cult recovery 101

Types of Cults

Distinctions are made between different types of cults: e.g. destructive cults (which have committed violence, or who advocate violence), vs. so-called “benign” cults (which some consider relatively harmless even though their teachings and practices may be out of step with societal and/or theological norms). There are commercial cults (e.g. the high-pressure, “fake-it-till-you-make-it” groups, the “pay-to-pray” movements, and the “pay-more-to-advance” variety), one-on-one cultic relationships, corporate cults, UFO cults, pseudo-religious cults, pseudo-political cults, etcetera.

To better understand the differences in cultic groups it is helpful to categorize them. Enrothoffers the following classification scheme:

  • Eastern Mystical: groups related to Hinduism, Buddhism and other pantheistic Eastern religions; examples in this category are Hare Krishnas and Self-Realization Fellowship.
  • Aberrant Christian: groups that claim to be Bible-based but which deviate in practice or belief, such as The Way International, the Boston Church of Christ and the Shepherding Movement. 
  • Psycho spiritual or Self-Improvement: groups offering seminars or workshops providing self- improvement or personal transformation (a growing cultic trend), includes Transcendental Meditation, Lifespring and The Forum (formerly est). 
  • Eclectic/Syncretistic: a combination of several religious traditions, includes the Unification Church (”Moonies”) and the Church Universal and Triumphant. 
  • Psychic/Occult/Astral: these groups offer ”secret wisdom” and ”lost truths;” examples include UFO cults and Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment. 
  • Established Cults: Bible-based, cultic religious movements which have achieved mainstream status; this would include Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Science. 
  • Extremist/Political/Social Movements: groups cultic in the psychological or social sense which include the Aryan Nation, White Aryan Resistance and the Ku Klux Klan.
Source: John MoreheadWhat Is A Cult?; quoting Ron Enroth, The Lure of the Cults, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1982), pp. 22-25