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

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

  • Boats docked in Port Hercule, Monaco

Richard Murphy praises a bold effort to halt tax-dodging by the 1 per cent

It’s a question with no easy answer, finds James Derounian

  • James Fryer illustration (19 November 2015)

With no time for proper peer review and with grade inflation inevitable, one academic felt compelled to resign

  • Lisa Mckenzie, Class War Party candidate, Chingford

Anarchist academic reflects on what her recent brush with the law says about threats to academic freedom

  • Worker checks thin-film silicon solar module, Truebbach

Asia doubles representation while European countries face varied performance