“By Faith Alone”: New Religions, Cult Experts, and the Media

Proceedings of ‏The 3rd International Academic Conference on Research in Social Sciences

Year: 2021

DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.33422/3rd.iacrss.2021.06.84

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“By Faith Alone”: New Religions, Cult Experts, and the Media

Thomas J. Ward



An expert in Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity has pored over the original or the earliest available texts of the religion that she strives to understand. Adherent to the religion in question or not, the expert has respectfully and objectively tried to observe its application in the lives of the faithful, in its rituals, and practices. She appreciates and can articulate how that religious tradition has impacted on the cultural milieu. She can address its evolution, its highs and its lows. While clear standards exist for identifying an authority on any of the world’s major religions, today’s media largely relies on disparate criteria in their coverage of new religions. Journalists remain largely reliant on personalities who lack appropriate academic training. The “expertise” of some of media’s main sources stems from a questionable narrative that stereotypes and marginalizes millions, denying their religiosity and assessing them based on criteria that could equally be applied to mainstream religions and, yet, for the time being, are not. Few of the individuals making inchoate, often alarmist assertions about new religious movements have any advanced academic training in religion whatsoever. Some alleged authorities cited by the press have no university-level training at all. While today’s media professionals are commendably cautious in reporting on incidents involving race, religion, or ethnicity, they lack such deference in their coverage of new religions. Today’s media leaders should come to terms with the implications of this extant dichotomy of standards.

Keywords: Anti-Cult Movement; Cult Experts; new religious movements, SPJ Code of Ethics; deprogramming.