Date of Award

Winter 1-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Forensic Psychology



First Advisor or Mentor

Chitra Raghavan

Second Reader

Abbie Tuller

Third Advisor

Rhonda Sternberg


Research on cults has explored susceptibility related to seeking membership, but not the role of an individual’s prior religious beliefs in cult involvement (Almendros et al., 2007). This study aims to understand the role of prior religious beliefs to cult susceptibility—specifically, joining and remaining in a cult. This study explored participants’ prior and subsequent religious affiliations and spirituality. In addition, it investigated the relationship between prior religion type and the cult type joined, including age of induction, time involved, and gender differences.

Former cult members (N=103) of a variety of Christian and non-Christian groups were interviewed using a semi-structured interview guide. Data was analyzed within a theoretical framework of coercive control using grounded theory. The sample consisted of a surprisingly large proportion of second-generation adults (SGAs) and others raised in cultic groups (N=42) and therefore, they were omitted from analysis. Results indicate that majority of participants (N=51) endorsed prior religious participation before they joined a cultic group. Additionally, about half the participants reported joining a cult that was related to their religion of origin and typically joined younger and stayed longer. These findings suggest both that cults are powerful and that there is a strong relationship between prior religious beliefs and cult affiliation.



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