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CESNUR (Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni)
FounderMassimo Introvigne
Typepublic non-profit
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"
HeadquartersTurin, Italy
ServicesResearch, Academic study of new religious movements
private persons
Massimo Introvigne
Key people
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.[1] It was established in 1988 by attorney Massimo Introvigne.

CESNUR has been described as "the highest profile lobbying and information group for controversial religions".[2] 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),[3] Chinese sect Eastern Lightning (accused of ties to the 2014 murder of Wu Shuoyan),[4][5][6] the Order of the Solar Temple (responsible for 74 deaths in mass murder-suicide),[7][8][9][10] and Aum Shinrikyo (responsible for the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack).[11][10][7][8]

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".[12] Many scholars, however, see it in a favourable light and share its criticism of the "sect-monitors".[2]

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.[13][14][15]


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."[16]

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.[17]

CESNUR is critical of concepts like mind control, thought reform and brainwashing, asserting that they lack scientific and scholarly support and are mainly based on anecdotal evidence.[2]

In 2018, The Korea Times described CESNUR as "the largest international association of scholars specializing in the study of new religious movements."[18]

Founders and associates[edit]

CESNUR founder Massimo Introvigne
CESNUR board member J. Gordon Melton

Massimo Introvigne is an Italian intellectual-property attorney and sociology lecturer who also serves the group's director.[19] 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.[20][21]

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.[22] In 1988, Barker formed the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (INFORM).[23] In 2000, Barker became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)[24] and was recognized by the American Academy of Religion with an award.[25]

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. [26]. 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.[27][23][28]

Others in the boards of CESNUR and ‘’The Journal of CESNUR’’ include Luigi Berzano, Antoine Faivre, Jean-François Mayer, and Susan J. Palmer.[16] [28]

Funding sources[edit]

The Italian authorities recognized CESNUR as a public non-profit organization in 1996 and were contributors to CESNUR projects.[17] Other sources of income include book royalties and member contributions.[17][29]

Activities and publications[edit]

Since 2017, CESNUR has published The Journal of CESNUR.[30] CESNUR sponsors yearly conferences in the field of new religions.[14] The 2019 conference at the University of Turin included over 200 attendees.[31]

Introvigne has spoken before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.[2] He testified on behalf of Scientologists in a criminal trial in Lyon.[2] 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.[7] 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. [32][33] 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.[34][35] 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; [36] 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.[37][38]

Bitter Winter[edit]

Bitter Winter was launched in May 2018 as an online magazine which covers religious freedom and human rights in China.[39][40][41] According to the magazine it is supported by volunteer contributions and is published daily in eight languages.[40]

Some of the magazine's correspondents were arrested in late 2018 by the authorities for their work documenting and publicizing antireligious campaigns in China.[42][43][44][45] The conservative American online magazine The Federalist called Bitter Winter "supremely informative".[46]


In a 1996 piece in Charlie Hebdo, French essayist Renaud Marhic accused CESNUR of being "a scientific screen used to relay [Introvigne's] theses to the complacent media".[47]

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.[2][48] 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".[2]

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".[8]

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.[10] 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.[10] The participation of the New Acropolis speaker to the conference was cancelled after the connection was publicly reported by Dutch publication Trouw. [12][49]

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.[50][51][52] Melton later revised his judgment.[52] A paper mentioning the investigation was presented at the 1995 CESNUR conference.[53].[7]

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.[52][10][54][53] 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".[52]

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.[53]


  1. ^ Chryssides, George D. (2012). Historical Dictionary of New Religious Movements. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-8108-6194-7.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Kent, Stephen A. (January 2001). "The French and German versus American debate over 'new religions', Scientology and human rights". Marburg Journal of Religion. 6 (1).
  3. ^ Ortega, Tony (1999-12-23). "Double Crossed". Phoenix New Times. New Times Media. Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  4. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohqjW6fxlSw
  5. ^ Introvigne, Massimo (2018d). “The McDonald’s Murder of 2014: The Crime The Church of Almighty God Did Not Commit.” Bitter Winter, September 20.
  6. ^ "Asia Times | Chinese Christians live in fear, fleeing abroad | Article".
  7. ^ a b c d VELDE, KOERT VAN DER (August 5, 1997). "Sekte-onderzoekers verblind door eigen inlevingsvermogen". Trouw.
  8. ^ a b c Liaisons Dangereuses Des Universités Lyonnaises , L'Humanité, June 27, 2001 by Serge Garde
  9. ^ swissinfo.ch, S. W. I.; Corporation, a branch of the Swiss Broadcasting. "The 1994 Solar Temple cult deaths in Switzerland". SWI swissinfo.ch.
  10. ^ a b c d e Louter, Michiel (13 August 1997). "Kenners van het kwaad". De Groene Amsterdammer (in Dutch). Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  11. ^ VELDE, KOERT VAN DER (August 5, 1997). "VU gastvrouw voor sektevriendelijk congres". Trouw.
  12. ^ a b "Een sektencongres kan nooit rustig zijn". Trouw. August 7, 1997.
  13. ^ "The Journal of CESNUR".
  14. ^ a b Lewis, James R. (2014). Cults: A Reference and Guide. Routledge. p. 204. ISBN 978-1-317-54513-2.
  15. ^ "A Torino oltre duecento studiosi al convegno del Cesnur sul nuovo pluralismo religioso", La Stampa, September 2, 2019.
  16. ^ a b "About CESNUR - Cosa è il CESNUR". www.cesnur.org.
  17. ^ a b c Fautré, Willy (2006), "Non-state actors and Religious Freedom in Europe", in Andreopoulos, George J.; Kabasakal Arat, Zehra F.; Juviler, Peter H. (eds.), Non-state actors in the human rights universe, Kumarian Press, ISBN 978-0-415-30948-6
  18. ^ Ko Dong-hwan, "Hundreds of Chinese religious asylum seekers rejected in Jeju", The Korea Times, November 14, 2018.
  19. ^ Clifford, Ross (January 22, 2016). John Warwick Montgomery's Legal Apologetic: An Apologetic for all Seasons. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 9781498282338 – via Google Books.
  20. ^ "Alleanza Cattolica – Catholic Alliance – a deepening". Archived from the original on June 1, 2016. Retrieved January 5, 2008.
  21. ^ "Massimo Introvigne non è più il reggente nazionale vicario di Alleanza Cattolica," La fede quotidiana, 28 April 2016, "Massimo Introvigne non è più il reggente nazionale vicario di Alleanza Cattolica". Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  22. ^ Cults in our Midst, Margaret Thaler Singer, Janja Lalich, pp. 217–218, notes on p. 352
  23. ^ a b Gallagher, Eugene V. (July 1, 2016). 'Cult Wars' in Historical Perspective: New and Minority Religions. Routledge. ISBN 9781317156673 – via Google Books.
  24. ^ "New Years Honours, Order of the British Empire". BBC News. 31 December 1999.
  25. ^ https://www.aarweb.org/programs-services/martin-e-marty-public-understanding-religion-award-current-and-past-winners.
  26. ^ "J. Gordon Melton | Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion".
  27. ^ Melton, J. Gordon (1999). "Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and Fall of a Theory".
  28. ^ a b "Board". September 11, 2017.
  29. ^ Clarke, Peter (2004). Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements. Routledge. p. 101. ISBN 978-1-134-49970-0.
  30. ^ "The Journal of CESNUR".
  31. ^ "A Torino oltre duecento studiosi al convegno del Cesnur sul nuovo pluralismo religioso", La Stampa, September 2, 2019.
  32. ^ "NewspaperSG". nl.sg. Archived from the original on 28 September 2013.
  33. ^ https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Page/straitstimes19970717-1.1.35
  34. ^ The McDonald’s Murder of 2014: The Crime The Church of Almighty God Did Not Commit
  35. ^ https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/03/article/chinese-christians-live-in-fear-fleeing-abroad/
  36. ^ https://www.salon.com/2015/04/07/6_modern_day_christian_terrorist_groups_our_media_conveniently_ignores_partner/
  37. ^ Introvigne, Massimo (2018a). “Captivity Narratives: Did The Church of Almighty God Kidnap 34 Evangelical Pastors in 2002?”. The Journal of CESNUR 2(1):100-110. doi:10.26338/tjoc.2018.2.1.6.
  38. ^ https://www.oclarim.com.mo/en/2018/07/06/exclusive-interview-with-massimo-introvigne-a-bitter-winter/
  39. ^ "Dozens of underground human rights reporters arrested in #China". EU Reporter. 23 January 2019.
  40. ^ a b "Bitter Winter About us". Bitter Winter. 2018-04-24.
  41. ^ "Can the Church survive China's embrace?". Manila Times. Manila Times. 5 October 2018.
  42. ^ Magister, Sandro "Christmas Behind Bars In China, for the Martyrs of the Free Press" L’Espresso, 29 December 2018.
  43. ^ Arrestati in Cina 45 giornalisti, trasmettevano notizie al magazine italiano “Bitter Winter” Archived 2018-12-28 at the Wayback Machine. La Stampa, 28 December 2018.
  44. ^ Lipes, Joshua (January 31, 2019). "Media Outlet Monitoring Uyghur Persecution in China Vows to Continue Work Despite Ban, Arrests". Radio Free Asia. Retrieved October 5, 2019.
  45. ^ "Chinese ministry of state security takes over the campaign against Bitter Winter". Human Rights Without Frontiers. August 7, 2018. Retrieved 2019-10-06.
  46. ^ Mullarkey, Maureen (2018-09-26). "Vatican Agreement With China Legitimizes A Christian-Torturing Regime". The Federalist. Retrieved 2019-10-06.
  47. ^ Charlie Hebdo , n. 233, 04.12.1996., "paravent scientifique servant à relayer ses thèses auprès des médias complaisants."
  48. ^ "Brainwashing" in New Religious Movements, by Alberto Amitrani and Raffaella Di Marzio, from the Roman seat of G.R.I.S., April, 1998.
  49. ^ https://www.trouw.nl/nieuws/sekte-onderzoekers-verblind-door-eigen-inlevingsvermogen~ba6de2e5
  50. ^ "Tokyo Cult Finds an Unlikely Supporter", The Washington Post, T.R. Reid, May 1995.
  51. ^ Watanabe, Teresa (6 May 1995). "Alleged Persecution of Cult Investigated : Japan: U.S. activists visit Tokyo. They're concerned about treatment of sect suspected in subway attack". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  52. ^ a b c d Ian Reader, "Scholarship, Aum Shinrikyo, and Academic Integrity" "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-10-05. Retrieved 2019-09-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), Nova Religio 3, no. 2 (April 2000): 368-82.
  53. ^ a b c Introvigne, Massimo (1998). Blacklisting or Greenlisting? A European Perspective on the New Cult Wars, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 1 (3), 16-23
  54. ^ "A Rejoinder To Melton, Shupe, And Lewis " in Skeptic Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 1 1999


  • Introvigne, Massimo (2016). CESNUR: a short history. In: Gallagher, Eugene V, (ed.), 'Cult Wars' in Historical Perspective: New and Minority Religions. Routledge. pp. 23–31. ISBN 978-1-317-15666-6.

External links[edit]