Thomas Robbins (1943 – 2015) is an author and an independent scholar of sociology of religion.
Sociology of religion is the study of the beliefs, practices and organizational forms of religion using the tools and methods of the discipline of sociology. This objective investigation may include the use of both quantitative methods and qualitative approaches such as participant observation, interviewing, and analysis of archival, historical and documentary materials.
Robbins obtained a B.A. in government from Harvard University in 1965, and a Ph.D. in Sociology, at the University of North Carolina in 1973.He subsequently held teaching or research positions at Queens College (CUNY), the New School for Social Research, Yale University and the Graduate Theological Union. He has authored numerous articles and reviews for sociological and religious journals.
Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 post graduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities.
The University of North Carolina is a multi-campus public university system composed of all 16 of North Carolina's public universities, as well as the NC School of Science and Mathematics, the nation's first public residential high school for gifted students. Commonly referred to as the University of North Carolina System or the UNC System to differentiate it from the original campus in Chapel Hill, the university has a total enrollment of over 183,001 students and in 2008 conferred over 75% of all baccalaureate degrees in North Carolina. UNC campuses conferred 43,686 degrees in 2008–2009, the bulk of which were at the bachelor's level, with 31,055 degrees awarded.
Queens College (QC) is one of the four-year colleges in the City University of New York system. Its 80-acre campus is located in the Kew Gardens Hills subsection of Flushing, Queens, with a student body that represents over 170 countries. Queens College is consistently ranked among the leading institutions in the nation for the quality of its faculty and academic programs, the achievement of its students, and its affordability.
Among Robbins' early work are notable studies comparing contemporary and historical controversies, such as the mass suicides among the Russian Old Believers and those that occurred in Jonestown in 1979, or present-day agitation against "cults" and similar controversies surrounding Catholicism, Mormonism and Freemasonry in the early nineteenth century.From the mid-1980s, Robbins became increasingly focused on legal and church-state issues related to new religious movements. He has written extensively on the legal and social-science issues related to the alleged use of mind control by therapeutic and religious groups. Together with his colleague, the psychologist Dick Anthony, Robbins has been one of the most prominent critics of the anti-cult movement's views on brainwashing.
The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, better known by its informal name "Jonestown", was a remote settlement established by the Peoples Temple, an American cult under the leadership of Reverend Jim Jones, in north Guyana. It became internationally known when, on November 18, 1978, a total of 918 people died in the settlement, at the nearby airstrip in Port Kaituma, and at a Temple-run building in Georgetown, Guyana's capital city. The name of the settlement became synonymous with the incidents at those locations.
In modern English, the term cult has come to usually refer to a social group defined by its unusual religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or its common interest in a particular personality, object or goal. This sense of the term is controversial and it has divergent definitions in both popular culture and academia and it also has been an ongoing source of contention among scholars across several fields of study. It is usually considered pejorative.
Mormonism is the predominant religious tradition of the Latter Day Saint movement of Restorationist Christianity started by Joseph Smith in Western New York in the 1820s and 30s. After Smith was killed in 1844, most Mormons followed Brigham Young on his westward journey to the area that became the Utah Territory, calling themselves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Other sects include Mormon fundamentalism, which seeks to maintain practices and doctrines such as polygamy, and other small independent denominations. The second-largest Latter Day Saint denomination, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, since 2001 called the Community of Christ, does not describe itself as "Mormon", but follows a Trinitarian Christian restorationist theology, and considers itself Restorationist in terms of Latter Day Saint doctrine.
Dick Anthony is a forensic psychologist noted for his writings on the validity of brainwashing as a determiner of behavior, a prolific researcher of the social and psychological aspects of involvement in new religious movements.
David G. Bromley is a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. He has written extensively about cults, new religious movements, apostasy, and the anti-cult movement.
The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.
Brainwashing is the concept that the human mind can be altered or controlled by certain psychological techniques. Brainwashing is said to reduce its subject’s ability to think critically or independently, to allow the introduction of new, unwanted thoughts and ideas into the subject’s mind, as well as to change his or her attitudes, values, and beliefs.
Eileen Vartan Barker OBE, is a professor in sociology, an emeritus member of the London School of Economics (LSE), and a consultant to that institution's Centre for the Study of Human Rights. She is the chairperson and founder of the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (INFORM) and has written studies about groups she defines as cults and new religious movements (NRMs).
A new religious movement (NRM), also known as a new religion or alternative spirituality, is a religious or spiritual group that has modern origins and is peripheral to its society's dominant religious culture. NRMs can be novel in origin or part of a wider religion, in which case they are distinct from pre-existing denominations. Some NRMs deal with the challenges posed by the modernizing world by embracing individualism, whereas others seek tightly knit collective means. Scholars have estimated that NRMs now number in the tens of thousands worldwide, with most of their members living in Asia and Africa. Most have only a few members, some have thousands, and a few have more than a million members.
The anti-cult movement is a social group which opposes any new religious movement (NRM) that they characterize as a cult. Sociologists David Bromley and Anson Shupe initially defined the ACM in 1981 as a collection of groups embracing brainwashing-theory, but later observed a significant shift in ideology towards pathologizing membership in NRMs. One element within the anti-cult movement, Christian counter-cult organizations, oppose NRMs on theological grounds and distribute information to this effect through church networks and via printed literature.
Anson D. Shupe, Jr. was an American sociologist noted for his studies of religious groups and their countermovements, family violence and clergy misconduct. He was affiliated with the New Cult Awareness Network, an organization operated by the Church of Scientology, and has had at least one article published in Freedom magazine.
Stephen A. Kent, is a Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He researches new religious movements, and has published research on several such groups including the Children of God, the Church of Scientology, and newer faiths operating in Canada.
Benjamin Zablocki is an American professor of sociology at Rutgers University where he teaches sociology of religion and social psychology. He has published widely on the subject of charismatic religious movements, cults, and brainwashing.
Doomsday cult is an expression used to describe cults who believe in apocalypticism and millenarianism, and can refer both to groups that predict disaster, and to those that attempt to bring it about. The expression was first used by sociologist John Lofland in his 1966 study of a group of members of the Unification Church of the United States in California, Doomsday Cult: A Study of Conversion, Proselytization, and Maintenance of Faith. A classic study of a group with cataclysmic predictions had previously been performed by Leon Festinger and other researchers, and was published in his book When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World.
The academic study of new religious movements is known as new religions studies' (NRS). The study draws from the disciplines of anthropology, psychiatry, history, psychology, sociology, religious studies, and theology. Eileen Barker noted that there five sources of information on new religious movements (NRMs): the information provided by such groups themselves, that provided by ex-members as well as the friends and relatives of members, organisations that collect information on NRMs, the mainstream media, and academics studying such phenomena.
Various sociological classifications of religious movements have been proposed by scholars. In the sociology of religion, the most widely used classification is the church-sect typology. The typology states that churches, ecclesia, denominations and sects form a continuum with decreasing influence on society. Sects are break-away groups from more mainstream religions and tend to be in tension with society.
The Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR) is an academic association with more than 700 members worldwide. It publishes a journal, the Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review and holds meetings at the same venues and times as the American Sociological Association.
Benton Johnson is an American sociologist and professor emeritus of the University of Oregon's Department of Sociology.
Lorne L. Dawson is a Canadian scholar of the sociology of religion who has written about new religious movements, the brainwashing controversy, and religion and the Internet. His work is now focused on religious terrorism and the process of radicalization, especially with regard to domestic terrorists.
James Arthur Beckford, FBA is a British sociologist of religion. He is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Warwick and a Fellow of the British Academy. In 1988/1989, he served as President of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, and from 1999 to 2003, as the President of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion.
Karel Dobbelaere is a Belgian educator and noted sociologist of religion. Dobbelaere is an Emeritus Professor of both the University of Antwerp and the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Louvain) in Belgium. He is past-President and General Secretary of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion.
John A. Saliba is a Maltese-born Jesuit priest, a professor of religious studies at the University of Detroit Mercy and a noted writer and researcher in the field of new religious movements.