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The Limits of "Coercive Persuasion" as an Explanation for Conversion to Authoritarian Sects
Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony
Vol. 2, No. 2 (Summer, 1980), pp. 22-37
Published by: International Society of Political Psychology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3790815
Page Count: 16
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This paper offers a critique of the application of models of "coercive persuasion" to processes of conversion and commitment within religious movements. Although models of coercive persuasion have a definite, if limited, heuristic value in the analysis of identity transformation within relatively authoritarian groups, current applications to "cults" have involved a number of distortions which appear to be related to the pejorative use of these models as conceptual weapons to legitimate coercive measures employed to "rescue" allegedly "brainwashed" devotees. Key problem areas include: (1) overgeneralized "cult" stereotypes; (2) implicit equation of religious movements with government-operated institutions employing forcible constraint (e.g., POW camps); (3) assumptions that persons subjected to certain persuasive techniques necessarily lack "free will"; and (4) methodological problems arising from exclusive or primary reliance upon the testimony of ex-converts who have negotiated their accounts in persuasive relationships with therapists or deprogrammers.
Political Psychology © 1980 International Society of Political Psychology