|Purpose||"Promote scholarly research in the field of new religious consciousness, and are dedicated to exposing the problems associated with some movements, while defending the principles of religious liberty"|
|Services||Research, Academic study of new religious movements|
|Luigi Berzano, J. Gordon Melton, Eileen Barker, Massimo Introvigne, Michael Homer, Reender Kranenborg, Gianni Ambrosio|
CESNUR (English: Center for Studies on New Religions, Italian: Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni), is an organization based in Turin, Italy. It was established in 1988 by attorney Massimo Introvigne.
CESNUR has been described as "the highest profile lobbying and information group for controversial religions". CESNUR's scholars have defended such diverse groups as the Unification Church ("Moonies"), the Church of Scientology (responsible for single largest infiltration of the U.S. government in history), Chinese sect Eastern Lightning (accused of ties to the 2014 murder of Wu Shuoyan), the Order of the Solar Temple (responsible for 74 deaths in mass murder-suicide), and Aum Shinrikyo (responsible for the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack).
CESNUR describes itself as an independent scholarly organization, but the organization has met with criticism for alleged personal and financial ties to the groups it studies; anthropologist Richard Singelenberg questioned in 1997 whether CESNUR is "too friendly and does not make enough critical comments about new religious movements and sects". Many scholars, however, see it in a favourable light and share its criticism of the "sect-monitors".
CESNUR publishes The Journal of CESNUR, a journal on new-religious movements, and Bitter Winter, an online magazine about religious issues in China. CESNUR sponsors annual conferences; its 2019 conference was attended by over 200 individuals.
According to its official website, CESNUR "is a network of independent but related organizations of scholars in various countries, devoted to promote scholarly research in the field of new religious consciousness, to spread reliable and responsible information, and to expose the very real problems associated with some movements, while at the same time defending everywhere the principles of religious liberty."
While established by a group of scholars who were mostly Roman Catholics, CESNUR is not affiliated with any religious group or denomination and has from the outset included scholars of various religious persuasions.
Founders and associates
Massimo Introvigne is an Italian intellectual-property attorney and sociology lecturer who also serves the group's director. He was a co-founder of CESNUR in 1988. A member of the Catholic conservative organization Alleanza Cattolica since 1972, Introvigne served as that group's vice-president until 2016.
Eileen Barker is a professor of sociology who, in 1984, authored The Making of a Moonie: Choice or Brainwashing?, in which she disputed the brainwashing explanation for conversion. In 1988, Barker formed the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (INFORM). In 2000, Barker became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and was recognized by the American Academy of Religion with an award.
J. Gordon Melton received his Ph.D. in 1975 in the History and Literature of Religions from Northwestern University and is currently Distinguished Professor of American Religious History at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. . Melton was known for his rejection of the concept of brainwashing as an explanation of religious conversion and indoctrination. During the 1970s and 1980s he was a prominent opponent of the controversial methods of deprogramming.
The Italian authorities recognized CESNUR as a public non-profit organization in 1996 and were contributors to CESNUR projects. Other sources of income include book royalties and member contributions.
Activities and publications
Since 2017, CESNUR has published The Journal of CESNUR. CESNUR sponsors yearly conferences in the field of new religions. The 2019 conference at the University of Turin included over 200 attendees.
Introvigne has spoken before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. He testified on behalf of Scientologists in a criminal trial in Lyon. In 1995, Introvigne argued that Order of the Solar Temple members who died by mass suicide had acted on their own initiative as opposed to being victims of the leader's manipulations. In 1997, Melton appeared as an expert witness on behalf of the Singapore branch of the International Churches of Christ, arguing that the group was not a "cult"; The testimony garnered attention for Melton's admission on cross-examination that he had publicly made similar claims about Peoples Temple, responsible for 918 deaths in Jonestown, Guyana.  In 2018, Introvigne put forth the novel theory that, despite widespread reporting to the contrary, the individuals responsible for the murder of Wu Shuoyan had never actually been members of Chinese sect Eastern Lightning. Mainstream reporting held that in 2002, members of Eastern Lightning kidnapped 34 members members of the China Gospel Fellowship and held them captive for two months, with the aim of coercing them to join Eastern Lighting;  Introvigne, however, suggested that China Gospel Fellowship invented the story of the kidnapping as justification for the fact that many of its members, including national leaders, had converted to Eastern Lightning.
Bitter Winter was launched in May 2018 as an online magazine which covers religious freedom and human rights in China. According to the magazine it is supported by volunteer contributions and is published daily in eight languages.
Some of the magazine's correspondents were arrested in late 2018 by the authorities for their work documenting and publicizing antireligious campaigns in China. The conservative American online magazine The Federalist called Bitter Winter "supremely informative".
Scholars Stephen A. Kent and Raffaella Di Marzio have argued that CESNUR's representation of the brainwashing controversy is one-sided, polemical and sometimes without scholarly value. Kent further observed: "Many German and French officials working on issues related to religious 'sects' and human rights do not see CESNUR and Introvigne as neutral parties in the ongoing debates ... Consequently, other people and organizations have damaged their reputations (rightly or wrongly) among these officials by associating too closely with CESNUR".
In 2001, French journalist Serge Garde criticized CESNUR: "Created in 1988 in Turin by the lawyer Massimo Introvigne, he distinguished himself in France by his systematic interventions in favor of sects brought to justice: Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology, Order of the Solar Temple, etc. Moon , AUM sect (responsible for a deadly attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995), all the sects know they can count on CESNUR".
CESNUR again met with controversy when one of the scheduled speakers at the 1997 CESNUR conference, who was to present scholarship on the religious group New Acropolis, was discovered to be a member of the very group she purported to study. Michiel Louter writing for Dutch magazine De Groene Amsterdammer opined: It is difficult to believe that CESNUR-director Introvigne was not up-to-date on her membership in the group. The participation of the New Acropolis speaker to the conference was cancelled after the connection was publicly reported by Dutch publication Trouw. 
In the aftermath of the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, CESNUR board member J. Gordon Melton and occasional CESNUR conference speaker James R. Lewis flew to Japan at the expense of Aum Shinrikyo; they then held press conferences in Japan stating their belief that the group did not have the ability to produce sarin and was being scapegoated. Melton later revised his judgment. A paper mentioning the investigation was presented at the 1995 CESNUR conference..
Though CESNUR director Massimo Introvigne defended what he termed the "much maligned" investigation, others in the field felt that the scholars' defense of Aum Shinrikyo led to a crisis of confidence in religious scholarship when Aum's culpability was proven. Scholar Ian Reader disputed Introvigne's defense, writing "the case in hand certainly shows that some scholars are capable of saying what those who call on them want them to say, even when the evidence points the other way".
Introvigne responded to the criticism about the 1997 conference by claiming that the anti-cult movement have accused CESNUR of being a front for "Freemasonry, a "Methodist cult", the Roman Catholic Church and a number of Catholic organizations, including Opus Dei and Alleanza Cattolica." He noted that one of the directors, J. Gordon Melton, was an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, and that Introvigne himself was a member of Alleanza Cattolica, which he described as "a lay Catholic organization, enjoying a good relationship with a number of Italian Catholic dioceses where it is established, about which much nonsense has been written in Germany". Introvigne stated in 1998 that CESNUR's only 'institutional funding' came from the government of the Region of Piedmont, and that it did not receive funds from any religious organization or institution.
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