of cult behavior or "indoctrination".


Fall 2021
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