A Confidential Memorandum

December 20, 1989
By Jeffrey Hadden
University of Virginia-Charlottesville
Charlottesville, Virginia

To: Social scientists concerned about forensic and related issues dealing with New Religious Movements [NRMs]

From: Jeffrey K. Hadden (on behalf of Eileen Barker and David Bromley)

Re: Developments since our informal meeting in Salt Lake City on October 27, 1989


Eileen Barker, David Bromley and I met in New York on December 10th through the 12th to consider further the issues we discussed at our October meeting in Salt Lake City.

While in New York we met with the following individuals: Perry London (Dean of the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University); Mark Galanter (Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse at the NYU School of Medicine); Eric Lieberman (attorney who has been involved in a number of NRM [Scientology] cases ["New Religious Movements" or "NRMs" is a frequently used euphemism for groups often called "cults"]); Dean Kelley (National Council of Churches) and John Biermans [writes for the Unification Church News], David Hagar and Hugh Spurgen (Unification Church).

Our agenda for each meeting varied, but basically we interested in exploring the issues discussed in Salt Lake with individuals who do not normally operate in our orbit and who, thus, may have different perspectives on these issues.

This report will not attempt to summarize each meeting, but, rather, will highlight the general conclusions we reached, although in some instances, specific points will be attributed to individuals. In the interest of communicating with you before others gather in California in January, I am sending this report without the benefit of first circulating it to Eileen and David for corrections and additions. We did have a wrap up session in which we attempted to identify the salient issues and summarize what we thought we had learned. This report is base on notes that I made during that session. In general, I believe this report communicates the general sentiments of the three of us. If I stray too far from our collective conclusions or omit some important point, I hope they will follow-up with an addendum to this report. The report is concluded with a suggested agenda for the California meeting.

I am also inclosing three documents which I think will be of interest in preparation for the California meeting. The first is a declaration of Perry London's on the motion to exclude Singer and Ofshe testimony in the USA v. Fishman case. All of us felt this statement was succinct and helpful summary of the current situation. The second enclosure is a communication from Herbert Rosedale of the American Family Foundation [AFF]. Note that AFF has launched a "multi-year program of research and education" called Project Recovery. The communication indicates that study group reports are scheduled to be released to the public in a "major conference" scheduled for the summer of 1991. This development will no doubt have relevance for some of you as individuals and it may possibly have implications for tasks that our ad hoc group may wish to pursue. Third, I am enclosing a statement about INFORM which appears in a new book Eileen Barker has just published.

General Conclusions

  1. There is a substantial body of literature on "social influence" that has generally not been cited by sociologists of religion. Studies of international communities (see: for example, Benjamin Zablocki's "The Joyful Community and Alienation and Charisma), therapeutic groups (e.g. AA groups investigated by Galanter and others); and social psychological studies of group pressure (e.g. Ashe, Heider, Milgram, Zambardo, etc.) are all examples of such literature.

    These literatures are not normally identified as part of the general corpus of literature on "brainwashing", "thought control", "coercive persuasion", etc. (see London's declaration paragraphs 35-38).

  2. The conclusion of our informants is that the literatures they read do not produce findings or theory which constitute foundation for strengthening the Margaret Singer theory of "Systematic Manipulation of Social and Psychological Influence" (SMSPI). To the contrary, our social science informants tended to dismiss Singer [as] a "fringe" figure who is not taken seriously by creditable scientists in their disciplines.
  3. Benjamin Zablocki's letter to the ASA council (8-2-89) would seem to dispute this conclusion. It is possible that the AFF's Project Recovery will seek to cull this literature to bolster the Singer /Ofshe claims. It may be of strategic importance to develop a strategy for the systematic review of literatures that are not explicitly identified as party of the "brainwashing", etc. corpus. It seems quite likely to me that that the AFF's Project Recovery will seek to cull this literature to bolster their claims.
  4. To the extent that it is appropriate to say that there exists a group of social scientists who are "moderately" positioned in the "brainwashing" controversy, it would appear, as a working hypothesis, that they are not particularly well informed about the social and legal issues that have been of concern to our group.
  5. In this respect, our conversations highlighted the fact that the controversy is inappropriately defined as between sociologists, on the one hand, and psychologists and psychiatrists on the other.

    It is probably more appropriate to conclude that most sociologists, psychologists and psychiatrists are not very well informed about the issues. Sociologists of religion who study NRMs informally skeptical of the conclusions of psychologists and psychiatrists and the few sociologists who are aligned with anti-cultists. But the large majority of all scholars in all three disciplines are largely uninformed regarding the empirical literature of the controversy. As the controversy heats up, this really may point to the need to target education to our colleagues in each of these disciplines.

  6. Both of our social scientist informants (London and Galanter) were quick to make sharp distinction between "social influence" and "brainwashing". Both see social influence to exist in all groups, and in some groups that influence may be "massive". But both see this as something very different from the kind of "robot like" behavior that is implicit in "brainwashing" theory.

    At the same time, we found both informants had difficulty in making clear, crisp distinctions between "normal" social influence and the more severe form of influence the anti-cultists call "brainwashing".

    Eileen noted [sic] that Singer's position is typically couched in the notion that "brainwashing" is "irresistible, irreversible, and that it takes place subtly without the 'victim' really being aware of what is happening". It seems to us fairly clear that this does not happen. BUT, Singer's testimony weaves back and forth between this proposition and "normal" social influence theory.

    If she and/or others were to back away from the "irresistible, irreversible and subtle" definition, how does this change the battleground? Would our task be easier or less difficult? Among other things, this suggests the need the need to pay much more attention to the broader process of social influence. How does it happen? Are there contexts in which social influence may be so massive as to suggest that the state has a role (interest obligation) to protect the individual? If so, how are the boundaries to be drawn? Who decides? And how would this development square with First Amendment free exercise concerns?

  7. Our meetings with the members of the Unification Church [UC] confirmed our earlier impressions that while they may assent to the value of a long range strategy for dealing with the anti-cultist [sic] and their forensic consultants, their response is very substantially confined to ad hoc responses to crises.

    I pressed them on the question of whether it might be possible for the UC [Unification Church] in collaboration with several other NRMs [sometimes called "cults"] to raise a significant amount of money that could go--no strings attached--to an independent group, which in turn, would entertain proposals and fund research on NRMs.

    While the three of us were not of one mind regarding the desirability to such a development, we agree that this is unlikely to materialize for several reasons. First, the NRMs are primarily interested in projects that will be of immediate benefit to them. Second, it seems unlikely that persons such as John Biermans, who clearly are interested in and appreciate social science research, are prepared to deal with the intra-organizational politics of supporting research that they can't control. Third, we conclude from these conversations, as well as others, that there is not a high level of communication and cooperation among NRMs. While the legal staffs of NRMs share information, cooperation for the sake of their common interests is not a high priority. The Movements would appear to be about as far as they are prepared to go at this time.

  8. Dean Kelley [now deceased] reports that religious liberty is not a very high priority issue among NCC [National Council of Churches] officials or constituent bodies. This is especially true with respect to NRMs.
  9. Kelley and our legal consultant (Lieberman) [represented Scientology in many cases] questioned whether the brainwashing testimony has been as dangerous in the courts has [sic] we have feared. They note that it has had little precedent setting impact as most court decisions have resisted the validity of the brainwashing thesis. If the expert testimony of Singer and Ofshe should be denied in the Fishman case, the "brainwashers" may be on the run and this problem could be self-corrective. I think it was Lieberman [lawyer associated with Scientology cases] who suggested that as Singer extends her brainwashing thesis to more and more bizarre cases, the argument must eventually self-destruct.
  10. Kelly [sic] feels that public perceptions about NRMs constitutes a very serious problem. (This concern should not imply that he is not concerned about the forensic testimony of the brainwashers).

    He made a very significant distinction between identifying and responding to needs and engaging in campaigns to inform people who have little interest in being informed--or, who don't know that they need to be informed. The former can be highly successful; the latter seldom are.

  11. Consistent with this observation, we spent a good bit of time considering whether the time might be right to import Eileen's INFORM [has personally received financial support from Rev. Moon's Unification Church, but no longer receives funding from the British Government]or create a US organization that would perform a similar function. I think it is fair to say that we concluded our meetings with a good deal of enthusiasm for further exploring this possibility.

    I know you all are aware that Eileen organized INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) last year, but many of you may not have much information about what she has done. Also enclosed with this report is a statement about INFORM which is taken from the Appendix of her new book, New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction. Just released this month, this book is published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office [Ms. Barker no longer receives government funding].

    In spite of having some bad experiences with the media, Eileen has taken a very significant step in neutralizing anti-cult movements in the UK. I don't think that any of us feel that creating a similar organization in the US would be a substitute for continuing research. But I [sic] we all came away with the feeling that such an organization fits Kelley's criterion of responding to a need. Response to a need is, in fact, the reason that CAN [Cult Awareness Network] and AFF have been successful.

  12. It is by no means clear how we would go about creating such an organization. We discussed a variety of possibilities [It could be seen that the so-called "New Cult Awareness Network may have obviated the need for this possibility see "Who the new CAN recommends for 'factual information on new religions" and its "recommended experts" shortly after Heaven's Gate suicide].

    We recognize that Gordon Melton's Institute [for the Study of American Religions--ISAR] is singularly the most important information resource in the US, and we feel that any new organization would need to work closely with him. At the same time, I think we all feel that it is inappropriate to deal with the challenge by dumping it in Gordon's lap. His years of hard work with research and writing is beginning to get the national attention that is deserved. We don't want to deflect that effort.

    We discussed whether this project might constitute a natural or logical sequence to the Williamsburg Charter Project. (For those who may have missed this, the Williamsburg Charter was [sic] project designed to commemorate and reaffirm the First Amendment religious clauses on the occasion of the bicentennial of the Bill of Rights (a small brochure is enclosed). In the spirit of the Charter, if the religious liberties of some are endangered, then religious liberty itself is endangered.

    It was suggested that Os Guinness, who conceived and executed the Williamsburg Charter Project, might find this project of sufficient interest that he could lend assistance in putting INFORM, USA (or INFORM International) together. I had a brief telephone conversation with Os after our New York meeting. He expressed interest in learning more. I am going to try to get together with him before the California gathering next month.

  13. We agree that there is value in putting together a small monograph (or possibly lengthy paper) that would explicitly, and in detail, identify a research agenda on NRMs for the next decade. We spent some time brainstorming about how this might be done as well as identifying some specific research projects. We feel that this is a task, which should be an important agenda item for the California gathering. I will prepare some notes on this for that occasion.
  14. On the issue of the value of research and litigation, our legal consultant (Lieberman) [long-time legal consultant to the Church of Scientology] was not particularly sanguine about the prospects of social scientists coming up with findings that would be of great value. In so many words, he told us that the most important thing we could do is prepare a statement that refutes the claim that social science can be helpful. I interpreted this as the agnostic statement we discussed in Salt Lake. Which brings us back to the question of a resolution for ASA [American Sociology Association] Council consideration.
  15. A draft resolution, as promised in Salt Lake, has not been forthcoming for two reasons. First, when I sat down to dash one off, I found I was not as prepared to do this as I had assumed. Second, I understood a communication from Bill D'Antonio wherein I thought he was advising me that the resolution idea had superceded by another development. This task still needs to be done. It would be very nice if someone would call me and advise me that they have (or will) prepared a draft for our agenda in California.
  16. We discussed the question of how we, as social scientists might do a better job of communicating our point of view to the press and to the public in general. Substantially we reaffirmed the discussion in Salt Lake. More effective communication is a desirable objective, but we didn't get as far as designing a blueprint for accomplishing this.

AGENDA ITEM # 1 - Development of a research agenda for the 1990s,
including a strategy for production and dissemination of same.

We agree that the development and publication of a research agenda for the 1990s could be an important step toward encouraging research and checking the growing influence of CAN [Cult Awareness Network], AFF [American Family Foundation], and the forensic hustlers. The following are seen as specific benefits of such a publication:

(1) sharpen our own awareness of the theoretical and methodological strengths and weaknesses of contemporary NRM research;

(2) pinpoint critical gaps in knowledge and point to the kinds of research required to fill those gaps and thereby;

(3) help sustain the interests and motivation of those who have been active researchers to continue to do research on NRMs;

(4) provide an inventory of worthwhile projects and thereby;

(5) encourage students and professional scholars with a wide range of backgrounds, interests, training and skills to pursue research on NRMs; and

(6) communicate the tenuous and incomplete nature of knowledge about NRMs and thereby help neutralize the unsubstantiated claims of anti-cult groups and individuals

We see this last point as an important way in which we can collectively address the American Family Foundation's Project Recovery. We have no further information regarding their plans for this project than the letter from Herbert Rosedale, which was enclosed with the December memorandum on the New York meeting. It seems a reasonable guess that it will involve a significant elaboration and expansion of the content of the 1985 Wingspread conference.

Whatever the content, the Rosedale communication suggests that the project will involve a major effort to gain media attention. We believe the publication of a research agenda which makes clear the unfinished research task, and which avoids the polemics and presuppositions that are ever present in the anti-cult literature could be a very effective way for blunting their media effort. This assumes (1) that our effort is a quality product, and (2) that we put forth our best effort to attract media attention to our project.

We agree that the development of this research agenda should be a substantial project, as opposed to an article-length inventory that could only highlight a few issues.

Without excluding the possibility of exploring other options, we would propose that this inventory be published as a special issue of the JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION and, simultaneously, as a SSSR monograph. The former will reach the largest single group of social science scholars of religion and the latter will assure the on going availability of the inventory students and scholars who are not members of JSSR.

We propose further that this project be presented to the Council of SSSR with the request for (a) allocation of funds for the publication of this special issue and monograph (scheduled for publication in 1991 between the March and June issues of JSSR) and (b) the imprimatur of the Society. The Society has, on at least two previous occasions, granted its imprimatur for scholarly publications (Glock and Hammond, eds., Beyond the Classics, 1973; and Hammond, ed., The Sacred in a Secular Age, 1985).

Accomplishing this task would require a general editor and the cooperation of a number of scholars who would be willing to block out several days of their time to inventory subtopics and identify research needs and ideas. We would need to work out a common presentational format for perhaps 15-25 issues. For opening discussion, this format might include:

(1) a short essay overviewing the salient theoretical, methodological and substantive issues for each subtopic;

(2) identification of gaping holes in our knowledge base;

(3) identification of studies, books, articles that are seminal with ideas for new research;

(4) recommendations for replications or reformulations of existing studies;

(5) statements of general propositions and the formulation of specific hypotheses; and

(6) exploration of how each of the issues of concern in the study of NRMs has underlying theoretical parallels in other fields of inquiry, and suggestions as to how NRM research might benefit from exploring these related areas of research.

Under normal circumstances, this would be a task of Herculean proportions, especially with a tight time frame.There are two factors which make it an accomplishable task.

First, there are several new reference resources that will be invaluable in the completion of the task. The most important is John Saliba's monumental two volume annotated bibliography of cult research. I done [sic] a bit of scanning--almost at random--and have found hypotheses and ideas for research on virtually every page.

Second, there should be a fairly high level of motivation to do this task. The project addresses an important means for stimulating and enriching the quality of research on this topic of common concern and it represents a strategy for combating something which we all agree is a pernicious process that is shaping public opinion.

If the community of scholars who have been actively researching NRMs will collectively agree to undertake this task, it should not be a great burden for anybody.

AGENDA ITEM #2 Discussion of the value and need for an American version of INFORM
and consideration of how we might be of assistance.

We were in general agreement about the value and need for an organization which would accomplish the objectives of INFORM. Our discussion focused on how such an operation might be accomplished.

An American equivalent of INFORM could not be accomplished by merely expanding the scope of ISAR [Institute for the Study of American Religion run by Gordon Melton see experts recommended regarding "Heaven's Gate" and religion by "new CAN"] operations. Gordon has personally been involved in providing information to concerned parents, bringing together of parents and NRM members, and making referrals for counseling. However, this was never the primary function of ISAR. To actively invite people come to ISAR for these types of services would significantly refocus the ISAR focus.

Gordon pledged his support and indicated that ISAR resources would be made available if an INFORM-like group is established. ISAR does not have physical space to host a new organization, but it was suggested that it might be located in Santa Barbara in order to facilitate easy access to ISAR resources.

We discussed the considerable differences between the U.S. and the U.K. and the implications of these differences for the creation of an INFORM, USA. Of considerable importance is that fact that the U.S. is too large and complex to ever expect the development of the kind of cooperation that Eileen achieved with the government. And, similarly, there is no equivalent of patronage or sponsorship, although it might be possible to enlist the support of a roster of American celebrities (religious and secular).

It is immediately apparent that financial support is imperative if an organization of this type is to be created. None of us have any ready ideas as to where to turn for funding, but we are willing to invest some effort in exploring this.

It is our recommendation that Eileen draft a proposal to first be circulated among her sociology colleagues and other U.S. friends. Hopefully this will produce some valuable insights regarding the American scene which can be incorporated before it is circulated to prospective funding agencies or persons that could be of help in approaching a funding source.

I did not have the opportunity to get into Washington to see Os Guinness prior to meeting, but I hope to do so in the near future. Eileen may wish to contact Os directly.

AGENDA ITEM # 3 - Preparation of the "agnostic" resolution and development of
a strategy for encouraging the governing bodies of ASA, APA (or perhaps Sect 38),
SSSR, ASR, RRR and CISR to adopt same

At our Salt Lake City meeting there was broad support for the proposal that we prepare an "agnostic" resolution, which could be presented to and, hopefully adopted by ASA, APA [American Psychological Association] and all of the social science organizations specializing in the study of religion.

The purpose of said resolution was seen as (1) negating the misstatements that have been (and continue to be) made regarding the reasons for the withdrawal of the APA and ASA support of the Molko brief and, (2) placing on record a statement that would stand against the claim that there exists a consensus regarding the state of the literature. (On this second points, Ofshe's latest declaration in the USA v. Fishman case states that "there is no dispute of substance within the relevant scientific community as to the acceptance of the concept of thought reform").

It was recommended in Salt Lake City that the resolution be circulated as broadly as possible. My notes from that meeting state that "the more people who look at it, the more likely we are to spot trigger words that might give cause for opposition."

The enclosed draft resolution represents the best effort of the five of us who met in Pasadena to state an agnostic position that is free of words that might set off other people's hot buttons. We encourage you all to go over it with care and with an eye toward even further tightening of the agnostic and value-neutral posture. Please send your comments to me by the end of the month.

The question of a strategy for taking the resolution to the various organizations remains. I think each organization may require somewhat different strategies. For the sake of opening discussion I propose the following:

(1) SSSR, ASR and RRR -- ask the past-presidents of each of these respective organizations to be sponsors of the resolution;

(2) ASA--submit the resolution with sponsorship of as many names as possible among those who are ASA members and who (a) have published research on NRMs and/or (b) are recognized "leaders" in the sociology of religion;

(3) CISR--defer to Eileen Barker and Jim Richardson [see experts recommended regarding "Heaven's Gate" and religion by "new" CAN] for recommendations;

(4) APA -- defer to Newt Maloney [see experts recommended regarding "Heaven's Gate" and religion by "new" CAN] and his psychology colleagues for recommendations.

However we do this, it is important that we succeed as there may not be a second opportunity. As Meredith McGuire noted in Salt Lake City, many of our own sociology of religion colleagues do not give this issue great priority. We could lose their support if we keep coming back every year with yet another proposal. So offer your thoughts and volunteer your support to help do it right.

AGENDA ITEM # 4 - Consider whether other collective action is appropriate at this time
for dealing with the ongoing forensic battles.

While it is evident that the legal staffs of several NRMs engage in information exchange, and the same is true for those who are most actively involved as expert witnesses, there exists no depository for legal documents. An archive of legal documents from NRM litigation could be of considerable valuable for both social science research and legal research in conjunction with the preparation for legal cases.

The assembly of legal documents for such an archive is not seen as a terribly difficult task because a few individuals privately hold a fairly large proportion of these documents. The immediate start up costs would involve (1) reproduction and shipping, (2) cataloging and (3) the printing of an index.

We are proposing the establishment of a Legal Resource Center on New Religions and that same be housed with the American Religion Collection at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Given that the holdings at USCB [sic] are more extensive than any other collection, locating the resource center in Santa Barbara seems like the most logical spot.

A draft proposal for the achievement of this objective is attached to this report. Your comments including support or reservations should be addressed to Gordon [Melton].

AGENDA ITEM # 5 - Consider what collective action, if any, needs to be developed
as an alternative to AFF's Project Recovery.

As noted above (Agenda Item # 1) the development and publication of a research agenda for the 1990s, if accompanied with proper PR work, could constitute an appropriate and effective measure to neutralize Project Recovery. This is our primary recommendation. In addition, we encourage our colleagues to develop other ideas, to communicate with others and, when appropriate, to enlist collective support.

Note: For another view of Scientology see "Scientology--Is this a Religion?"

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.