ABC Radio: Don’t call it a cult

the weird cult looking eyeWhat’s the difference between a religion and a cult? These two religious studies professors say the distinction isn’t useful, and that “cult” is pejorative. The God Forbid panel explores new religious movements and why we classify different belief systems in different ways.

In this episode:

What kind of person joins a new religious movement? It turns out they’re just like you and me.

In 1973 a French motoring journalist claimed he spoke with an alien. The new religion he founded — Raelism — is now 100,000 members strong.

Most new religious movements fizzle out. Others are forcibly broken up by the government. Still others become respected faiths. Regardless, leaving a one is a traumatic experience.

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Supporting Information

Listen to Richard Fidler’s full conversation with Rev Dr David Millikan can be found on Conversations: David Millikan examines the world of cults.

Read the full transcript of Rachael Kohn’s interview with the founder of Raelism, His Holiness Rael: Spaceships and Spirituality.

Hear Sarah Steel’s full report about Outreach International for Earshot: You should feel uncomfortable: One family’s time in Outreach International.

Listen to Sarah Steel’s podcast Let’s Talk About Sects.

Information about Susan Jean Palmer’s talk at ANU can be found here: Minors in minority religions: The delicate balance between religious freedom and the well-being of the child.


Carole Cusack is professor of religious studies at the University of Sydney. She’s an expert on small and non-traditional religions and is the founding editor of the International Journal for the Study of New Religions.

Susan Jean Palmer is professor of sociology at Concordia University and researcher of new religious movements at McGill in Canada. Her field work has put her face-to-face with more than 30 new religions and fringe sects.


James Carleton


Rohan Salmond / Hong Jiang


the weird cult looking eye
Contrary to popular belief, most new religious movements are benign. (Image: Getty / GeorgePeters)

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(Page reproduced with permission from ABC Religion)




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