Cult-watch centre faces closure

February 12, 1999

A unique centre for the study of religious cults based at the London School of Economics may be forced to close due to a lack of money, writes Alan Thomson.

The Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (Inform), which is affiliated to the LSE through the school's sociology department, has for the past 11 years offered an invaluable resource for people interested in new or alternative religious movements.

It now has until March 1 to find about Pounds 100,000 for next year's funding or face closure.

Inform, which employs four part-time researchers, also operates a helpline for people worried about potentially exploitative or abusive aspects of particular cultish movements.

With detailed information on about 1,000 different cults, its database is used frequently by academics and by the media.

The centre receives no core funding from the state although the Home Office is discussing the possibility of partial funding.

And despite widespread support, Inform also finds it difficult to secure sufficient funding from private sources such as churches.

Eileen Barker, chairwoman of the Inform governors, said: "I am sure that if we closed there would soon be the need to reinvent us in some other form. Why then risk losing the currency of an invaluable data-base or perhaps losing it altogether?" Among the more intriguing movements on record at Inform are the breatharians. They emerged from Australia and New Zealand preaching that it was possible to live without eating and by absorbing "nourishment" from light and air.

Inform researchers stress that the majority of alternative religious movements are not sinister or bad and that many people may join out of a need to belong to a community.

The heyday for cults was in the 1960s and 1970s. The millennium has given rise to a number of cults but the rate at which they have appeared has declined as 2000 approaches. Cults centred on UFOs and extraterrestrial intelligence are popular at the moment.

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Board Member BOURNEMOUTH UNIVERSITY (MAIN OFFICE)

Most Commented

Elderly woman looking up at sky

A recent paper claims that the quality of researchers declines with age. Five senior scientists consider the data and how they’ve contributed through the years

Otto illustration (5 May 2016)

Craig Brandist on the proletarianisation of a profession and how it leads to behaviours that could hobble higher education

Woman tearing up I can't sign

Schools and universities are increasingly looking at how improving personalities can boost social mobility. But in doing so, they may be forced to choose between teaching what is helpful, and what is true, says David Matthews

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration 19 May 2016

Tim Blackman’s vision of higher education for the 21st century is one in which students of varying abilities learn successfully together

James Minchall illustration (12 May 2016)

An online experiment proves that part of the bill for complying with the Freedom of Information Act is self-inflicted, says Louis Goddard