Title

A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY OF DEFECTION FROM CONTROVERSIAL NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS

Date of Completion

January 1983

Keywords

Social Work

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

This study examines and analyzes the factors involved in voluntary disengagement (i.e., without the aid of deprogramming or "exit therapy") from three controversial new religious movements--the Unification Church, the Hare Krishna, and the Children of God. The maintenance of certain socialization mechanisms are crucial to the preservation of high levels of commitment in these groups. But there are conditions under which the processes of commitment-building and intensive socialization may be interrupted thus increasing the likelihood of defection. This study identifies four primary factors which increase the probability of voluntary defection: (1) a breakdown in members' insulation from the oustide world, (2) unregulated development of dyadic relationships within the communal context, (3) perceived lack of success in achieving world transformation, and (4) inconsistencies between the actions of leaders and the ideals they symbolically represent.^ Attention is also given to secondary factors. These are defined as subsequent interests or latent goals which act to reinforce decisions to defect once major dissonance has emerged. These include the "pulls" of family ties, conventional careers, returning to school, as well as the discovery of alternate religious belief-systems.^ At a further stage in the defection process, the study identifies and examines two types of leave-taking: (1) overt and (2) covert. It is found here that the mode of exit is related to the type of protein perceived. An analysis of leave-taking is followed by an examination of the processes of transition and reintegration. Defection is not simply a process of detachment, it also involves the selection and adoption of a new perspective, identity, and support structure.^ Finally, an examination of post-involvement attitudes and reactions is made. It is found that most voluntary defectors, in retrospect, feel "wiser for the experience." Contrary to some previous claims, based on accounts by deprogrammed persons, voluntary defectors do not perceive their involvement as a result of "brainwashing" or "mind control." Implications of findings are discussed. ^