Sociology 441 : Sects and Deviant Religions

University of Alberta
Department of Sociology
Instructor: Dr. Stephen A. Kent
Sociology 441
: Sects and Deviant Religions

Required Books:

William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style. (any edition). New York: Macmillian, 1979 (or more recent).

Gibaldi, Joseph. 2003. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. New York: The Modern Language Association. [Note: You can substitute this manual of style with another one from a previous course, BUT you must have one that contains information about proper citational style.]

Required Articles: Please see the attached list, all of which are available in the University Bookstore as a course pack. From time to time I will be recommending STRONGLY that you check out certain cites on the Internet.

Course Purpose and Objectives: The lectures and readings are designed to provide an overview of the prominent theoretical issues in religious sectarianism along with an examination of sectarian activities in Canada and elsewhere.

Course Outline: 1st exam on Thursday, February 17th
2nd exam on the regularly scheduled final exam.
Papers:–due on the last class.
Each exam will take no more than one hour and twenty minutes, and will require essay answers. The second exam will not cover material that was tested on the first exam, although much of the material, by its very nature, is cumulative. All students must take all exams.

PLEASE NOTE: If a situation arises that will affect your performance in the course, then I expect to be informed immediately. Either speak with me directly or leave a note or phone message with instructions as to how I can contact you. Only approved absences from exams, according to a strict interpretation of university rules, will be allowed. FOR MISSED EXAMS, I require a WRITTEN note of explanation, clearly signed (with an accompanying phone number) from an `official’ of some sort (i.e., a doctor’s slip, a tow truck or mechanic’s bill, a police report, etc.).

Grading: The two exams will be based on a combination of readings and class lectures. Each one will count 33 1/3%, as will the term paper. The paper will involve extensive library research on a religious group or topic of your choice, subject to my approval. It will be at least 15 pages of text in length, and my standards for research and writing are high but reasonable. You are to type me a note that contains your proposed research topic, along with a tentative line of argument that you plan to pursue. If I approve of your topic and idea, then I will return the note to you, signed and with comments. You must assume responsibility, however, for ensuring that sufficient library material exists for you to complete your paper successfully. Each person must meet either with me or my teaching assistant and show us your major sources, your manual of style, several pages of text, and several bibliography entries. On Thursday, March 8th, each person will bring to class at least 5 typed pages of his or her term paper and exchange it with another student, who will offer helpful comments about writing, style, coherence of argument, etc. Feedback about style, grammar, etc., will depend heavily on advice found in The Elements of Style, as will my own assessment of the final product. Students who do not show up at this class with at least 5 typed pages for peer review will be penalized one numeric mark on the term paper. I will provide examples of typical writing problems that will help facilitate the peer feedback process.

I will record the grades for each aspect of the course as a letter grade, which then translates into the four-point scale for the final grade according to the following scale:

Descriptor Letter Grade Point Value
A+ 4.0
A- 3.7

B+ 3.3
GOOD B 3.0
B- 2.7

C+ 2.3
C- 1.7

Poor D+ 1.3
Minimal Pass D 1.0
Failure F 0


Required article readings for Sociology 441/576: Sects and Deviant Religions (2004)

Note: On the first exam, we will cover through reading seventeen, and the second exam will cover the remaining material.


1. Ayella, Marybeth. “‘They Must Be Crazy.’ Some of the Difficulties in Researching ‘Cults.'” American Behavioral Scientist 33: 562-577; Reprinted in Researching Sensitive Topics, Edited by Claire M. Renzetti and Raymond M. Lee. London: Sage, 1993: 108-124.

2. Langone, Michael. “The ‘Two Camps’ of Cultic Studies: Time for a Dialogue.” Cultic Studies Journal 17 (2000): 79-100.


A. Canadian Overview

3. Kent, Stephen A. 1993. “New Religious Movements.” Pp. 83-106 in The Sociology of Religion: A Canadian Focus. Edited by Ted Hewitt. New York: Butterworths.

B. Biopsychosocial

4. Kent, Stephen A. “Lustful Prophet: A Psychosexual Historical Study of the Children of God’s Leader, David Berg.” Cultic Studies Journal 11 No. 2 (1994): 135-188.

5. Clarke, Ronald O. “The Narcissistic Guru: A Profile of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.” Free Inquiry (Spring, 1988): 33-45.

6. Reader, Ian. 2002. “Dramatic Confrontations: Aum Shinrikyô Against the World.” In Cults, Religion, and Violence. Edited by David G. Bromley and J. Gordon Melton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 189-208.

7. Kent, Stephen A. 2004. “Scientific Evaluation of the Dangers Posed by Religious Groups: A Partial Model.” Cultic Studies Review 3 Nos. 2/3: 101-134 (uncorrected page prints).

E. Psychological

8. Ofshe, Richard and Margaret T. Singer, 1986. “Attacks on Peripheral Versus Central Elements of Self and the Impact of Thought Reforming Techniques.” Cultic Studies Journal: 3-24.

9. Aronoff, Jodi; Steven Jay Lynn; and Peter Malinoski. 2000. “Are Cultic Environments Psychologically Harmful?” Clinical Psychology Review 20 No. 1: 91-111.

D. Social Psychological

10. Puttick, Elizabeth. Women in New Religions. 1997. Chapter 3: “Abuse of Power: The Shadow Side of Charismatic Authority.” New York: St. Martin’s.

11. Cartwright, Robert H. and Stephen A. Kent, “Social Control in Alternative Religions: A Familial Perspective.” Sociological Analysis. (Winter, 1992): 345-361.

12. Kent, Stephen A. 1994. “Misattribution and Social Control in the Children of God.” Journal of Religion and Health. 33 No. 1 (Spring): 29-43.

13. Lifton, Robert J. 1963. Thought Control and the Psychology of Totalism. 1961, Reprint. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Chapter 22: 419-437.

14. Ahmed, Akbar S. 1986. “ Death in Islam: The Hawkes Bay Case.” Man: The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 21 No. 1 (March): 121-134.

15. Straus, Roger. “Scientology `Ethics’: Deviance, Identity and Social Control in a Cult-Like Social World.” Symbolic Interaction 9 no.1 (1986): 67-82.

16. Rifkind, Lawrence and Loretta F. Harper. “The Branch Davidians and the Politics of Power and Intimidation.” Journal of American Culture 17. No. 4 (Winter 1994): 65-72.

17. Balch, Robert W. and David Taylor. 2002. “Making Sense of the Heaven’s Gate Suicides.” In Cults, Religion, and Violence. Edited by David G. Bromley and J. Gordon Melton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 209-228.

B. Social-Organizational and Social Structural

18. Bird, Frederick B. and Frances Westley. 1985. “The Economic Strategies of New Religious Movements.” Sociological Analysis 46. no.2: 157-170.

19. Stark, Rodney. 1987. “How New Religions Succeed: A Theoretical Model.” Pp. 11-29 in The Future of the New Religious Movements, Edited by David G. Bromley and Phillip E. Hammond. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press.

20. Kent, Stephen A. 1990. “Deviance Strategies and Normative Designations Within the Canadian ‘Cult/New Religions’ Debate,” Canadian Journal of Sociology 15 no.4: 393-416.

21. Hall, Deana. 1998. “Managing to Recruit: Religious Conversion in the Workplace.” Sociology of Religion 59 No. 4: 393-410.

22. Kent, Stephen A. “The Globalization of Scientology: Influence, Control and Globalization in Transnational Markets.” Religion (1999): 29: 147-169.

23. Rahn, Patsy. “The Falun Gong: Beyond the Headlines.” Cultic Studies Journal 17 (2000): 168-186.

24. Zellner, William W. 1995. “The Unification Church (Moonies).” in Countercultures: A Sociological Analysis. New York: St. Martin’s Press: 133-191.

25. Robbins, Thomas. 1988. “Profit for Prophets: Legitimate and Illegitimate Economic Practices in New Religious Movements.” In Money and Power in the New Religions. Ed. James T. Richardson. Queenston, Ontario: The Edwin Mellon Press: 69-116.