Church, State, And New

Religions In Germany


Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe

Copyright 1999

[This paper originally appeared in NOVA RELIGIO, April 1999, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 208-227.

To find out more about Nova Religo, visit there Web Site at:]



ABSTRACT: This paper examines the ideology of the German anti-cult movement. It also discusses the unique problems facing the German government resulting from right-wing extremism and the role of German cult experts in defining new religions as verfassungsfeindlich, hostile to the constitution.



Since the mid-1970s, new religious movements have regularly made news headlines with stories about brainwashing and mass suicides. Consequently, government officials such as Congressmen in America, British Members of Parliament, and German Senators often support initiatives to investigate “dangerous cults” and to restrict their activities.

The growth of the anti-cult movement, which emerged in the mid1970s in North America, is well documented by David Bromley and Anson Shupe in their various books.[1] More recently, they have drawn attention to cross-cultural aspects of the anti-cult movement.[2] There is also a growing body of academic literature that exposes the shoddy methods used by most anti-cult writers and their failure to meet scientific standards.[3]

British and North American anti-cult movements such as the British Family Action, Intervention, and Rescue (FAIR) group and the American Family Foundation are private organizations. They unite concerned individuals and raise funds through voluntary donations,




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the sale of literature, and professional services. Two issues are basic to British and North American anti-cult propaganda. First, it is said that individuals are at risk because new religions use brainwashing techniques to effect sham conversions. Second, the image of Jonestown and related incidents are invoked to prove that new religions represent a threat to society.

Avery different approach is taken in Germany, where the German anti-cult movement is part of the social establishment supported by mainline Protestant churches and government-raised taxes.[4] James Beckford [5] and James T. Richardson and Barend van Driel [6] discuss these differences in attitudes between Britain, the United States, and Germany, focusing on the societal background of each country. They provide an excellent overview of the situation, but do not discuss ideological issues or the German fear of new religions in its historical dimension. Here we build on these studies by providing additional insights into the complexity of the German situation.

The primary argument used by the German anti-cult movement is that new religions are verfassungsftindlich — an identifiable threat to constitutional democracy. Consequently, new religions are scrutinized by German courts, which have the power to authorize state-sponsored actions to investigate and restrict the activities of these religions.






In America, where the constitution clearly protects individual rights and freedoms and just as clearly separates church from state, the overarching ideology that guides how Americans view and judge new religions is that of brainwashing. It is important to note that the brainwashing ideology addresses individuals insofar as someone did something to an individual and someone has to undo that which has been done to that individual.

Given the American separation of church and state, the anti-cult groups are not governmental in nature and rarely succeed in involving the government unless, of course, a specific crime is committed. Usually, as Bromley points out, there are private sector anti-cult groups that may help a whistle-blower, although such help has no legal or political sanctioning power. Consequently, public dramas and whistle-blower careers involving media appearances and other publicity have a short life.[7]

What is significant for this paper is that exit from new religions is not subject to governmental regulation in the U.S. While Americans have formed various powerful “family-based” associations that together constitute a “national anti-cult movement,” these are voluntary and




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unable to use governmental policing powers to target religious groups.[8] Consequently, even when the anti-cult movement manages to catch a member of a new religion in order to “deprogram” or “counsel” them, deprogrammers can be taken to court for violating individual rights. At best, dramatic testimonies of counseled apostates can be used in “lobbying campaigns, media reports, [and] investigatory hearings.” [9] Anti-cult organizations may also give apostates new careers as public speakers, exit counselors, and/or therapists. They do not, however, involve the American public polity and people. As we shall now see, the German situation is quite different.






The German anti-cult movement has an organizational structure very different from those in Britain and North America. The former enjoys a special relationship with official government agencies as a result of the burden of German history and of Germany’s emphasis on group as opposed to individual rights. [10]

In Germany, several interlinked organizations, supported by the mainline Protestant (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland or EKD) and Roman Catholic churches, are actively involved in counter-cult activities. Although not technically state churches, these mainline denominations enjoy special relationships with the state and receive funds from government-levied church taxes plus other monies “regulated by” historic “concordats and agreements.” [11]

The main watchdog groups supported by Protestant churches are the Archiv fiir Religions und Weltanschauungsfragen (Archive for Religious and Worldview Questions), headed by Thomas Gandow, and the Evangelische Zentralstelle fur Weltanschauungsfragen (Protestant Central Agency for Worldview Questions), led by Michael Nüch tern. There are also several smaller Roman Catholic cult information centers, which tend to concentrate on theological issues. [12] All of these groups receive some state support, even if indirectly.

Apart from the major religious watchdog organizations mentioned above, there are approximately 190 so-called Sektenbeauftragte, or cult investigators, [13] employed throughout Germany by churches. Cult investigators are people with theological training who investigate the activities of potential spiritual rivals.

These church-supported individuals and organizations work closely with government bodies at the federal, state, and local levels. Contacts between church and state employees are through government departments dealing with family, health and welfare, and youth. Finally, at both the federal and state levels the Ministerium des Innern (Interior




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Ministry) takes a close interest in new religions through the office of the Verfassungsschutz (Security Police - n.b. this is not a literal translation, rather it is the best approximation we could find for this uniquely German institution). Thus, although government agencies do not involve themselves directly with theological issues, they do so indirectly.

For example, German government offices do not hesitate to produce booklets and other information packages warning citizens against the potential dangers of new religions. These booklets are written and produced by state employees working at various levels of government and are printed and distributed free at the state’s expense. [14] The bibliographies of these booklets depend almost exclusively on the writings of cult investigators. [15] Further, these writings inevitably provide readers with a list of cult investigators and information on how to contact them. [16]

In 1996, the German federal government agreed to a Commission of Inquiry into the activities of cults and therapy groups. The full title of the commission was Die Enquete-Kommission “Sogenannte Sekten und Psychogruppen “(the Commission of Inquiry into Sects, Cults, and Psychotherapy Movements), popularly referred to as the Enquete-Kommzsszon. This inquiry embraced what English-speaking people know as cults, sects, new religions, and self-help and motivational-type groups. It examined charismatic Christian groups and various forms of Christian fundamentalism. There was even a suggestion that perhaps, eventually, evangelical Christian groups would be included. [17]

After two years work the Enquete-Kommission delivered its findings. The majority report said that new religions were not a threat to society, but that they might be harmful to individuals. Therefore, it recommended further research and the establishment of various social- work agencies to help people leave cults. A minority report dissented suggesting instead that, in general, new religions are not a danger to either individuals or the state. [18]

Public reaction to the Enquete-Kommission was mixed. Before the final report was released, Der Spiegel published a highly critical article complaining that this was the most expensive commission of inquiry in German history. [19] Press reaction was more muted once the report was published. Most headlines suggested that new religions were not a great danger to the state. [20] Nevertheless, there was a general feeling that even if the state was not endangered, many individuals might need protection from cults. [21] Anti-cult activists proclaimed the report a vindication of their views. [22] Other observers expressed their fear that, although the report would be shelved because of the upcoming general election, it would be revived in the future as part of a campaign against new religions. [23] The German Protestant Church responded with a cautious press release affirming religious freedom while cautioning that some religions remain problematic. [24] Consequently, the long-term impact of the commission remains unclear, while the general tone is worrisome.




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A basic problem, indirectly highlighted by the commission, is that all levels of the German government employ people whose work involves minority religions, thus creating a large government-funded bureaucracy. This bureaucracy’s only justification is the assumption that new religions are dangerous. Therefore, to ensure its continued existence, problems must be uncovered and exposed. Most government officials employed in this area appear to take their cue from the clergy, who report problems for further investigation. The clergy in turn gain status and continued financial support from their respective churches because their work is used by the state.

Consequently, government, church, and private publications criticizing new religions tend to cite each other. When compared, the publications of these agencies essentially base their cases on two criteria. First, thinly disguised theological and ideological counter-cult arguments are used to define religion in terms acceptable to the church establishment. Second, personal testimonies of disgruntled ex-members and cult atrocity stories are cited as proof that new religions create social and psychological problems. Empirical research, which questions theological bias and the value of relying almost exclusively on the testimony of ex-members or media-created atrocity stories, is conspicuously absent.






At the center of the storm about cults in Germany is the Church of Scientology. It claims that the German State has waged a relentless war against religious freedom based on a deep-rooted fascist ideology. This argument, which directly links numerous German politicians, including former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Labor Minister Norbert Blüm, with Nazi-like behavior, is made in numerous booklets and articles published by the church. [25]

The strongest evidence produced by Scientology involves graphic comparisons between anti-Jewish cartoons from the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer published during the 1930s and 1940s and anti-Scientology cartoons from contemporary German newspapers. These shocking cartoons, Scientologists argue, prove that Nazi propaganda techniques are in use today. In a cleverly produced booklet, the Church of Scientology makes a strong case against the German press for using some very questionable propaganda images. [26]

Nevertheless, most ordinary Germans, the German media, and members of the German government are outraged by the Church of Scientology’s charges that it is persecuted. In self-defense, they point to the guarantees of religious freedom found in the German




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constitution. [27] They also argue that Scientology is not a genuine religion. [28] Rather, they claim, it is a business posing as a religion to avoid taxes, with political goals that threaten to subvert democracy.

There is no doubt that the tasteless attacks on respectable German politicians by members of Scientology and their supporters are counterproductive in Germany. Men like Kohl, Blflm, and the average member of any major political party, such as the Christlich Demokratische Union (Christian Democratic Union or CDU) or Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (Social Democrats or SPD), are not Nazis nor do they act like Nazis in any meaningful way.

Germans rightly feel that such accusations are a low blow against people who have proved their democratic credentials. Further, Germans generally are very sensitive to the slur “Nazi.” After fifty years of democracy, they have a right to argue that it is time for the world to recognize German achievements and to stop thinking in such negative ways.

Even members of other minority religions in Germany react with alarm to charges by Scientology that prominent figures such as former Chancellor Kohl act like Nazis. [29] Consequently, many potential allies in the struggle for greater religious freedom have felt alienated from the Church of Scientology.






Where critiques by Scientologists tend to fail is in their inability to appreciate the complexity of the German constitutional and legal process, the subtleties of German society as a whole, and the burden of German history. [30] This lack of layered understanding is compounded by the fact that a few German politicians, such as Berlin SPD deputy and Enquete-Kommission member Renate Rennebach, have taken a lead in attacking new religions. Other politicians have attempted to gain public favor by silencing what they see as pro-cult arguments. For example, when the popular academicjournal Spirita published critical articles on Scientology that accepted Scientology as a genuine religion, some politicians attempted to close the journal. [31]

Most German politicians, however, appear to be reacting to popular pressures created by the media and numerous recent publications whose stories expose the dangers of new religions. Since 1991, there has been an explosion of literature attacking Sekten, or new religions, in Germany. Most of this criticism originates with church cult investigators. Recently, these clergymen’s works have been supplemented by the “confessions” of individuals who claim that they were exploited by particular religious groups. [32] Further, one also finds a growing number of booklets that




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discuss the dangers of fundamentalism worldwide. [33] These latter works provide details about what is seen as. a global problem. In the wake of these publications, the German press has accepted many rumors and complaints against new religions at face value, helping to create new social problems. [34]






Beginning in the early nineteenth century, various religious trends in Germany led to the development of spiritual movements that rejected democracy. At first, these trends were limited to a few isolated intellectuals. By the 1880s, however, a number of social movements began to crystallize and attract an increasing number of followers. [35]

Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, the importance of spiritual movements as precursors of the Nazi dictatorship increased. [36] Not all of these movements supported the Nazis. Some indeed opposed them and were persecuted. All of them, however, furthered Nazi aims by attacking the Weimar Republic and undermining democracy. For want of a better term, these religions will be called proto-Nazi religions. [37]

Most important among these movements were the back-to-nature Wandervogel (Wandering Birds) and Biinde (Bond or Confederation) [38]  the Ludendorff-Bewegung (Ludendorff movement) [39] the Bewegung der Freireligiösen (Free Believers) [40] the Deutsche Christen (German Christians), [41] and the Deutsche Glaubensbewegung (German Faith Movement) [42] Estimates of the strengths of these groups vary, but there is no doubt that they attracted a wide cross section of the population. Further, they functioned as both audience and client cults through rallies and the widespread distribution of their literature. [43]

Actual membership figures varied from around 600 for the largest Faith Movement groups to over 600,000 for the German Christians. [44] Numbers alone do not tell the entire story, however. Although small, the Faith Movement had disproportionate support from academics and clearly exercised far more influence than its size suggests. In the 1930s, almost all German professors of what we now call “religious studies” were members. [45]

Given the role of these movements in undermining democracy during the 1920s and early 1930s it is no wonder postwar German governments have been very wary of new religions. The Nazi era is all too real to most Germans who have to come to terms with its horrific crimes.

Following the end of the Second World War, many proto-Nazi religions disappeared, only to slowly reemerge in the 1950s. Today a number of individual authors and spiritual groups promote proto-Nazi




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new religions. Most of these are associated with fascism and holocaust revisionism. [46]

The movements themselves, many of their leaders, and particular individuals who promote them have direct links to the Nazi and preNazi era. Therefore, associating these groups with the Nazis is not propaganda. It is simply stating the facts. Further, upon examination the ideologies promoted by them are essentially the same as those they promoted prior to World War [47].






The once influential teachings of Mathilde Ludendorff (1877-1966) will suffice to show why many educated Germans react with horror when confronted by new religions. Mathilde Ludendorff was the third daughter of a Lutheran minister, Bernhard SpieB of Wiesbaden. She became a schoolteacher before graduating in medicine and marrying the zoologist Gustav Adolf von Kemnitz in 1904.[48] In 1906, she officially withdrew from the Lutheran Church, and in 1913 received her doctorate in neurology. Her criticisms of the occult and Christianity date from this period. [49] After World War I, when occult movements bloomed, she republished these criticisms and became a champion of gender equality.

She lost her first husband in 1916, and, after a second failed marriage, wed General Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937), the Commander- in-Chief of German forces at the end of World War I, in 1925. Von Kemnitz met Ludendorff in 1923, when he was still deeply affected by the German defeat. Unlike Ludendorff, von Kemnitz brimmed with confidence. According to the chief Nazi ideologue, Alfred Rosenberg, she had already offered herself to Hitler as Führerin. [50] The book that made her famous was Triumph of the Will to Immortality (1921) [51] This book, numerous other publications, endorsement by General Ludendorff, and the organizations they created to disseminate their political and philosophico-religious ideas made Mathilde Ludendorff’s science-based religion, Gotterkenntnis (God-consciousness), immensely popular. Shortly before her husband’s death, the couple founded the VereinfürDeutsche Gotterkenntnis (Society for German God-consciousness) with Hitler’s blessing.

The propaganda of the Ludendorffs associated Jews and Freemasonry with an opportunistic liberalism and democracy which, they argued, was scornful of moral principles and keen to exploit a bogus rationalism for financial gain. According to them, Jews, Freemasons, and liberals alike were isolated individuals who lacked national traditions and a sense of cultural history. Instead, they dreamed the dreams of humanity in the abstract, thus promoting an impersonal internationalism that nourished their alienation. [52]




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Between 1945 and 1951, Mathilde Ludendorff assumed alow profile and her movement was dormant, only to be reactivated under the new name of Bund fur Gotterkenntnis (League for God-consciousness). At its height after the war, this group had 3,948 members. Worried by its growing influence, the Bavarian Administrative Court prohibited the league on 28 January 1965. It was declared hostile to the constitution, verfassungsfeindlich. Her publishing house, Verlag Hohe Warte (Watchtower Press) was also banned as was the political wing of the Ludendorff Movement.





From the example of the Ludendorff movement, we can see why Germans implicitly or explicitly interpret all new religions in terms of their verfassungsfeindliche-Ideologie (ideology of constitutional danger). This ideology evaluates all new religions in terms of their relationship to the constitution and is buttressed by social structures that are capable of mobilizing the German government, courts, church, and media. Today, Germans use the religious-political concept of totalitarianism to warn against dangerous movements. The process of warning is premised on the historical experiences of Communist dictatorship in the German Democratic Republic and National Socialistic dictatorship in the Third Reich and implies that the movements in question constitute an attack on democracy. Therefore, if a new religion, specifically Scientology, can be shown to be totalitarian, it is judged to be verfassungsfrmndlich, hostile to the basic law or constitution. [54]

Being verfassungsfrmndlich contravenes all four sections of Article 20 of the basic law, which states decisively that the Federal Republic of Germany shall be a democratic and social federal state. Here, section four of article twenty is the key. It grants all Germans the “right to resist anybody attempting to do away with this constitutional order.” [55] This article enables members of the anti-cult movement to provide information about Scientology and other new religions to government agencies, the courts, and the media to legitimately create a public climate of popular resistance.






To comprehend how the concept of verfassungsftmndlich plays itself out in specific instances we will briefly examine the case against Scientology made by the Federal Ministry of the Interior. In Texte zur Inneren Sicherheit (Texts on State Security) [56]  Scientology is identified as




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a potentially dangerous organization. To understand this claim, it is necessary to cite various quotations from the publications of L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, which are examined by the anti-cult authors of this book. The following statements by Hubbard provide the central thrust of the German argument:


     And there is Political Dianetics, which embraces the field of group activity and organization to establish the optimum conditions and processes of leadership and intergroup relations. [57]


According to the booklet, the implications of this statement are that Scientology is a self-proclaimed political organization that aims at “Creating a New Civilization.” [58] Consequently, when Hubbard writes,


     An ideal society would be a society of unaberrated persons, clears, conducting their lives within an unaberrate culture. . . . It is not enough that an individual be himself unaberrated, for he discovers himself within the confines of a society which itself has compounded its culture with many unreasonable prejudices and customs. [59]


the writers of the booklet question the meaning of “aberrated” and “unaberrated” people. They then cite as a goal of Scientology Hubbard’s further statement that


     Perhaps at some distant date only the unaberrated person will be granted civil rights before the law. Perhaps the goal will be reached at some future time when only the unaberrated person can attain to and benefit from citizenship. These are desirable goals and would produce a marked increase in the survival ability and happiness of man. [60]


This and similar comments, the writers argue, show that Hubbard intended Scientologists to discriminate against particular individuals and groups in an elitist manner that is incompatible with democracy. Consequently, they argue, Scientology represents a totalitarian system that potentially threatens the democratic nature of the German constitution. [61] Thus, Scientology is judged in terms of its own publications to be verfassungsfeindlich.

When challenged to defend this type of argument, German cult investigators point to other of Hubbard’s statements including the following:


     It is not necessary to produce a world of clears in order to have a reasonable and worthwhile social order; it is only necessary to delete those individuals who range from 2.0 down either by processing them enough to get their tone level above the 2.0 line . . . or simply quarantining them from the society. [62]





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Hubbard, they continue, explained his meaning with this story:


     A Venezuelan dictator once decided to stop leprosy. He saw that most lepers in his country were also beggars. By the simple expedient of collecting and destroying all the beggars in Venezuela an end was put to leprosy in that country. [63]


The explanation that Hubbard’s intention was to raise the intelligence of people and that statements like this must be taken in the context of his entire work are dismissed by German critics. They argue that the writings of any movement must be taken at face value and not interpreted.

To make matters worse, the critics point out that in Germany various extreme Right organizations have supported Scientology in their publications. [64] The possibility that the extreme Right might be using the Scientology issue to weaken the powers of the Internal Security police is overlooked. Also overlooked is the logical fallacy of arguing that because an extreme Right group expresses support for Scientology, Scientology necessarily supports the extreme Right. [65]





Recognizing the role proto-Nazi religious movements played in destroying German democracy in the 1920s and 1930s helps us understand the stance of the present German state toward Scientology. The German state argues that Scientology is simply a more durable and popular version of the type of new religion that caused havoc in the past. According to German critics, Scientology aims at creating the same kind of human being and mentality as earlier new religions.

Similarly, the Protestant Central Agency for Worldview Questions, in an article published on its web site, claims that Scientology pursues the “idea of an absolute heroic Ubermensch (superman)” and is ready to shed the cumbersome shackles of liberalism and democracy on its path to “world supremacy. [66] This implies that Scientology represents a political threat to the German state analogous to that of the Nazis.

To some Germans, therefore, Scientology is American in its emphasis on methods and economic success as the measure of all things. It is totalitarian (1) in its creation of “the New Being” who becomes free by tapping all unused intellectual potential and capabilities; (2) in its extinction of all painful experiences; (3) and in its synthesis of selfhelp methods and esoteric teachings. Thus, German anti-cult figures such as Thomas Gandow and Tilmann Hausherr [67] appear to be motivated by a deep sense of social concern and a strong desire to preserve democracy.




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Although phrased somewhat differently, the rhetoric used by the German anti-cult movement to discredit Scientology mirrors the rhetoric used by National Socialists to attack Jews. Today, Scientologists are said to threaten civil order by opposing liberalism and democracy. In the 1930s,Jews were accused of threatening the German state in the name of liberalism and democracy. Common to this rhetoric is the theme that the state is in danger from organizations with international rather than national goals. The similarity in rhetoric between attacks on new religions today and attacks on the Jews in the 1920s and 1930s is clear and worrisome.

In presenting their arguments, German anti-cult critics conveniently overlook major differences between Hubbard’s ideas and those of protoNazi religions of the past and present. Proto-Nazi religions trace their origins to the racist theories of Paul de Lagarde and Houston Steward Chamberlain. Scientology, on the other hand, has its roots in the American tradition of self-help individualism. On the matter of race, Hubbard is quite explicit in his affirmation of the unity of humankind and his rejection of racism. His “dynamic four” urges the “individual toward ultimate survival for all mankind.” [68] Further, Hubbard takes a strong line against war, arguing that


     Wars never solve the need of wars. Fight to save the world for democracy or save it from Confucianism and the fight is inevitably lost by all. . . . A society which advances into a war as a solution of its problems cannot but depress its own survival potential. [69]


Such an attitude is a far step from the glorification of war and the ideal of Heroic Man found in the Hitler movement. [70] Nor do we find the same millenarian doctrines and expectations in Scientology as are found in hard-core Nazi occultism. 71] Instead, in Hubbard’s works we have American-style self-improvement in the tradition of positive thinking. [72]






However much one deplores actions by the German state against Scientology and other new religions, it has to be admitted that the intention is a noble one. Nobody wants to see a revival of Nazism or a Nazi clone masquerading under another name.

Unfortunately, some members of the German anti-cult movement threaten the noble cause of preserving democracy. These folk marry the notion of totalitarianism with concepts of heresy. Here the role of church cult investigators, who gather information about and dispense knowledge of new religions, comes into play. The data gathered by cult investigators is used by the church, government ministers, and, there is




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good reason to believe, the courts to address the question of whether new religions such as Scientology are indeed “real religions”? [73]

The structural effect of this is that the already weak state-church separation in Germany is lost altogether. We can see this by looking at the publications of groups such as the Evangelical Central Agency for Wordview Questions and the Archive for Religious and Worldview Questions. Their comments on Scientology focus on the question of whether or not Scientology is a genuine religion. However, instead of discussing definitions of religion in terms of Religionsgeschichte or Religionswissenschaft (the history or science of religion), they use supposed evidence of totalitarian tendencies, argue that Scientology is a business, and cite court rulings. [74] The problem is that sociological and theological judgments are blurred. Thus, certain cult investigators argue that a particular group is not a religion. The courts, or at least some people connected with them, appear to accept the expertise of the cult investigators on these issues and rule accordingly. Later, court judgments become part of theological arguments to prove that Scientology and other new religions are not real religions. Thus, church employees feed the courts information that theologians use to formulate their own opinions, and the whole process becomes self-reinforcing. [75]

Given this situation and the intense interest in new religions in Germany, one expects to find a deluge of empirical studies by anthropologists, sociologists, and other academics investigating what is clearly considered as a growing social and political problem. However, many German academics are very reluctant to undertake empirical research that involves life-history interviews or participant observation in the area of new religions.

At best, most German scholars restrict themselves to survey research or the analysis of a new religion’s literature and theology. Two recent sociological surveys on religion in Germany by Karl-Fritz Daiber and Harmut Zinzer supplement older studies—which concentrated on Protestant-Catholic relations—by including information about new religions. [76] Although very valuable, neither of these works contains the wealth of empirical detail available to North American researchers in the research of scholars such as Rodney Stark or Reginald Bibby. Apart from these works, which present survey evidence, there are, as far as we are aware, only six major anthropological or sociological studies using participant—observation and life—history interviews. [77]

If they are weak in empirical studies, German scholars excel in literary and philosophical analysis, particularly where ancient or foreign languages are involved. Indeed, in this area they are generally far better than their British or North American counterparts. Some excellent academic monographs (based on literary research) that do not support the prevailing orthodoxy exist. These include Christoph Bochinger’s massive study of the New Age movement and Thomas Schweer’s work




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on the phenomena of new religions in Germany. [78] These works are rarely cited, however, in the publications of either the German anti- cult movement or the government. There are also a few rare semi- popular works that try to correct common misunderstandings [79] and a number of very useful general surveys, similar to J. Gordon Melton’s encyclopedias. [80]

The newly created diagonal-Verlag (Diagonal Press) has played an important role in the German theological community by publishing books informed by religious studies and encouraging empirical research. This press produces the academic journal Zeitschrift für Religionswissenschaft (Journalfor the Science of Religion) and a more popular journal devoted to the discussion of new religions, Spirita [81]’ DiagonalVerlag’s Thomas Schweer and Steffen Rink recently founded the Scientific Study of Religion Media and Information Service (REMID) [82] to provide reliable information on religious issues to the media and other interested parties. [83] However, these activities are still in their infancy and have yet to prove that they are capable of engaging the academic establishment or even church-based cult investigators.

There are some younger scholars engaged in the study of new religions, but as yet few have received their doctorates or habilitated. [84] Nevertheless, Professors Hans-Jürgen Greschat and Reiner Flasche in Marburg and Hubert Seiwert in Leipzig deserve mention for encouraging empirical research into new religions. Despite these positive developments, theological faculties still dominate discussions about religion in Germany. Consequently, some German academics, including established professors and graduate students in religious studies, admit that they are reluctant to engage in empirical studies involving participant observation for fear of either losing research funding or of not being able to obtain employment in the future. [85] Many of those we spoke to on this issue cited the influence of mainline churches as the main reason for not studying new religions empirically.

Experience shows that such fears are fully justified. In the early l980s, a German sociologist produced a number of empirical studies that contradicted theological dogma. The result was a campaign of vilification by a certain cult investigator. This resulted in what Wolfgang Kuner calls “a hidden campaign” against the man’s work, public attacks on his integrity, the loss of university support (including a major grant), and other sanctions. Eventually, this scholar had to seek legal advice to prevent further slander and defamation. Subsequently, he quit academia and found work in the private sector. Apparently, similar attacks were made on other sociologists, with the result that many academics backed away from empirical research into new religions. [86]

Another disturbing trend among established German academics is their willingness to accept uncritically the work of church-based cult experts. Thus theological judgments are often substituted for empirical




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research simply because there is an unwritten agreement that ministers of religion are trustworthy and know what they are talking about in matters of religion.

The fact that most, if not all, of these so-called “experts” are untrained, even uninterested, in the social sciences is of no concern. It is this lack of empirical research coupled with hasty theological judgments based on limited texts that leads many Germans to associate Scientology, Christian charismatic churches, and other new religions with right-wing extremism and Nazism. [87]

Thus, fear of extremism and pressure from the anti-cult establishment is leading many responsible Germans to hold negative views about new religions. Because anti-cult propaganda is often based on false and misleading information, good empirical research conducted by established academics is urgently needed.






Clearly, German politicians need to revise their thinking and take steps to prevent the persecution of minority religions. What is needed is a dialogue that encourages Scientology and other new religions to understand the unique problems facing Germany. New religions in Germany must clearly state their support for democracy and make it clear that they do not seek support from neo-Nazi organizations. They must also reject, or at the very least clarify in unambiguous ways, statements made by their founders that Germans interpret as totalitarian rhetoric and propaganda. Until this is done, Germans and other Europeans will continue to resist American lobbying in support of religious freedom as unjustified interference in their internal affairs.

On the other hand Germans, particularly academics, churchmen, and politicians need to reconsider their conclusions about new religions in the light of empirical evidence. German academics have a duty to play a social role by conducting sound empirical research into the role of religion and religious groups in German society.

Finally, for those who wish to understand the differences in approach between British and North American anti-cult movements and German anti-cult movements, nineteenth-century reactions to Roman Catholicism are instructive. In Britain and North America, anti-Catholic agitation was the work of individuals and voluntary organizations such as churches. [88] In Germany, however, Bismark launched his Kulturkampf and thus set a historical precedent for government crusades against unpopular religious communities. [89]






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1 Cf. Anson Shupe and David Bromley, The New Vigilantes (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1980), and Strange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare (Boston: Beacon, 1981).


2 Anson Shupe and David Bromley, eds., TheAnti-Cult Movement in Cross-Cultural Perspective (New York: Garland, 1994).


3 Shupe and Bromley, The New Vigilantes and Strange Gods; Eileen Barker, The Making of a Moonie, (Oxford: Blackwells, 1984). Douglas Cowan is also writing a University of Calgary Ph.D. thesis that examines the methods and evidence produced by Christian anti-cult writers.


4 Friedrich-Wilhelm Haack, Sekten (München: Münchener Reihe, 1994), 70-80.


5 James A. Beckford, Cult Controversies: The Societal Response to the New Religious Movements (London: Tavistock Publications, 1985). This is an excellent book, which still deserves close attention. Years ago Irving Hexham published a somewhat critical review, which he now concedes was unwarranted.


6 James T. Richardson and Barend van Driel, “New Religions in Europe: Developments and Reactions,” in Shupe and Bromley, The Anti-Cult Movement, 129-70.


7 David Bromley, “Linking Social Structure and the Exit Process in Religious

Organizations,” ]ournal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37, no. 1, (1998): 145-60.


8 Ibid., 154-55.


9 lbid., 155.


10 Hannah Vogt, The Burden of Guilt: A Short History of Germany (New York: Oxford, University Press, 1964).


11 Cf. Arno Kappler and Adriane Grevel, eds., Facts About Germany (Frankfurt-am-Main:

Societhts-Verlag, 1995), 382.


12  E.g. Father Klaus Funke’s Kath. Arbeitskreis, based in Berlin.


13 “Cult commissioner” is a more literal translation. We use the term “investigator” because it sums up their work and avoids confusion with members of the Enquete-Kommission.


14 E.g. M. Shiprnann, Informationen fiber neue religiöse und weltanschauliche Bewegungen und sogenannte Psychogruppen (Berlin: Senatsverwaltung furJugend und Familie, 1994), and Die Ministerprãsidentin des Landes Schleswig-Holstein, Psychokulte, Sekten, “Jugendreligionen, “Extremgruppen (Kiel: Carius Druck, 1997).


15 Cf. Shipmann, Informationen, 139-43.


16 Cf. Bundesverwaltungsamt, Die Scientology-Organisation (Köln: Gehringer Verlag, 1996),



17 Cf The German Evangelical Alliance’s Idea Spectrum Newsbriefs (1997), “EnqueteKommission nimmt VEF-Freikirchen nicht als ‘Sekten’ unter die Lupe” 24: 5; “Kein Grund zur ‘Sektenhysterie”’ 29: 7; “Empôrung flber Urnfrage: Freikirchen fühlen sich in die Sekten-Eckc gestellt” 47: 3; “Sekten als gesellschaftliches Reiztherna” 48: 2-3; ‘Pfingstkirche wehrt sich gegen Eingruppierung bei Sekten und Psychogruppen” 49: 5; ‘Pfingstkirche in Sorge: Religionsfreiheit in Deutschland in Gefahr” 53: 3, 5; and “Streit urn Zahl der Anhflnger von Sekten und Psychogruppen” and “Verharmlosung von Sekten kann die Religionsfreiheit gefãhrden” 77: 4. Deutscher Bundestag, Zwischenbericht der Enquete-Kommission, “Sogenannte Sekten und Psychogruppen” (Bonn: Deutscher Bundestag, l3Wahlperiode, Drucksache 13/8170). Cf. Kappler and Grevel, Facts About Germany, 382.


18   report is available from the German Government in Bonn. Deutscher Bundestag, Endbericht derEnquete-Kommission “Sogenannte Sekten tend Psychogrupen” (Bonn: Drucksache 13/10950, 29 May 1998). An unofficial version is available on the internet at: http://




Nova Religio html, June 1998. Other relevant documents can be found on the German government web site at: http://, June 1998.


19 “Kindergarten der Exorzisten,” Der Spiegel, 8June 1998, 47-49.


20 “Sorgen sind verstfindlich aber Sekten stellen keine Gcfahr dar,” Rheinische Post, 29

May 1998; “Sekten-Kommission sieht keine generelle Gefahr,” Welt, 30 May 1998; “Durch

‘Sekten keine Gefahr für Gesellschaft,” Kblnische Rundschau, 30 May 1998; “Suche nach

dem Glauben bleibt umstritten,” Die Tageszeitung, 30 May 1998.


21 The treatment of the issue by the Frankfurter Rundschau (“Gefahr durch Sekten

verneint,” 30 May 1998) was fairly typical. It clearly stated that the Enquete-Kommission

found no great danger from new religions, but sandwiched its story between other articles

which stressed the danger of cults. These were “Kinder von Sekten Schützen” and ‘Gericht

erzwingt Offenlegung der Geheimschriften von Scientology.”


22 This position was clearly stated by Tilman Hausherr on the internet discussion group

Nurel-l (1996-98). Nurel-l can be contacted at


23 These points were made by Steffen Rink, Thomas Schweer, and Peter Kratz on Nurel1, (June-July 1997).


24, 24June 1998.


25 E.g. Freedom, Special Report, Echoes of the Past (Los Angeles: Church of Scientology, nd.).


26 Hate and Propaganda: Sanctioned and Promoted by the German Media and Government (Los Angeles: Church of Scientology, 1993).


27 cf. The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (Bonn: Press and Information Office,



28 Cf. Jens Mecklenburg, Handbuch Deutscher Rechtsextremismus (Berlin: Elefanten Press,

1996), 392.


29 Interviews by authors with German charismatic Christians, members of Universelles


30 Leben (Universal Life), Christliche Wissenschafl (Christian Science), and Anthroposophen

(Anthroposophists) ,July 1997. 38 Cf. Vogt, The Burden of Guilt.


31 Private communication with publishers of Spirita. Cf. Spirita, “Schwerpunkt:

Scientology,” 7 (1993): 5-48; “‘Sekten’ verbieten? Diskussion zielt auf Scientology’ 8 (1994): 52-55.


32 When we began research in Germany in 1991 it was hard to find a single book in a normal bookstore dealing with new religions. By 1997 many bookstores had two or three shelves full of books exposing the cults. E.g. Friedrich-Wilhelm Haack and Thomas Gandow, Sekten (Mflnchen: Mflnchener Reihe, 1994); Friedrich-Wilhelm Haack, Europas neue Religion: Sekten-Gurus-Satanskult (1991; reprint, Freiburg: Herder, 1993); Tom Voltz, Scientology: Fin Insider packt aus: Hint ergriinde-Fakten-Dokumente (Freiburg: Herder, 1997); and Kurt-Helmuth Eimuth, Die Sekten -Kinder (Freiburg: Herder, 1996).


33 Lothar Engel, Erhard Kamphausen, andJohanna Linz, eds., Fundamentalismus in Afrika tend America (Hamburg: Evangelisches Missionswerk in Deutschland, 1993).


34 Cf. Axel Kintzinger, “Die Sekten-Falle,’ Focus, 25 April 1994; ‘Sekten: V-Leute gegen den Psycho-Konzern,” Der Spiegel, 3 February 1997; Michael Schwelien, ‘Credo der Freiheit: Amerika duldet die bizarrsten Sekten,” Die Zeit, 7 February 1997; “Gurus, yogische Flieger, Scientologen und okkultische Ufo-Fans,” FrankfurterRundschau, l4July 1997; and Christian Krug, “Die teuflische Macht der Sekten,” Stern, 4 May 1995, 3, 32-



35 George L. Mosse, The Crisis of the German Ideology (New York: Schoken Books, 1981) and The Nationalization of the Masses (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975); Walter Z. Laqueur, Young Germany: A History of the German Youth Movement (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962).






Hexham and Poewe: New Religions in Germany



36 Cf. Nicholas Goodrich-Clarke, The Occult Roots of Nazism (New York: New York University

Press, 1992).


37 We use the term “Nazi” rather than “fascist” because many fascists (e.g., Mussolini)

rejected Nazi race theories.


38 Cf. Laqueur, Young Germany.


39 Cf. Gent Burst, “Die Ludendorff-Bewegung, 1919-1961” (Ph.D. diss., University of

München, 1969); “Antisemitismus: Mathilde Ludendorff,” Der Spiegel, February 1960,



40 Friedrich Heyer and Volker Pitzer, Religion ohne Kirche: Bewegung der Freireligihsen

(Stuttgart: Quell Verlag, 1977).


41 Cf. Doris L. Bergen, Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).


42 Ulrich Nanko, Die Deutsche Glaubensbewegung: Eine historische tend soziologische Untersuchung

(Marburg, Diagonal-Verlag, 1993).


43 Cf. Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, The Future of Religion: Secularization,

Revival and Cult Formation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 26-30.


44 Cf. Nanko, Die Deutsche Glaubensbewegung, 35-52; Bergen, Twisted Cross, 7.


45 Cf. Margarete Dierks, Jakob Wilhelm Hauer~ 1881-1962 (Heidelberg: Verlag Lambert Schneider, 1986); Nanko, Die Deutsche Glaubensbewegung, 332-43; Mecklenburg, Handbuch Deutscher Rechtsextremismus, 440-547.


46 Cf. Sigrid Hunke, Europas Eigene Religion (Tübingen, Grabert, 1997); and the Zundel web site for links to spiritual groups promoting revisionism and neo-fascism, http://, June 1998. Ernst Zundel is the notorious Canadian Holocaust denier who runs various web sites and publishes numerous booklets and newsletters denying the Holocaust. The Canadian government has taken him to court several times. Cf. Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (New York: Plume Books, 1994), 157-63; Mecklenburg, Handbuch Den tscher Rechtsextremismus, 547.


47 Ibid., 440-547, 550-94, 692-732.


48 Haack, Europas neue Religion, 133.


49 It is significant that her criticisms of the occult, especially of mediums, were published in 1913 byJ. F. Lehmann’s Verlag, München. Lehmann was one of the völkische publishers that made up the publishing infrastructure of the conservative revolution. Lehmann produced a series on South Africa to which Afrikaner nationalists like Rompel, Kestell, Viljoen, and President Paul Krisger contributed.


50 “Antisemitismus,” Der Spiegel, 17 February 1960, 30.


51 Mathilde von Kemnitz, Triumph des Unsterblichkeitwillens (Stuttgart: Verlag Hohe Warte,



52 Math ilde Ludendorff, “Induciertes”Irresein durch Occultlehren (München: Ludendorffs Volkswarte Verlag, 1933).


53 In this section we acknowledge our debt to Wolfgang Ullmann’s paper “Politische

und theologische Hhresie im Pluralismus der Religionen,” BerlinerDialog 3, no. 2 (1997): 28-35. This can be found at:’7s28.html.


54 Press and Information Office of the Federal Government, Bonn, Basic Law for the

Federal Republic of Germany, official translation, rev.June 1994 (Schwerin: Obotriendruck,



55 Ibid., 22.


56 Bundesrninisterium des Innern, Texte zur Inneren Sicherheit (Texts on Internal Security) (Bonn: Druck-Verlag Kettler, 1997).


57 Ibid., 185. Here and in the following quotes we use the English original from L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics (Los Angeles: Bridge Publications, 1985), 168.





Nova Religio



58 Ibid.


59 Bundesminsterium, Texte zurlnneren Sicherheit, 184; Hubbard, Dianetics, 429.


60 Bundesminsterium, Texte zurlnneren Sicherheit, 193; Hubbard, Dianetics, 430.


61 Bundesminsterium, Texte zur Inneren Sicherheit, 193-94.


62 L. Ron Hubbard, Science of Survival (Los Angeles: The American Saint Hill Organization,

1951), 155.


63 Ibid., 157.


64 “Thule Netz,”, 4 May 1998.


65 Mecklenburg, Handbuch Deutscher Rechtsextremismus, 392.


66 “Scientology,”, 18 May 1998.


67 Hausherr runs an anti-Scientology web site at: .-krasel/CoS/germany/faq.html, 18 May 1998.


68 Hubbard, Dianetics, 40.


69Ibid., 152.


70 Cf. Peter F. Drucker, The End of Economic Man (New York: John Day Company, 1939),

19 1-95.


71   M. Rhodes, The Hitler Movement (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1980).


72 Donald Meyer, The Positive Thinkers (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980).


73 For example, Die Scientology-Organisation—Gefahren, Ziele und Praktiken (Bundesministeriums für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jungend von Bundesverwaltungsampt, 1996), 42-46, treats the work of the clergyman FriedrichWilhelm Haack as though he was an established scholar and not a minister of religion lacking academic qualifications in the area in which he is writing. This is like an Amencan government report citing the evangelical writer Walter Martin as though he were an academic expert. Similarly, Monika Schipmann, Informationen über neue religiöse tend weltanschauliche Bewegungen tend sogenannte Psychogruppen (Berlin: Senatsverwaltung für Jungen nod Familie, 1994), 68, relies heavily on theological commentators for its view of Scientology and other new religions. We had conversations with several German lawyers who told us that they believed some theologians were given undue respect by the courts and cited specific cases to illustrate their point. However, they are unwilling to speak out openly on this issue.


74‘ “Scientology,”, 18 May 1998.


75 It is perhaps worth noting that when we met with Thomas Gandow in March 1995 he boasted of the fact that he was “advising” the Russian government about the way to treat cults. Then he added that once the Russians passed legislation against such groups, he hoped that the European Parliament would sit up and take notice. Finally, he expressed the opinion that if Europe took a strong stand against cults, the American government might eventually follow suit.


76 Karl-Fritz Daiber, Religion unterdenBedingungen derModerne (Macburg: diagonal-Verlag,

1995); Harmut Zinzer’s DerMarkt derReligionen (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1997).


77 These are: Wolfgang Kuner, Soziogenese derMitgliedschaft in drei neuen religiösen Bewegungen (Frankfurt-am-Main: Lang, 1983); Gerhard Schmidtchen, Sekten und Psychokultur:

Reichweite tend Attraktivitht von Jugendreligionen in derBundesrepublik Deutschland (Freiburg:

Herder, 1987) ;Joachim Süss, ZurErleuchtung unterwegs: Neo-Sannyasin in Deutschland und ihre Religion (Berlin: D. Reimer, 1994); Yvonne Karow, Bhagwan-Bewegung tend Vereinigungskirche : Religions- tend Selbstverstdndnis derSannyasins tend derMunies (Stuttgart: W Kohlhammer, 1990); Frank Usarski, Die Stigmatisierung Neuer Spiritueller Bewegungen in derBundesrepublicDeutschland (Köln: Böhlau Verlag, 1988); Franz Wiesberger, Bausteine zu einer soziologischen Theorie der Konversion (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1990); and Martin Baumann, Deutsche Buddhisten (Macburg: diagonal-Verlag, 1995).


78 Christoph Bochinger, New Age tend moderne Religion (Gütersloh: Chr. Kaiser/Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1994).




Hexham and Poewe: New Religions in Germany



79 Eckhard J. Schnabel, Sind Evangelikale Fundamentalisten 1 (Wuppertal: R. Brockhaus,



80 The oldest of these is Kurt Hutten’s Seher-Griibler Enthusiasten (Stuttgart: Evang. Gesellschaft Verlag, 1953); other examples of this genre include Oswald Eggenberger, Die Kirchen, Sondergruppen tend religiosen Vereinigungen (1969; reprint, Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1994); Hans Gasper, Joachim Muller, and Friederike Valentin, Lexikon derSekten, Sondergruppen und Weltanschauungen (Freiburg: Herder, 1990); Michael Klöker and Udo Tworuschka’s Religionen in Deutchland (MGnchen: Olzog Verlag, 1994); P. Klaus Funke, Sekten OkkultismusEsoterikNeueReligiositdt (Leipzig: Benno Verlag, 1994).


81 diagonal-Verlag, Alte Kasseler Str. 43, D-35039, Macburg, Germany.


82 ReligionswissenschaftlicherMedien- tend lnformationsdienst e. v.,(the Scientific Study of Religion


Media and Information Service).


83 In cooperation with the Center for the Study of New Religions (CESNUR), they

organized a conference on new religions in Macburg, March 1998


84 In Germany habilitation, which requires a second major doctoral thesis, is a prerequisite

for an academic appointment. Therefore, unlike in Britain or North America, it is

habilitation, not a Ph.D., that really counts when attempting to influence German

academic culture.


85 Talks with various German academics 1987 and 1995.


86 Wolfgang Kuner, letter to author, 3 September 1998. Kuner wrote Das Entstehen rifler neteen Religion: dos Beispiel der Vereinigungskirche (München: Kösel, 1981); and “New Religious Movements and Mental Health,” in Of Gods and Mess, ed. Eileen Barker (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1983): 255-63. On the other hand, it remains unclear whether a group like Scientology, unlike the Unification Church, would allow itself to be freely studied.


87 Cf. Steve Selthoffer, “German Charismatic Churches Face Persecution, Threats of Violence,” Charisma (November 1995): 18-19.


88 Herbert Richardson, ed., New Religions and Mental Heal/h (Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1980), xxvi-xxviii.


89 Gordon A. Craig, Germany 1966—1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1987), 69-78.