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Click onto one of the following chapters:   Forword and Preface - see below
1. Christian Apologetics, Deprogramming, and the Cults.   2. Evangelical Conversion and the Logic of Belief.
3. The New Mythology: Mythologica Fragments.   4. Modernity and the New Mythology.
5. The Primal Core.   6. Abramic and Yogic Traditions
7. Psychological Aspects of Conversion: the Individual in Crisis.   8. Social Aspects of the Cultic Process: Tensions and Reactions.
9. The Psychology of Shamanism: Some Cross Cultural Examples.   10. Magical Religions, Hysteria, and Christianity.

Understanding Cults and New Age Religions by Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe. Regent College Press, 1998; USD $21.95.
ISBN: 1573831212


This book was first published by Wm. B. Eerdmans in 1986. A third printing, Understanding Cults and New Age Religions, is currently available from Regent College Press, Vancouver, 1999. To order a printed copy for only $21.95 Canadian go to: REGENT COLLEGE Bookstore. The toll free number is: 1-800-663-8664; or by e-mail:

Copyright Irving Hexham 1994, 2000

Foreword by J.I. Packer

Conversion in any shape or form is a fascinating human phenomenon. What makes people give up and perhaps reverse their former views, and commit themselves to something quite new? Is it argument, analysis, reaction, emotional recoil, or what? Is there a common pattern?

Religious conversion is of special interest, not just to those who, like me, were consciously converted to faith in Jesus Christ and now wish to see others converted, or to those like the authors of this book, for whom the religious dimension of life is a professional academic field, but to all who take the ultimate issues of life seriously. All religions claim to provide ultimate truth and wisdom, but not all say the same thing. What, then, is going on when people become Christians, or Buddhists, or anthroposophists, or when Roman Catholics become Protestants, or vice versa? Each belief system will explain the change in terms of its own conceptions, but it is still meaningful and useful to ask how, in descriptive human terms, this process of change should be understood.

A frequent form of religious conversion nowadays is enrolment in a cult or some version of New Age religion. Distressed parents and outraged pastors often ascribe cultic recruitment to brainwashing. The present authors, however, combine their skills in anthropology and sociology to analyze the process as a product of what they call "cultural hysteria," a condition in which one feels injured and oppressed, is preoccupied with a particular life problem, and thus lies open to the appeal of confident viewpoints that present themselves as supplying the felt psychic need. Their thesis seems to me cogent and enlightening, fitting such facts as I know as well as those that their own wide-ranging exposition adduces.

To map the mechanism of conversion in this way is not, of course, to cast a vote either for it or against it, but simply to understand it as a human reality. Obviously, the value of a conversion depends finally on what one is converted to, and it is good, therefore, that the authors have noted at crucial points the difference between the myths and disciplines of the religions that they study and the corresponding features of mainstream Christianity. The net result of their labor is a book that both social anthropologists and Christian pastoral leaders will value. I am delighted to have this opportunity of introducing and commending it.

J.I. Packer


The book is written for a specific task with a particular readership in mind. It is designed to help Christian laymen, pastors, youth workers, and theological students understand cults from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Writing the book was difficult because we recognized that many Christian readers probably lack a background in the social sciences. We proceeded, therefore, by developing our argument to take the reader from theological examples to ones from the social sciences in an effort to lay bare the framework of new religions--a framework consisting of primal experiences, new mythologies, and aspects of the great Yogic and Abramic traditions.

It is our belief that anyone wishing to talk to cult members needs to recognize that understanding must precede criticism. We believe that many of the apologetic arguments used by well meaning Christians are undermined by a lack of insight into the lifestyle and beliefs of the people they are meant to reach. In practice such arguments tend to do more harm than good.

Our aim is to develop an understanding of cults and the people who join them--the first step toward enabling people to communicate with each other. Only when that is done can other issues be seriously considered.

In conclusion, we would like to thank the many people who helped us with our research--particularly the "cult members" who detailed their lives for us. We also thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the University of Lethbridge for their generous financial assistance and encouragement.

Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe