CULTS: Faith, Healing, and Coercion

Marc Galanter

The Charismatic Group
Bringing about changes in the thinking and behaviors of individual members in single episodes
A Charismatic Religious Sect The Divine Light Mission
History of DLM
A study held at a national festival held by the Divine Light Mission
Photos concerning the Divine Light Mission

Pages 5 - 7

These traits of charismatic groups are often best illustrated by the way they bring about changes in the thinking and behaviors of individual members in single episodes. One example comes from my own research experience with the Divine Light Mission, a Hindu-oriented new religious movement. Janice, an eighteen-year-old American-born high-school senior, had described her problems to a counselor from this group at one of the group's religious festivals. I was studying the group while visiting the festival site, and was able to interview members at the counseling center.

The atmosphere at the center was highly cohesive; strong feelings of camaraderie and a sense of shared belief were evident as members arrived to discuss a variety of psychological problems. Janice came to the unit looking quite distressed. The counselor she encountered was not a health professional, but was contributing her time for Service, as religiously motivated good deeds were called. She allowed me to sit in as she spoke to the girl.

As the counselor approached her, Janice immediately burst into tears, explaining her misery and feelings of helplessness. She concentrated on her difficulty in meditating properly, saying of their Guru, "Maharaj Ji has given me Knowledge but I cannot see his light." This was very important to her, she said, because she could not be a premie, or a member of the sect, without this transcendental experience, achieved through proper meditation. She was further troubled because she felt obliged to do more Service for the Guru to compensate for her inability to meditate properly. This was best done by engaging new converts, but, she reported tearfully, she was too frightened to approach potential members.

The counselor listened to these expressions of distress, implicitly conveying support by her presence and demeanor. Her actions were in keeping with the atmosphere of the counseling center; she was empathetic, even affectionate, and alluded to similar problems with meditation other members might experience from time to time. She expressed her perspective from the vantagepoint of the group's transcendent beliefs, and did not minimize the need for proper meditation or Service. She did, however, give Janice some examples of how problems like hers may be overcome in time with full devotion to the Guru, and reassured her that it was not necessary to perform an undue amount of service at present. She said the resolution of this distress might come through a ritual called darshan, meeting with the Guru in person, where such difficulties are often remitted. The following exchange ensued.

Counselor: Now tell me how you feel toward the premies you meditate with.

Janice: Of course, I am very close to them. They mean so much to me, like brothers and sisters.

Counselor: So you know now that when you are with them you confirm Maharaj Ji's Knowledge. You attend satsang(religious sermons) with them, and you will be going to darshan, too. You know that Maharaj Ji will see that you are faithful, and this will soon lead to your relief.

Janice: Yes I do, you are right.

By now the girl, like many others healed by faith, was composed and reassured, even serene. I asked her counselor how she understood the girl's distress. She tried to explain, searching for a simple response, as a professional would speak to a layperson. "She has somehow lost the Knowledge. This happens often. She did not know how to rejoin Maharaj Ji's path." This was stated more as literal fact than as metaphor, an expression of the charismatic role of their leader.

I was then able to speak with Janice. She had been having an affair with an older married man at the time she had become affiliated with the group. When he ended their relationship two months before her arrival for counseling, she became acutely depressed, withdrew from social relations, and was unable to concentrate on her schoolwork. At this point she also began having difficulties meditating, clearly due to the anxiety associated with her depressed state. This only compounded her sense of guilt and probably prolonged the depressive reaction that might otherwise have abated. She began to feel the need to do more Service for the group, in part to atone for her sexual liaison and also because she saw herself as an inadequate sect member. She had not discussed these matters with anyone. She felt her conduct had run contrary to the group's principles and she was ashamed.

The genesis of Janice's difficulties in meditating seemed fairly simple to me, but she had not really put the pieces together herself. Significantly this issue of her disrupted affair did not have to be broached with her Divine Light counselor because the cohesiveness of the group and the explanatory nature of it's dogma ( Maharaj Ji's Knowledge) were implicitly available without fuller exploration. These group forces were mobilized to relieve her feelings of guilt.

I spoke with Janice the next day after a protracted KNOWLEDGE session, a religious experience conducted for a large group of members by a principle of the Guru, and asked her how she was feeling. She said that the counselor

was right to say that Maharaj ji could offer me other ways to serve him. I could tell that when I was with all the premies today, Maharaj Ji's wisdom was touching me and that what I was doing was right … It's clear that everything will work out; I have the Knowledge in me again.

This young woman had been wrenched from anguish compounded by her feelings of distance from the group, and apparently relieved and then healed through a renewed closeness. The norms for behavior set by the group were used to construct her "treatment," and the resolution of her problem was sealed by her commitment to the group's charismatic goal of "Knowledge" or divine enlightenment.


A Charismatic Religious Sect: The Divine Light Mission

A friendship led to my first encounter with contemporary sects or new religious movements 10 and served to highlight the influential role of group cohesiveness in shaping the behavior of charismatic groups. I had known Beth11 for 10 years, and we had kept in touch while living in different cities. Her personal life had been disrupted by a divorce and a move to a new university teaching job. Soon after she gave up a promising academic career to devote herself to the philosophy of a teenage guru who had arrived in the United States the year before; eventually the moved into a commune of the guru's followers. How could she have adopted such a deviant lifestyle after spending her adult years at liberal universities?

The group she joined, the Divine Light Mission, was introduced to the United States in 1971 by a thirteen-year-old boy from India, scion of a family of Hindu holy men; members believed in the lad's messianic role. Divine Light


was not unlike a number of Eastern-oriented sects that emerged in the West around this time. Along with others having a neo-Christian orientation, these groups consisted of the bulk of the emerging cult phenomenon, or, depending on one's view, new religious movements. The introduction Beth gave me to the Divine Light Mission led to a series of studies of these movements.

A History of the Sect

Like many groups of Hindu orientation, the Divine Light Mission originated as a religious practice in India. It was founded in 1960 by Sri Hans Ji Maharaj, father of Guru Maharaj Ji and a former member of the Radhasoami Satsang Beas, one of several Sikh religious movements in Northern India. Each of those movements operated independently and was headed by a leader regarded by his members as a satguru, or perfect master, whose task was to lead his followers along a path to God.12

Maharaj Ji was the youngest of four sons of Sri Hans Ji, and even as a young child participated with his family in their public religious programs. Given this status, he was accorded a great deal of attention from his father's devotees and lived in luxury.13 When his father died, eight-year-old Maharaj Ji was selected to lead the sect instead of his older brothers because of his unusual talent at delivering religious homilies.

Within a few years, the sect began to send mahatmas, or apostles, overseas to preach the young guru's inspired mission, and by the time he was eleven, Maharaj Ji himself had traveled to London. Two years later he came to the United States at the invitation of several American premies (followers) who had received Knowledge (enlightenment) in India. The young guru visited several cities and was accorded a favorable reception by many young people who were experiencing the uprooting of the late counterculture era with its rebellions against established authority. As he traveled, he began to attract a following.

Maharaj Ji returned to India to tend to the members of the Mission there, but came back to the United States a year later and established a national headquarters in Denver. Within months, hundreds of American youths accepted the guru's invitation to receive Knowledge and flew with him to India in several chartered jumbo jets for a festival called Hans Jayanti. On their arrival, his followers were taken to the family's ashram, or religious commune, for several weeks.

By this time, about a thousand members had moved into a dozen Divine Light communes in Denver,14 and soon there were several thousand members nationwide. Commune residents devoted their full time to the group, and took an active role in developing a national organization for the guru. The study I carried out then provided a profile of sect members,15 revealing that they were typically single (82%) whites (97%) in their twenties (73%). The distribution of Catholics (32%) and Protestants (44%) was not very different than the general population (38% and 57% respectively), but there was a greater proportion of Jews (21% vs. 2%).16 The members' middle class background was


reflected by the large majority that had attended college (76%), as had one or both parents (71%). Typical group members were middle class young adults, many of whom had interrupted higher education to join the sect.

What were some of the trapping of religious practice in this emerging movement? Potential initiates were usually introduced to the Divine Light Mission at a session of religious discourse called a satsang, where experienced members presented the philosophy of the sect to the assembled group. The satsang could be delivered to active members or to those with only a casual interest. It was something of a polemic interspersed with parables, and because members were bright and sophisticated, these discourses tended to be engaging, making use of both Hindu mythology and Western philosophy.

After a period of acquaintance with the group, a potential member might approach a mahatma from the sect. These were long time Indian devotees designated by the guru to initiate new members. Although their pronouncements were often obscure, they lent an aura of transcendence to the initiation. In the initiation ceremony the mahatma rubbed the eyes of the newly initiated members, producing a series of flashes that were perceived as divine light. Initiates were thereafter-called premies, or follower of the guru.

The premies undertook four types of meditative experience during daily periods of silent repose, spent with eyes closed. In the first meditation technique they visualized a light, described as real and intense. In the second they heard music, and this too was reported to be not metaphoric but rather an essential sound of the universe. In the third meditation technique they tasted "nectar" supposedly a purifying fluid flowing from the brain to the throat,17 and finally they spoke the "word" said to be a primordial vibration that underlies all existence. These meditations were recounted with great zeal.

Performing Service, or good works, for the sect was a requirement, and giving Satsang was one type of Service, as it led others to hear that the knowledge was available. Other Service included helping with arrangement of speaking tours for the mahatmas and drawing new converts into the group. Premies could live in ashrams to devote themselves more full to Service. Premies often worked part or full time outside the ashram and gave a sizable portion-sometimes all-of their income to the movement. They also practiced celibacy, vegetarianism, and frequent meditation. The focus of this ascetic existence was their religious mission rather than personal pleasure or gain.

In 1973, the sect rented the Houston Astrodome for a celebration of world peace and religious rejuvenation, "Millenium '73", billed as" the most significant event in human history." Devotees were flown from overseas, and the event was promoted with considerable advance publicity and a good deal of media coverage. A highlight of the event was the participation of Rennie Davis, one of the Chicago seven anti Vietnam War protestors who had recently become a premie. The event, however, fell far short of expectations. The stadium was only partially filled; a variety of millennial expectations, such as the arrival of world peace, failed to materialize, and the whole undertaking left members of the group disillusioned and in debt.


The guru himself however, was increasingly taken with the enticements of American society. He was after all, still a teenager, not above spraying his coterie with shaving cream for fun. Such pranks led them to speak of his "heavenly playfulness." He began dressing in western clothes and adopted a luxurious lifestyle that included setting up residence in a mansion and being ferried about in a limousine.

Soon he married his secretary, an attractive American woman several years older. This he did against his mother's wishes and the event precipitated a schism in the family, ultimately leading to the estrangement of the American branch of the religious sect from its main body in India, where his mother and brothers remained. His mother revoked his title as satguru, an action he refused to accept. Maharaj Ji now began to preach against the betrayal he felt he experienced at the hands of his family, couching his arguments in parables drawn from Hindu mythology. In America too, the marriage caused dismay, particularly among the premies in the ashrams who had followed the strict path of celibacy dictated by the guru himself. Perhaps half these members left the sect over this issue.18

Maharaj Ji now moved his headquarters from Denver to Miami without explanation. This caused a major dislocation among his remaining followers, most of whom did accompany him. In Miami, he moved further away from the sect's traditional Hindu flavor and gave less active direction to sect members. At first, he led religious meetings about once a month in a hired auditorium, where as many as 500 to 600 followers would assemble, but after a while he appeared less often, and rarely visited the ashrams in the community. Maharaj Ji nonetheless was still regarded as a divine figure by his followers.

The movement had apparently reached its peak of expansion and popularity, and in the next few years many members drifted away, although they still retained an attentuated fidelity to their spiritual leader. Some who had interrupted their education or their careers began to look for a more stable identity within the Miami community. As they settled down, they increasingly adopted more traditional roles as young working adults and parents, while maintaining their reverence for the guru and their affection for other premies.

In 1984 Maharaj Ji moved again, with his wife, four children, and considerable assets. This time he went to the affluent beach community of Malibu in West Los Angeles but did not ask his followers to join him. Although he continued to make occasional spiritual tours, he did not appear at most of the religious gatherings held in his name. The diminishing numbers of his faithful, most of them still in Miami, did not appear to be disappointed in the sect's lack of coherence, and often explained it as paradoxically showing the strength of their leader's spiritual message. They continued in their meditations, although these became more of a personal matter and were practiced less frequently and in isolation.

Initial Encounters

My first encounter with the Divine Light Mission came when Beth invited me to visit an ashram at the time the group was expanding. She thought the


sect would be interesting for a psychiatrist to observe because some members had experienced a relief from serious emotional problems when they joined. She felt her group had tapped a large area of mental function psychiatry was unaware of.

The atmosphere in the ashram was indeed quite striking. On entering a large apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I was greeted in a friendly, even intimate fashion by people who were complete strangers. The intense communality of the members was immediately apparent, a quality that 'as clearly an important aspect of the group's function. One could sense a closeness among those present, and an absence of the minor tensions that would be expected in a setting where two dozen people were living in tight quarters. A college dormitory, a military barracks, or a summer camp soon weal a certain amount of hostile banter or argument. These appeared to be absent in the ashram. Caring and intimacy, reflective of the group's cohesiveness, seemed to mute any expression of animosity.

There were kind words, offers of food, expressions of interest, and warm smiles, all from people I'd never met before. Any question was soon answered, sometimes even anticipated. Having been invited by one of their members and defined temporarily as one of their own, I was made to feel as if I were entering a supportive envelope, to be protected from the rough edges of relationships in the outside world.

To illustrate the healing offered by her newfound religious experience, Beth told me about Janet, a twenty-six-year-old premie whose case showed the vital role that social bonds within this group play in stabilizing the members' subjective state and behavior. I later corroborated the details in interviews with the woman herself and her relatives and friends. Over the course of several hospitalizations dating back to her mid-teens, Janet had been diagnosed as schizophrenic. She had been placed on a variety of medications, usually major tranquilizers in modest to large doses. Despite this treatment, the intermittent hallucinatory periods, episodes of rage, and inappropriate behavior were not effectively brought under control. When Janet was not in the hospital, she lived with her hapless parents, and was apparently quite demanding and easily upset by their presence. The parents, unable to move her into an independent living situation, were pleased that she at least retained a few friends, some of whom she had met while in the hospital. Occasionally her tenuous equilibrium broke down at home, whereupon florid psychotic symptoms appeared, including delusions of persecution, and her unpredictable behavior often led to a return to the hospital. In the most tragic periods of her illness, fearing that her eyes were the source of demonic visitations, Janet actually blinded herself with her own hands.

The sight of her sunken eyelids confirmed this, as did a later physical examination; here was even more convincing evidence of unmanageable behavior than the hospitalizations and trials of psychotropic medication. But Janet was now behaving appropriately, even though she had taken no medication in the three years since joining the group. During my first visit she conversed with companions, apparently in good spirits, and was able to tell her story to me. She said she felt relaxed with other premies and had expe-


rienced no psychotic symptoms since joining the group, although she had seen the "divine light" during her meditation, an experience common to other members.

It became apparent from observing her and speaking with other members that the group not only displayed affection and support, but also set clear standards for her social behavior. This was something her parents had tried but failed to do. While engaged within the cohesive structure of the group, she felt compelled to comply with the expectations of her fellow members, a process that aborted the downward spiral of regressive behavior regularly ending in a psychotic state at home. This dynamic was illustrated by the comment of a friend and fellow member: "When she gets irritable or complains, I let her know that it's not the way premies should behave. She knows that we care for her, and that our scolding is done with love." Indeed, other members did not leave her alone for extended periods, even if she did not approach them.

This supportive atmosphere and sense of closeness apparently had a strong impact on the mental state of certain members, especially individuals like Janet. Somehow the sect was reaching some disturbed persons in a way that conventional psychiatry could not. Through intense togetherness and support, it seemed to have turned around their thinking and behavior.

But this was also true for members who had been well adjusted. Beth, for example, was profoundly changed by the sect. She had previously demonstrated herself to be highly intelligent and competent, and excelled academically without great effort. With independent-mindedness, she had assumed a leadership role in the antiwar movement of the late 1960s, yet only a few days before my visit to the ashram she sat with me at the dinner table and seemed transfixed, removed from all worldly cares. Only when she spoke of her newfound commitment did she become animated. She talked of the divine light she could literally see, the sacred nectar she could taste, and the divine music she heard. Under the group's influence Beth had somehow acquired a mental set entirely at variance with her previous attitudes. This development seemed no less surprising than Janet's; both women had apparently been transformed in their behavior, feelings, and perceptions.

Within a few months, I began to study this compelling phenomenon. I enlisted the help of Peter Buckley, a colleague at the Albert Einstein college of Medicine, and we conducted interviews and designed a questionnaire to evaluate two issues: first, the relief of psychological distress experienced on joining, and, second, the degree of social cohesiveness felt by these members toward the group. I hypothesized that a relationship existed between the perceived emotional relief and fidelity to the group.

The study was conducted on the outskirts of Orlando, Florida, at a national festival held by the Divine Light Mission, one of the conclaves regularly organized to allow members the opportunity for personal contact, or darshan, with the guru. A field had been rented for the weeklong event. Events there showed how the group's cohesiveness could be mobilized as a potent social force and how nonmembers could be excluded.


The atmosphere of belonging was pervasive, as some 5,000 young adults gathered to make preparations. They interacted in a congenial and open manner, even when they had struck up acquaintance only moments before. To say the least, this was not an impersonal work site. It represented a network of people who hastened to assist each other and sought ways to further their common cause of making the festival a shared experience, something valuable to all.

As a group, the members looked as though they had been drawn from the graduate campus of a large university-bright, not too carefully groomed, casually dressed. They were lively, good-tempered, and committed to their mutual effort. Some set up tents; others sold religious tracts and pins with pictures of the guru, his American wife, and their baby. Some handled food; others moved about with an air of eager expectancy. There was no idleness, brashness, marijuana, beer, loud music, or flirtation-all hallmarks of a more typical assembly of people in their twenties.

The administrative structure for the event appeared informal, but no sense of disorganization pervaded. The speakers addressed the group from a large floating stage on a lake. The program moved along smoothly from one event to the next, whether singing for the guru ("He's Got the Whole World in His Hands") or listening to various leaders deliver satsang.

The group's congeniality apparently extended to anyone designated as acceptable, as long as the proper signal was made. Thus, because Beth, who held a position of respect in the group, had labeled my colleague and me "okay," we were acceptable. After being introduced to the appropriate parties, we were greeted warmly and made to feel a part of the group. Help was offered as I began to query various organizers on strategy. Was it possible to pick out people at random from the registration lines to administer the questionnaire? There surely was a way, once I deliberated with them over the options available. Was space necessary for subjects to sit quietly and fill out research forms? Something would be worked out for every need. Soon we were all sitting around and talking about experiences of mutual interest, even of a few remote common acquaintances.

We also saw the other side of the coin-how the group defined and protected its boundary between members and the outside world. The demarcation could be drawn tightly, much as a droplet of quicksilver coalesces and separates from its surroundings, or as family members draw together and limit access of outsiders to their personal affairs. Our own status suddenly changed from inside to outside when a more suspicious member of the administrative group asked me if the project had been "approved" by senior figures from the Mission. In the absence of a definite response, our legitimacy was now open to question. Although it was not entirely clear what this approval entailed, a request was quickly relayed to the upper reaches of the Divine Light hierarchy and was then-to my surprise and distress-peremptorily turned down.

The members I had met quickly withdrew their offers of friendship, providing an object lesson on exclusion from a cohesive group. I soon felt myself to be a nonperson, treated civilly but coolly, having become an outsider as


rapidly as I had been made an insider. The very people who had hovered around us to help with our plans now found making conversation uncomfortable. People seemed to be looking through my colleague and me rather than at us. Toward the end of the day approval came as suddenly as it had been withdrawn, with the information that a decision had been made at the "highest" level, presumably in consultation with the guru himself. Acceptance and offers of help came with rekindled warmth. As if automatically triggered, a renewed air of intimacy suffused our exchanges.

This experience illustrates the considerable mobilization of support that such a cohesive group can generate, either informally or with formal sanction, as well as the strength of its controls over actions. The sect's ideology lends the control structure a legitimacy that penetrates the layers of the individual members' own decision making, eliciting group-sanctioned behavior. At no point in the Orlando sequence was there any significant diversity in attitudes expressed toward us. Each group member adhered to the consensus and thereby assured unanimity. As in Ann's family, this intense mutuality reflected the need both for security in the face of an outside world that is perceived as threatening and to prevent internal conflict. Agreement in attitude and views serves to protect the integrity of the group as a social system.

Later in the festival I asked to interview people who had experienced psychiatric or drug problems, hoping that they might help clarify the sect's impact on psychiatric symptoms in individual members, as well as the function of its intense social influence in mediating psychological change. One member brought forward was Ellen, a thirty-four-year-old divorced, part-time clerk whose five children had been remanded to her mother's care by the court because they had been neglected during her protracted bouts of psychiatric and drug problems. These problems had apparently come under control when she joined the Divine Light Mission. Her story illustrates two points. First, like many other initiates, she was attracted to a charismatic group at a time of psychological crisis, as if seeking aid to cope with extreme distress. Second, the support and structure offered by the sect allowed her to pull her psychological resources together. She used the strength of the group as an auxiliary ego to help regain her emotional stability.

Seven years before, Ellen had begun using drugs and was taking ten to fifteen barbiturate capsules a day. When psychedelics became popular, she began using LSD and later became addicted to a variety of opiates: morphine, Demerol, heroin, and illicit methadone. Her opiate habit became very expensive, and for four years she survived through prostitution. While on her roller coaster of drug abuse, she was hospitalized on several occasions for psychiatric problems, typically for a few days or weeks, during which she often smuggled a supply of heroin into the hospital.

The despair that precipitated these hospitalizations led to several suicide attempts. Ellen denied any history of hallucinations and gave no evidence of formal delusional thinking. Significantly, she reported that her mood improved


by the time she left the hospital, often without any antidepressant medication. This history, along with her somewhat histrionic presentation of it, left the impression that she did not have a major depressive disorder. I thought she might have a borderline personality disorder, reflecting impulsive and self-destructive behavior and poor coping skills, and that the episodes requiring hospitalization were precipitated by drug use and environmental stress.

At one point, despairing of any escape from heroin addiction and the consequent need for prostitution, Ellen applied for methadone maintenance, which allowed her to stay away from illicit drugs and out of the hospital for over a year. She thought of herself as independent, though, and did not like the regimen of frequent visits to the clinic required by the program. Like a number of patients on methadone maintenance, Ellen mistook her newfound stability for a genuine ability to withstand the pressures of daily life. Wanting to "take control of her life," she withdrew from the methadone program and soon began using marijuana heavily and taking barbiturates again. As she said, I used anything I could to stay off the heroin."

Her drug use rapidly increased, and she began to shoot heroin again. Feeling panicky over a likely full-fledged relapse, she fled to Colorado from her native Philadelphia, in the hope that life in a rural setting would save her from further deterioration. It did not, and she continued to use drugs, setting into life as a street person.

After a month in Colorado, Ellen met some members of the Divine Light Mission. She immediately felt comfortable with them and soon began to appreciate the merit of their religious devotion. She wanted to become part of he group to salvage herself from a profound sense of desolation. Each day he went to their ashram where she was accepted warmly, began to cut down her use of drugs, and attempted to meditate. Though living alone, she felt herself to be part of a "close, loving community." Now, ten months later, she reported only occasionally using half a marijuana cigarette. Part of my exchange with Ellen was revealing of the role played by the group's cohesiveness.

M.G.: How did you feel when you were shooting heroin in Colorado?

ELLEN: I was terrified, but I also felt that I had returned to a friend, one who would heal my wounded feelings but then hold me in its claws. I knew I couldn't control it …

M.G.: And the premies, how did they help you?

ELLEN: Once I got to know them, I realized they loved me. They took me up, and it was as if they were holding me in their arms. I was like a baby whose mother guides its moves and cares for it. When I wanted to take heroin, or even to smoke [marijuana], I knew they were with me to help me stay away from it, even if I was alone. And their strength was there for me, even before I could hardly meditate at all. I could rely on their invisible hand, moved by Maharaj Ji's wisdom, to help me gain control.


M.G.: What was it that they did?

ELLEN: After a while it was everything they did that made me know I belonged. Just feeling their love was all I needed.

The drug abuse syndrome that Ellen confronted when she arrived in Colorado was serious, and the likelihood of her aborting a decline into full-blown heroin addiction was small. A geographic escape generally is of little value. Few patients in the throes of an addiction such as hers, combining opiates and other drugs, are able to establish control over drug abuse on their own. Her description of the intense support she felt from other Divine Light members suggested an alternative dependency. Her reliance on the group for the strength to face the stress of everyday life paralleled the reliance she had placed on drugs. Both aided her in coping with conflict, but at the cost of independent action.

The sect had exerted a remarkable influence on this woman's addictive problem, affecting her in a way that our usual psychological therapies do not. What produces such influence? We can begin to answer this question by recalling the discussions of the family and the therapy group earlier in the chapter. Further insights came from our studies of Divine Light members in Orlando.

A Study of Group Cohesiveness

The objective study of behavior in charismatic groups is not a simple undertaking, and two issues complicating this research are relevant here: investigator bias and limitations in available methodologies. The problem of investigator bias reflects the very nature of charismatic groups. Such groups maintain their views even in the face of contrary evidence, and, as we just saw, do this with a mutuality that stands independent of contrary evidence. They also tend to elicit contrary views and animosity from the surrounding community, which itself may be no less biased regarding an alien sect. As a result, the investigator is almost always pressed to adopt a position that either favors or opposes the stands taken by the charismatic group. For example, at times my studies on charismatic sects were attacked as a reflection of my being "duped" by the Moonies; at other times the same studies were seen just the opposite, as evidence of the use of my "professional credentials to discredit" these groups.19 A dispassionate middle ground is not easily defined.

A second problem in carrying out this research lies in designing a valid methodology. We had to adapt approaches and techniques from a variety of disciplines, including psychiatry, social psychology, anthropology, and sociology. In addition, questions often had to be framed so as to make use of the methodology available, rather than what might be the most interesting to study. For example, my principal interest in initiating the Orlando study was to examine the major psychopathology found among some Divine Light members. Practically speaking, this could not be studied in a controlled fashion because reliable self-report measurements for the relevant diagnostic cate-


gories were not available. Instead we had to use a more general psychological adjustment scale.

Even more broadly, the choice of a proper context in which to study the interrelatedness of group members in a charismatic group also presents a major paradox. The group phenomena observed among its members-their intense closeness, feelings, and beliefs-can hardly be re-created in a laboratory. Yet so many real-world variables impinge on the phenomena to be studied that to observe them outside the laboratory setting, without ample controls, would leave researchers vulnerable to a circus of external issues, let alone their own subjectivity.

This paradox is illustrated by my previous research on the influence of social context on drug use and abuse. Volunteers in a laboratory setting smoked either active marijuana, placebo marijuana, or no drug at the outset of each of a series of professionally led encounter-group meetings.20 The controlled setting was too artificial, however, to create the degree of cohesiveness usually associated with drug use. The question remained as to how such a controlled evaluation of group interrelatedness could be undertaken effectively.21

Outside the laboratory, studies on the peyote rituals of the Native American Indian Church in the Southwest United States22 show that the tribe's cohesive social structure was closely integrated into this religious experience when the hallucinogen is taken in the context of a close-knit community. This religious context clearly cannot be reproduced in an ad hoc fashion, but one can surmise that these close ties are an effective vehicle for transforming a potentially disruptive hallucinogenic experience into a constructive and therapeutic one.23

In what setting can the role of the naturally emerging social ties of a religious sect be best studied? My access to the Divine Light Mission appeared to offer an opportunity for analyzing group cohesiveness in a systematic, controlled way within its natural setting. Specifically, a statistical assessment could be made of the relationship between such variables as group cohesiveness and other measures of the members' emotional status. In this respect, the sect presented an "experiment of nature."

To conduct such an analysis, a fairly large sample of subjects was needed, and consequently it was not feasible to rely primarily on interviews, since personnel were not available. We developed a seven-page multiple-choice questionnaire and gave copies to 119 subjects who were active members of the Divine Light Mission, selected at random from the festival registration lines.*

In framing the questionnaire, we had to address certain technical problems. One was the need to choose symptoms of mental illness or health that could be queried within this format. Some scales for evaluating major mental illness, such as the SCL-90,24 have limited specificity and are fairly lengthy. It was

*Members of charismatic groups are remarkably compliant in filling out long questionnaires, so long as it is sanctioned by their leadership. I have found, however, that more independent sorts in less zealous groups can give an investigator no end of trouble.


best to use a scale that drew on symptoms experienced by a large portion of the population, such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Since we needed to ascertain the subjects' perception of their psychological state both before and after joining the group, the scale had to be short and easy to fill out relative to the subjects' experience during more than one period in their life.

For a brief ad hoc scale, it also seemed best to develop items that would have face validity, that is, they would clearly reflect the symptoms of psychological distress. This approach contrasts with self-report psychological scales such as the Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personality Inventory (the MMPI), a widely used but quite long schedule whose validity has been tested by standardizing items on large groups of people with different psychiatric diagnoses. Each of the MMPI questions in itself (comparable to "I like to collect stamps"), however, does not have an obvious relationship to the symptoms measured by the test.

Table 2-1 gives the items developed for this Psychological Distress Scale, each rated from 1 ("not at all") to 5 ("very much") by the respondent.25 The total points for the eight symptoms indicated the psychological distress score. Subjects evaluated each symptom during four two-month periods: the worst they had felt; right before their first contact with the Divine Light Mission; immediately after joining; and at present. This made it possible to compare their estimation of the psychological distress they had experienced before and after joining.

In addition to psychological distress, a second "outcome" variable, drug use, was studied. Each of six common drugs of abuse was listed, and subjects were asked to rate how often they used each drug during the same four two-month periods on a scale from 1 ("none at all") to 5 ("more than once on most days").

Table 2-1. Psychological Distress Items (and Implied Symptoms

Subjects indicated how much they felt this way, on a scale of 1 ("not at all") to 5 ("very much").

1. I felt nervous and tense. [anxiety]
( )
2. I felt depressed and glum. [depression]
( )
3. I had thoughts of ending my life. [suicidal ideation]
( )
4. I had the feeling that I was being watched or talked about by others. [referential thinking]
( )
5. I was unclear about how to lead my life. [anomie]
( )
6. I got into trouble with my job, at school, or with the law. [behavioral]
( )
7. I heard voices that other people did not hear. [hearing voices]
( )
8. Emotional problems interfere with my 'adjustment in life. [general emotional maladaptation]    
( )


Responses were then related to specific aspects of the group membership to find out how group membership might have led to any psychological and drug use changes. Group cohesiveness as a predictor of change, as well as other group issues such as meditation practice, to be discussed later, were also considered.

Group cohesiveness was measured on the scale given in Table 2-2, adapted from the earlier study on marijuana use and social interaction. A member's cohesive feelings about three different groups were recorded: the ten members of the sect whom the subject knew best, all the sect members, and the ten nonmembers the subject knew best. This offered a contrast between the subjects' feelings of affiliation toward people inside and outside the group.

Results of the Study

The survey produced revealing findings regarding the psychology of the charismatic group. First, the members' reports reflected a relief of distress on joining. Second, the members' cohesiveness toward the group was closely associated with this relief. From these findings emerged a beginning sense of what motivated members to comply with the group.

Members who had joined the sect roughly two years before reported a considerable decline in psychological distress and drug use after joining. Many had a history of psychological problems and several had sought professional help (38%) or had been hospitalized for emotional disorders (9%). These findings formed the first objective evidence of the role psychological distress plays in recruitment to such groups. Furthermore, members' level of distress symptoms decline over the course of conversion. The average incidence for the items on the Distress Scale is given in Table 2-3, as are the figures for marijuana and heroin use, which reflect the all-around decline in both psycho-

Table 2-2. Social Cohesiveness Scale

Subjects rated their feelings toward the group on each item, on a scale of 1 ("not at all") to 5 ("very much").

1. How much do these descriptions apply to the group?
    a. They care for me
( )
    b. They are happy
( )
    c. They are suspicious of me [scored in reverse]
( )
2. How would you describe your feelings for them?
    a. I care for them
( )
    b. They make me happy
( )
    c. I am suspicious of them [scored in reverse]
( )
3. Do they have the qualities a premie [member] should have?        
( )
4. Do you like being part of their activities?
( )


Table 2-3. Outcome of Initiation into the Divine Light Mission

These figures indicate the percentage of subjects who reported the presence of symptoms during each of four two-month periods.

The Four Periods

Three Sample Items

Psychological Distress Scale, average for the 8 items
Daily marijuana use
Any heroin use

logical distress and drug use.26 This observation revealed an apparent overall improvement in psychiatric state derived from conversion and its retention through continued membership. These findings were confirmed in later research on the Unification Church where it was possible to study recruits as well as disaffiliated members.

The cohesiveness scores showed that respondents felt considerably closer toward members of their sect than toward nonmembers whom they knew best.27 Almost all of the respondents (99%) said they cared a lot for the ten members they knew best, and most (56%) felt similarly toward the membership overall. Only the minority of members (39%) responded this way in relation to the nonmembers they knew best. If valid, this would mean that most members felt closer toward the sect overall (few of whose members they had actually met) than toward the ten people outside the sect they knew best. Their connection to the group far outweighed their attachments to outsiders.

To examine the relationship, if any, between the feeling of cohesiveness and the symptom changes reported, we statistically analyzed the average decline in symptom scores.28 Social cohesion accounted for 37% of the overall decline in psychological distress that occurred after subjects joined the group. That is, a large part of the enhanced well-being derived from joining this sect could be attributed to the members' feelings of relatedness with fellow members.

Such findings were notable since the degree of neurotic distress experienced by individuals is determined by many factors, including differences in temperament, quality of life, and how people see themselves in relation to the rest of the world. But for the young adults in our study, the decline in feelings of psychological distress was directly proportional to the degree of cohesiveness they felt toward the group.

One might have thought that members like Ellen, who were most emotionally troubled before entering the sect, would have benefited the most from joining. Yet the survey indicated that serious emotional problems before join-


-ing were not specifically correlated with either a greater or lesser decline in psychological distress. Nor were serious emotional problems correlated with higher social cohesiveness score.29 All members, whether seriously distressed or not, reported an improved emotional state after joining.

These findings naturally raise the question of whether subjects overestimated the degree of distress before joining and the amount of improvement after. While this may well have occurred, a later study on the Unification Church (see Chapter 8) supported the view that the effect on psychological well-being of joining the group was real.

Such emotional gains reinforce members' involvement in the group by effectively "rewarding" them for their fealty to it. The reward, specifically, is enhanced well-being when the members feel closer to each other. And this reward may help explain the members' remarkable conformity to the group's expectations, since acceptance and conformity bring relief from distress.


The beliefs held in common by members of cults are a vital force in the group's operation. They bind members together, shape their attitudes, and motivate them to act in self-sacrifice. I began to appreciate the importance of such beliefs in following the career of my friend who had joined the Divine Light Mission. At first it seemed certain that Beth's involvement would be ephemeral; surely this sensible and successful young woman would soon turn back to her roots in the Western mainstream. But this assumption proved wrong. Beth moved her home across country more than once to follow her youthful guru, and took a number of trips to India along with his followers. Several years later she married a fellow premie. After having a child, she obtained a university position and returned to teaching, but remained deeply committed to her belief in the guru.

A few years after Beth joined the Divine Light Mission, it was obvious that she believed very strongly in something the group offered and that her involvement reflected an abiding faith, not easy to fathom but quite telling in its implications for the psychology of charismatic groups. Consider a letter in which she spoke of her belief in the guru, whose actual contact with thousands of followers must have been limited.

His revelation of the Kingdom of Heaven within us all is a completely practical experience for each and every individual…. The gift of Knowledge that Maharaj Ji has given me is so deeply satisfying and joyfully constant that I can't imagine another being conveying the truth as he has revealed it.

Beth accepted the guru's transcendent message in a way that others before her might have embraced the prophets and messiahs of old. This literal faith was hard to understand since it came from a woman whom I had known some



years before as agnostic and even cynical, and was clearly at variance with the underlying attitudes one would expect in a person with her background and pluralistic views. To understand the role such strong beliefs play in charismatic groups, we will examine a related historical example.


People are more vulnerable to social influence when they are made to think, sense, and feel differently than usual, when someone or something disrupts their emotional balance. Such changes in subjective experience (or alterations in consciousness) can undermine the psychological matrix in which our views are rooted, so that we lose track of customary internal signposts. They may also introduce a feeling of mystery, or a sense that forces beyond our control are operating. Thus, they can prime us to accept unaccustomed explanations for our experiences and adopt new attitudes implied in these explanations. In this respect altered consciousness can help shape members' attitudes in a charismatic group.

I was struck by the significant role of alterations in consciousness when studying the Divine Light Mission. From my first contact with this group, members mentioned the importance of the four "meditations" to their personal commitment. Each drew on a different sense, causing unexpected visions, tastes, and music. The sect itself was named for one of these sensory experiences, the "Divine Light," that members reported seeing during their personal meditation. At first these meditation practices did not seem compelling, perhaps because of my own inclination to dismiss as self-deceptive or pathologic those experiences that could not be verified by independent observation. Their importance became clear, however, as I spoke with one person, Raymond, whose views I tended to take more seriously, since he too was a psychiatrist. Sharing a profession made it easier to empathize with him. In addition, Raymond was a bright young man, well-versed in contemporary psychological thought, and willing to consider all sides of an issue. Nonetheless, in his recounting he seemed almost obsessed with the alterations in consciousness he ascribed to his religious experience.



While in medical school, Raymond wanted to be a general practitioner and decided to do his internship in family medicine. Then he took a position in a small-town clinic to have the personal contact with patients he had long anticipated. After two years in this crowded clinic, he became disenchanted with the limited opportunities for working closely with patients and began to wonder about other possibilities. An acquaintance invited Raymond to attend satsang, the religious sermon of the Divine Light Mission. He did and found in the group members a sense of conviction lacking in his own life. He had begun to feel bored and the group offered a focus of interest. He attended satsang again, and described the following experience from his third visit.

He was sitting comfortably in a group of a dozen people, mostly members, listening to a young woman speaking about the importance of the guru's mission. He was not attending too closely to her words, but was instead lulled into relaxation by the rhythm of her speech. Suddenly, he saw a bright light emanating from her body, forming a halo around her. He later recalled the light was intense. She glowed as if she were a religious figure in a movie, and it gave her the appearance of holiness. It was a real light, as real as the lightbulb in a lamp. So I sat there listening carefully to her words, and they were no different from the ones she had spoken minutes before. Now, I'm a fairly cynical guy, and I don't take the unexpected at face value, so I did a double take and looked away, expecting the light to disappear—but it was still there. No one had even told me to expect a light like this, and no one else seemed to see it.

When she finished I got up to leave and, as I walked toward the door - she was still glowing - I realized that something had happened to me that I couldn't dismiss. The experience would somehow have to become a part of my understanding of the world around me. Over the next few weeks I found myself getting involved further with the group, and soon decided to ask to receive Knowledge [to join].

Raymond continued to work at his clinic for a few months, but then decided that he had to carry the group's message to others, so he took a position in an alcoholism treatment program where he hoped to help his patients by conveying to them the sect's message. After six months in that program, his patients were unresponsive to his message, and Raymond decided that a career in psychiatry would offer him a better opportunity to deal with the spiritual issues his conversion had raised. He took his training in psychiatry and continued to meditate, occasionally experiencing intense visual and bodily sensations and changes in his sense of time.

This episode of altered consciousness was not very different from many in the literature on religious conversion, but was nonetheless difficult to explain from a psychiatric perspective. Raymond's vision of the halo might be construed as a hallucinatory experience in conventional psychiatric terms, and thereby ascribed to causes of perceptual change such as a dissociative reaction, transient psychosis, or even mass hysteria. But his history, his behavior, and his demeanor as we spoke gave no hint of such a diagnosis. This "vision"


also fit in nicely with his later experiences in meditation, and could not be dismissed as an isolated phenomenon.

I was left with a tale told by a perceptive and lucid observer who described a phenomenon that did not fit into my handbook of diagnoses. Nonetheless, the experience had clearly served as a basis for the attribution of a new meaning to his life. It set him off balance and he turned to the philosophy of the sect to explain the puzzling event. From that point, Raymond's relationship with the Divine Light Mission followed with seeming inevitability, and served as a basis for his understanding of his own role in life. This experience had many counterparts in my interviews with other members of the Divine Light Mission, as it became clear that altered consciousness in the form of inexplicable perceptions and transcendent emotional states was common in their conversion and subsequent religious experience.

These reports made a compelling argument for the role of altered consciousness as a force in the charismatic group, even though the phenomena reported were difficult to integrate into contemporary models of psychiatric function. Research on mental function is generally conducted at the level of observable behavior or neurophysiology, and does not usually address subjective aspects of experience. Nomenclature is based on what can be seen and measured by independent observers, whereas altered consciousness is usually only subjectively perceived.

Altered consciousness, however, can be a prime motive force among both well-adapted and disturbed individuals. Like group cohesiveness and shared beliefs, it acts as a vehicle for the identity transformation and engagement that draw people into a charismatic group.

As a starting point for understanding the role of altered consciousness in charismatic groups, we must turn back nearly a century to the work of William James. James reasoned that "the distribution of consciousness shows itself to be exactly such as we might expect in an organ added for the sake of steering a nervous system grown too complex to regulate itself."' This concept of consciousness as a meta-organ is useful, and serves as a credible basis for Arnold Ludwig's definition of an altered state of consciousness:

any mental state(s), induced by various physiological, psychological, or pharmacological maneuvers or agents, which can be recognized subjectively by the individual himself (or by the objective observer of the individual) as representing a sufficient deviation [from] … alert, waking, consciousness.2

But given these definitions, what specific aspects of perception are actually altered in the altered state of consciousness? We can consider consciousness as if it were a multidimensional space, with each dimension representing some aspect of perception or sensation.3 Different altered states may then be defined in relation to the dimensions altered. We will discuss a variety of dimensions relating to charismatic groups, such as time sense, personal identity, appetite drives, and visual perception. Each dimension contributes to the to-


tality of a person's state of consciousness and allows for mapping out similarities and differences between altered states. When altered by a charismatic group experience, each can serve as a nidus for the attribution of new meaning to one's experience.

Consciousness and its alterations are grounded in physiology, so that states subjectively perceived as similar may also have similar physiologic characteristics. This is illustrated by the changes in neural function found in some states of mental relaxation and reflection. For example, electroencephalographic (EEG) studies of experienced practitioners of Transcendental Meditation reveal an increase in alpha wave activity4 during meditation. This calming state can be compared to that experienced during marijuana intoxication when people are allowed to relax in the absence of social input. Here the EEG is characterized by alpha waves of greater amplitude.5 An increase in alphawave activity coupled with similar mental relaxation can also be achieved through biofeedback training. 6

The fact that altered states may be substituted for each other also suggests similarities. For example, many members of the new religious movements switched from drugs to meditation to achieve similar mental effects. The Divine Light members who previously had "serious drug problems" and frequently experienced altered consciousness from drug use were more likely to practice meditation routinely after joining the sect than those who had not used drugs extensively.7 Crossing over between one vehicle for achieving altered consciousness to a second one suggests an inherent relationship between these subjective states; it also complements the observation that states may be induced by different means.


The important role of altered states in the Divine Light Mission was set in relief by the responses from members describing their own transcendental experiences during meditation, which almost all of them (95%) practiced daily.8 In answering the questionnaire summarized in Table 4-1, they used a scale designed to register increasing levels of hallucinatory-like phenomena, and thus more profound alterations in consciousness. In the auditory sphere, for example, members were asked whether they had "heard something special that no one else could hear," the first item on this scale. The large majority (92%) reported having such experiences during meditation. Of these, about half (49%) reported hearing it "only inside" them; a small number (14%) answered, "I could almost hear it in my ear"; but almost a third (29%) gave the most literal response for such hallucinatory experiences: "I heard it with my ears." This response is most striking since it would be compatible with a diagnosis of psychosis outside the context of religious experience.

Table 4-1 reflects a widespread alteration in subjective and sensory states during meditation, but the way in which meditation was practiced is also


Table 4-1. Altered Consciousness During Meditation

Each respondent indicated the extent to which he or she had the following experiences during meditation, using a scale of 0-3. The first figure after each item is the portion of members who reported any such experience at all (scale responses 1-3); the second figure is the portion who reported the experience most intensely (response 3).

1. I heard something special that no one else could hear. [92%, at all; 29%, I heard it with my ears]
2. I saw something special that no one else could see. [92%, at all; 30%, I could see it clearly with my eyes]
3. I had strong sexual feelings without physical sexual contact. [39%, at all; 14%, clearly more intense than orgasm]
4. I had a special and unfamiliar feeling in my body. [91%, at all; 49%, very intense]
5. Time passed faster or slower than usual in a very special way. [90%, at all; 34%, very intense] 0
6. I felt myself to be different from my usual self in a very special way. [94%, at all; 56%, very intense]
7. I saw special new meaning in my life. [96%, at all; 61%, very intense]
8. I felt better than ever before in a very special way. [96%, at all; 66%, very intense]

important. Members not only set aside a specific time to meditate, they also practiced it while involved in daily activities, as suggested by the guru. Almost all (99%) did this sometimes and a majority (54%) did it "usually."

The relevance of such experience to participation in a charismatic group may be clarified by considering how these members attribute meaning to their daily experiences. A compelling alteration in a person's subjective state, whether from drugs or to a novel social context, leaves the person open to ascribing new meaning to experiences. This certainly applies to the altered consciousness associated with meditation, which serves as a vehicle for destabilizing old attitudes and preparing the meditator to accept the group's beliefs. It acts to support the group's cohesiveness and stabilize and even enhance a member's acceptance of the group.

As in Raymond's case, meditation also serves as a basis for joining the charismatic group. This is illustrated by the responses of the Divine Light members, who were asked whether the experiences of altered consciousness listed in Table 4-1 had taken place at the time of their conversion. It turned out to be almost as high then as it was during their subsequent meditation, even though their exposure to the group had been modest up to then. A large majority reported that during the conversion period to some degree they "saw something special that no one else could see" (90%) and "heard something


special that no one else could hear" (83%). Such experiences must have made them more responsive to the group's influence.

Over the long term of membership, meditation also played an important role in supporting a convert's continuing involvement. An analysis of the relationship between the time members spent in meditation and the decline in their level of neurotic distress revealed that greater meditation time was associated with diminished neurotic distress. This association suggests that the emotional response to meditation acts as a reinforcement for its continued practice.9 That is, the more a member meditated, in general, the better the person was likely to feel. Members apparently used meditation to relieve distress, both at scheduled times and on an ad hoc basis. This tranquilizer, as it were, had its own reinforcing qualities and no doubt helped cement commitment to the sect. In this way, it had an addicting effect.

The role of meditation in altering individuals' perspectives on life is shown in an interesting manner by American practitioners of Transcendental Meditation (TM), followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This sect initially had a straightforward approach to achieving' a meditative state, based on a formula in which the meditator concentrated on a personal code word, or mantra. The ability to facilitate relaxation with this technique made TM popular in the early 1970s and aroused interest in both lay and medical communities. Certified trainers would impart the technique to clients who paid for a course of instruction, taught with a minimum of cultic trappings although there were some, such as the secrecy surrounding trainees' mantras. By the mid-1970s, 350 TM training centers were scattered across the nation, with 10,000 persons taking up the practice each month, most of them well educated and successful. Professionals involved in the economic and cultural mainstream reported having transcendent experiences while meditating. One senior editor at a New York publishing house had mild hallucinations if she exceeded the prescribed forty minutes per day, "not frightening ones; just flowers and birds and fountains."10 10 Acceptance among health professionals was widespread too, and TM was used to allay everyday tension, provide pain relief in dentistry, and for other clinical purposes.11

In time, TM evolved into something of a charismatic movement, with a belief system that transcended the domain of its practice. The scope of the movement broadened considerably with the establishment of Maharishi International University, named after the guru of TM, in Fairfield, Iowa. A variety of unreasonable beliefs came to be accepted as literally true by the more committed members, such as the ability of experienced meditators to levitate. Group meditation was thought to effect direct changes in international political and economic affairs, and even to reduce traffic accidents in remote cities. Indeed, at one point movement leaders mobilized a conclave of thousands of Maharishi's followers who expected by their conjoint efforts to shape the course of ongoing military conflicts in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.12 In this movement, the altered state associated with meditation clearly contributed to members' acceptance of an unlikely set of beliefs.

CULTS: Faith, Healing and Coercion
CULTS: Faith, Healing and Coercion
CULTS: Faith, Healing and Coercion


10. The term new religious movements reflects a certain respect for these groups. It has been popularized by more sympathetic authors. The term cult, on the other hand, has often been used pejoratively by authors more concerned with the potential danger of these groups.
11. The names of individual group members and the details of their backgrounds are altered throughout to protect their identities.
12. J. G. Melton and R. L. Moore (1982).
13. J. V. Downton (1979).
14. J. V. Downton (1979); T. Pilarzyk (1978), p. 30.
15. M. Galanter and P. Buckley (1978).
16. Respondents' average age was 25. By eliminating "none" and "other" responses, the relative distribution of major religious denominations among the remaining sample prior to joining was obtained: 44% Protestant, 32% Catholic, and 21% Jewish. Comparable figures for the nation overall (Yearbook of American Churches, 1972, U.S. Church membership) were 57%, 38%, and 2% respectively.
17. C. Cameron (1973), p. 22.
18. T. Pilarzyk (1978), p. 38.
19. J. C. Ross (1982); D. G. Bromley and A D. Shupe (1979).
20. M. Galanter et al. (1972).
21. Subjective symptoms not related to the group experience, however, differentiated the three experimental conditions. Thus, for symptoms such as "mouth feeling dry," "feeling dreamy," and "head feeling heavier," both marijuana and placebo are significantly different from the no drug condition, although the effect of active marijuana was stronger (Galanter et al. 1974).
22. B. J. Albaugh and P. 0. Anderson (1974).
23. R. L. Beigman 1971).
24. F. Kass et al. (1980)
25. The internal reliability of the scales developed for this study and those in ensuing studies was assessed by computing the coefficient alpha, reflecting the average correlation of the test items. By this technique, the scales all had satisfactory coefficients of internal reliability. For example, for the Psychological Distress Scale, .78; group cohesiveness in relation to ten members, .75; in relation to all members, .75: in relation to nonmembers, .78; religious creed-used in the Unification Church study, .81 (Galanter, 1981). Specific points on all these scales were labeled as follows: 1-not at all; 2-a little bit; 3-moderately: 4-a lot. 5-very much.
26. Further details on symptom decline are found in Galanter (1978). Members actually had a relatively high incidence of drug use prior to joining. For example. the overwhelming majority had smoked marijuana (92%); most had used hallucinogens (68%), and a certain number used heroin (14%) too. With the exception of alcohol, the level of use for all drugs queried was two to four times that reported by a representative national sample of college students for the same period. The same number of Divine Light members (86%), though, had used alcohol,. as had respondents in the national sample (National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, 1973).
27. Mean scores for the Social Cohesiveness Scale toward each of the three target groups reflected this difference: for ten members, 34.4 ± 3.4; for ten nonmembers, 26.4 ± 4.7; for all members, 32.4 ± 3.6 (F = 214.7, 2/116 df, p < .01).
28. Typical declines in symptom scores after joining were 41% for anxiety and 42% for depression. A stepwise multiple regression analysis was performed using selected items on social cohesiveness toward sect members. These predicted 37% of the variance in scores on the Psychological Distress Scale (Galanter, 1982).
29. In one item, subjects indicated whether or not they had in the past "experienced serious emotional problems" before joining the group. Thirty-nine percent answered affirmatively.

4. Altered Consciousness

1. W. James (1902).
2. A. M. Ludwig (1966).
3. C. T. Tart (1975).
4. R. K. Wallace (1970).
5. M. Galanter et al. (1973); Roth et al. (1973).
6. J. V. Hardt and J. Kamiya (1978).
7. Meditation was "usually" experienced during daily activities by 72% of members with prior drug problems vs. only 47% without such problems (X2 = 2.43, p < .05).
8. Most of these findings on transcendent experiences were reported in M. Galanter and P. Buckley (1978). These items were also used for queries regarding experiences during conversion (Buckley and Galanter, 1979).
9. In a stepwise multiple regression analysis, the significant predictors of symptom decline included the members' frequency of meditation and the occurrence of transcendental experiences during meditation. Other significant predictors in this analysis were group cohesiveness and level of participation in Divine Light activities. These variables accounted for 48% of the variance in symptom decline since conversion.
10. The New York Times Magazine, February 6, 1975, p. 12; it is also the source of the figures on TM.
11. H. Benson and R. K. Wallace (1972) and H. Benson (1974).
12. The New York Times, January 1, 1984, p. A14.


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