International Cultic Studies Association

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International Cultic Studies Association
Cultic Studies Association logo.jpg
Formation 1979, as American Family Foundation (AFF), renamed in 2004
Founder Kay Barney
Area served Global
Executive Director Michael D. Langone
President Steve Eichel
Board of directors Carmen Almendros, Steve Eichel, Carol Giambalvo, Lorna Goldberg, Rosanne Henry, Mike Kropveld, Michael Langone, Alan Scheflin
Key people Michael D. Langone, Lorna Goldberg, Herbert L. Rosedale, Carol Giambalvo, David A. Halperin, Edward Lottick, Sandy Andron, Louis Jolyon West
Main organ Board of Directors
Affiliations Cultic Studies Review - Journal
Website Official ICSA home page

The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) is a non-profit anti-cult organization[1][2] focusing on groups it defines as "cultic" and their processes.[3] It publishes the scholarly journal Cultic Studies Review and other materials.[4]


ICSA began in 1979 in Massachusetts as the American Family Foundation (AFF) — one of several dozen disparate parents' groups founded in the late 1970s by concerned parents.[3] For a time it was affiliated with the Citizens’ Freedom Foundation (CFF) which later became the Cult Awareness Network (CAN).[5] It also developed links with Evangelical Christian counter-cult movements such as the Christian Research Institute[5]

The founder was Kay Barney, a retired Raytheon International Affairs Director,[6] whose daughter had become involved with the Unification Church.

ICSA's stated mission is ‘to study psychological manipulation, especially as it manifests in cultic and related groups.’[5]

In 2004, the organization took the name International Cultic Studies Association, "to better reflect the organization's focus and increasingly international and scholarly dimensions".[7]

The AFF’s early magazine, The Advisor, was replaced by the Cult Observer in 1984. When it began publishing the Cultic Studies Journal In 2002 these were merged and replaced by the subscription online and print journal Cultic Studies Review.[5]

Activities & influence[edit]

Michael Langone, ICSA's Executive Director, defines a cult as "a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control designed to advance the goals of the group’s leader, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community...Although many cult members eventually walk out on their own, many, if not most, who leave cults on their own are psychologically harmed, often in ways they do not understand. Some cult members never leave, and some of these are severely harmed. There is no way to predict who will leave, who won’t leave, or who will be harmed."[8]

Assistance and education[edit]

The ICSA states that it offers assistance and education relating to such groups:

  • It offers assistance for "those who have been adversely affected by a cultic experience or who seek to help others or who are simply interested in the subject.[9] This assistance includes an information service for families, clergy, students, and professionals.
  • It offers education on the subject of cults.[10][11]
  • It publishes the online scholarly journal Cultic Studies Review [12]
  • It maintains an electronic library on the Internet with information on groups and issues regarding psychological manipulation and abuse. There is also an online archive offering abstracts of all articles of the Cultic Studies Review.
  • It conducts annual conferences for professionals and workshops for families, former members and mental health professionals.


Parallels with authoritarian regimes[edit]

Edelman & Richardson (2005) state that China has borrowed heavily from Western anti-cult movements, such as ICSA, to bolster their view of non-mainstream religious groups, and so the support campaigns of oppression against them.[13] In a previous article Richardson & Shterin (2000) had noted that in Russia, evangelic movements had borrowed Western anti-cult rhetoric – such as that of ICSA – to play on Russian government worries over religious minorities.[1]


In their 2009 book, Cults and New Religions: A Brief History, sociologists Douglas Cowan and David Bromley describe the ICSA as a "secular anticult" organization. They point out that the ICSA provides no indication of how many of their so-called characteristics are necessary for a group to be considered "cultic." The checklist creators do not adequately define how much of certain practices or behaviors would constitute "excessive," nor do they provide evidence that any of the practices listed are innately harmful. Finally, Cowan and Bromley criticize the ICSA list as being so broad that even mainstream organizations such as Evangelical Protestantism, the Roman Catholic Church, Buddhism and Hinduism fall within the criteria.[2]

In 2005, the Hate Crimes Unit of the Edmonton Police Service confiscated anti-Falun Gong materials distributed at the annual conference of the American Family Foundation by staff members of the Calgary Chinese Consulate (Province of Alberta, Canada). The materials, including the calling of Falun Gong a "cult," were identified as having breached the Criminal Code, which bans the wilful promotion of hatred against identifiable religious groups.[14]

Relation to the religious countercult movement[edit]

Michael Langone criticized Massimo Introvigne for proposing a typological distinction between the secular anti-cult and the religious counter-cult (he acknowledged, but did not limit his analysis to evangelical Christians) that was “an oversimpliŽcation and subtly derogatory” that “leads to a construction or exaggeration of differences, as well as an underestimation of similarities” [15]


  1. ^ a b Richardson, James T.; Shterin, Marat S. (2000). "Effects of the Western anti-cult movement on development of laws concerning religion in post-Communist Russia". Journal of Church and State 42 (2): 247. doi:10.1093/jcs/42.2.247. Another source of the Western anti-cult material have been "secular" anti-cult organizations, notably the French ADFI, the British FAIR (Family, Action Information and Resource; "R" used to stand for "Rescue"), the "old" CAN (Cult Awareness Network) and the American Family Foundation (AFF) 
  2. ^ a b Cowan, Douglas E. and Bromley, David G. ‘’Cults and New Religions: A Brief History.’’ Blackwell Publishing. 2009. Pages 4, 219-222. ISBN 978-1-4051-6128-2
  3. ^ a b George D. Chryssides; Margaret Wilkins (10 May 2006). A Reader in New Religious Movements: Readings in the Study of New Religious Movements. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 360. ISBN 978-0-8264-6168-1. Retrieved 12 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Dole, A. A. (1989). "Book review". Journal of Religion & Health 28 (3): 245–246. doi:10.1007/BF00987757.  edit
  5. ^ a b c d Clarke, P. and R.M.H.F.P. Clarke. 2004. Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements: Taylor & Francis.
  6. ^ Kay H. Barney Raytheon Affiliation Kay H. Barney ZoomInfo Profile
  7. ^ Cultic Studies: Information about Cults and Psychological Manipulation, Cultic Studies Journal, Web site. retrieved 1/4/07.
  8. ^ Cults Questions and Answers Langone, Michael, 1988
  9. ^ Assistance Cultic Studies: Information about Cults and Psychological Manipulation
  10. ^ Study Guides (Collections Index)
  11. ^ Study Guide: Cults 101 - Getting Started
  12. ^ Cultic Studies Review
  13. ^ Edelman, Bryan; Richardson, James T. (2005). "Imposed limitations on freedom of religion in China and the margin of appreciation doctrine: a legal analysis of the crackdown on the Falun Gong and other "evil cults"". Journal of Church and State 47 (2): p243. doi:10.1093/jcs/47.2.243. 
  14. ^ Edmonton Police Report of Wilful Promotion of Hatred by Chinese Consular Officials against Falun Gong, Appendix 8 to "Bloody Harvest: Revised Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China," By David Matas, Esq. and Hon. David Kilgour, Esq.
  15. ^ Douglas E. Cowan (2002) Exits and Migrations: Foregrounding the Christian Counter-Cult, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 17:3, 339-354, DOI:10.1080/1353790022000008271

External links[edit]