Cult Definition:
Origins And Distinctions

Definition of a cult

What is a cult? A standard cult definition is:

  1. A particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies
  2. A group bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
  3. An instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers.

The word 'cult' has its origin in the Latin 'cultus', which means habitation, refinement or worship.

It is also used as 'cult band' or 'cult film' which indicates that the band or film has a small group of devoted followers.

So far, so good! People have a right to be allowed to believe in whatever they like.

The difficulty arises when people are being manipulated/brainwashed to believe in an idea, a person, a religion etc. and they do not realize that they're decisions are being manipulated. This is what happens in destructive cults.


What's a destructive cult?

At a large International Cultic Studies Association conference in 1985, they first had to answer the question 'what is a cult?' and they settled on the following cult definition:

A group or movement exhibiting great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, and employing unethical manipulative or coercive techniques of persuasion and control (for example, isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, the motion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it), designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community.

Note the difference here. This is a definition of a destructive cult. Whether a group is destructive or not depends on whether mind control is used or not.

Am I in a cult? Take this quick quiz

Family member or friend in a cult? Read more

People should have the freedom to believe in whatever they like. So we do not examine the beliefs or ideology of a group to determine if is dangerous or not. We have to check out the behaviors and practices, i.e., are they using coercive persuasion (mind control/brainwashing) to affect members identities, their decision making etc. or not?

Read more about destructive cults, sects and destructive sects.

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Would you prefer to talk to someone about your situation?

If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.

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