Scholars say negative influence on society amplified by globalization

China Daily/December 17, 2011

Bangkok -- International experts have called for strengthened global cooperation in dealing with the rising negative social effects of dangerous cults, including the Falungong, amid increasing globalization and social networking.

Hong Minrong, vice-president of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said that society is facing common challenges posed by dangerous cults such as the Falungong, whose activities have increased to a point that it can cause detrimental effects internationally.

"Understanding the nature of these cults and strengthening enforcement and community management of their activities have become a common issue that confronts everyone. International collaboration is a possible method (to deal with the issue)," Hong said.

Hong made the remarks at the opening ceremony of a three-day international symposium of cultic studies in Bangkok on Thursday.

The event was sponsored by the Institute of Religious Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and the Graduate School of Philosophy and Religion at Assumption University of Thailand.

Echoing Hong's position, Pierre Picquart, a professor at the University of Paris VIII, said that dangerous cults have taken the benefits of globalization, including financing, social networking and the differences in laws, regulations and even the definition of freedom in different countries, to further their own agendas.

Citing the Falun Gong as an example, Picquart said it is "disguised under the cover of spiritual evolution and social transformation", and that the cult has "violated the rights and freedoms of human beings".

Calling for "real international coordination", Picquart said the difficulties in combating dangerous cults originate in the varying definitions of a cult and the methods to deal with them.

"In addition, we also should take into account that many dangerous cults are using the Internet to communicate," he said.

Picquart said dangerous cults have always been "playing with loopholes in regulations to avoid punishment".

Hu Xunmin, a professor from Shanghai, said criminal sentencing is difficult for many governments since dangerous cults "manipulate its followers spiritually, which often does not conform with existing criminal charges".

Hu said dangerous cults manipulate its followers by depriving them access to information, which should be regarded as an infringement upon a person's fundamental rights.

"There is rationality for the charges against dangerous cults in China," he said.

Russian scholar Alexander Dvorkin indicated in his speech that Zhuan Falun was a ridiculous book, adding that Russia banned it last September.

Guy Alitto, an expert with the University of Chicago, explored the development of popular religions in Chinese history, and concluded that the Falun Gong "represents more of a rupture than a continuity with Chinese religious traditions", despite some of its parallels.

Experts and scholars also discussed methods to help manipulated individuals separate from dangerous cults.

Liu Yuanchao, a professor at the Tianjin Law Psychological Society, suggested providing psychological support to former Falungong members by facilitating their return to normal society.

Rick Ross, an expert from the United States, said that family members can play a big role, since "loneliness and the very need for family, community, acceptance and belonging" may have been reasons for joining a cult.

"Public education programs, medical treatment and other assistance activities should be provided by civic organizations to prevent them from recruiting students and children," said Udo Schuklenk, a professor from Canada's Queen's University, adding that cult members should be punished in accordance with social damages.

About 20 experts and scholars from the US, Canada, France, Russia, New Zealand, Thailand and China attended the event.

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