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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 Italian attorney Massimo Introvigne. It has been described as "the highest profile lobbying and information group for controversial religions".[2]

CESNUR has defended such diverse groups as Aum Shinrikyo (responsible for the Tokyo sarin gas attack), Order of the Solar Temple (responsible for 74 deaths in mass murder-suicide),[3] the Church of Scientology, purported-Neo-Nazi sect New Acropolis,[4] and the Unification Church ("Moonies").[5][6]

CESNUR describes itself as an independent scholarly organization, but the organization has met with criticism for personal and financial ties to the groups it studies, leading one critic to question whether CESNUR is "too friendly and does not make enough critical comments about new religious movements and sects". [7]


According to their website, CESNUR is devoted to promoting scholarly research in the field of new religious consciousness, and is dedicated to exposing the problems associated with some movements, while defending the principles of religious liberty.[citation needed]

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.[8]

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]

Founders and associates[edit]

Massimo Introvigne is an Italian intellectual-property attorney and sociology lecturer who also serves the group's director.[9] In 1987 he presented a paper before the Mormon History Association and was a co-founder of CESNUR in 1988. A member of the Catholic conservative organization Alleanza Cattolica since 1972, Introvigne has served as that group's vice-president.[10]

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.[11] In 1988, Barker formed the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (INFORM). [12]

J. Gordon Melton received his Ph.D. in 1975 in the History and Literature of Religions from Northwestern University. 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.[13][12][14]

Others included Luigi Berzano, Antoine Faivre, Susan J. Palmer. [14]

Funding sources[edit]

The Italian authorities recognized CESNUR as a public non-profit organization in 1996 and were contributors to CESNUR projects.[8] Other sources of income include book royalties and member contributions.[8][15]


CESNUR sponsors yearly conferences in the field of new religions.[16] Since 2017, CESNUR has published The Journal of CESNUR.[17] From May 2018, CESNUR publishes Bitter Winter, an online magazine on religions and human rights in China.[18]

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 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".[19] In 2001, French journalist Serge Garde, writing in the publication L'Humanité, criticized CENSUR: "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".[6]

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][20] 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 CENSUR".[2]

CESNUR again met with controversy when one of the CESNUR's featured conference speakers, 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.[21] 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.[21]

In the aftermath of the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, CENSUR board member J. Gordon Melton and CENSUR scholar James R. Lewis flew to Japan at the expense of Aum Shinrikyo; [22][23][24][22] 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.[22][22][24][23] Melton later revised his judgment.[23] A paper based on the investigation was presented at the 1995 CESNUR conference.[25].[5]

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.[23][21][26][25] 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".[23]

Introvigne responded 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 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.[25]

In 2018 and 2019, journalist and Scientology-critic Tony Ortega criticized CESNUR as an unreliable "apologist journal".[27][28][29]


  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 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. ^ https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/series-of-killings_the-1994-solar-temple-cult-deaths-in-switzerland/40878686
  4. ^ https://www.trouw.nl/nieuws/vu-gastvrouw-voor-sektevriendelijk-congres~b02a77a8/
  5. ^ a b https://www.trouw.nl/nieuws/sekte-onderzoekers-verblind-door-eigen-inlevingsvermogen~ba6de2e5/
  6. ^ a b Liaisons Dangereuses Des Universités Lyonnaises , L'Humanité, June 27, 2001 by Serge Garde
  7. ^ https://www.trouw.nl/nieuws/een-sektencongres-kan-nooit-rustig-zijn~b00c8ac6/
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=2FGPCwAAQBAJ&pg=PA179
  10. ^ "Alleanza Cattolica – Catholic Alliance – a deepening". Archived from the original on June 1, 2016. Retrieved January 5, 2008.
  11. ^ Cults in our Midst, Margaret Thaler Singer, Janja Lalich, pp. 217–218, notes on p. 352
  12. ^ a b https://books.google.com/books?id=rS2TDAAAQBAJ&pg=PA27
  13. ^ Melton, J. Gordon (1999). "Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and Fall of a Theory".
  14. ^ a b https://cesnur.net/board/
  15. ^ Clarke, Peter (2004). Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements. Routledge. p. 101. ISBN 978-1-134-49970-0.
  16. ^ Lewis, James R. (2014). Cults: A Reference and Guide. Routledge. p. 204. ISBN 978-1-317-54513-2.
  17. ^ "The Journal of CESNUR".
  18. ^ "Bitter Winter".
  19. ^ Charlie Hebdo , n. 233, 04.12.1996., "paravent scientifique servant à relayer ses thèses auprès des médias complaisants."
  20. ^ "Brainwashing" in New Religious Movements, by Alberto Amitrani and Raffaella Di Marzio, from the Roman seat of G.R.I.S., April, 1998.
  21. ^ a b c Louter, Michiel (13 August 1997). "Kenners van het kwaad". De Groene Amsterdammer (in Dutch). Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  22. ^ a b c d "Tokyo Cult Finds an Unlikely Supporter", The Washington Post, T.R. Reid, May 1995.
  23. ^ a b c d e Ian Reader, "Scholarship, Aum Shinrikyo, and Academic Integrity" Archived 2011-10-05 at the Wayback Machine, Nova Religio 3, no. 2 (April 2000): 368-82.
  24. ^ a b 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.
  25. ^ 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
  26. ^ "A Rejoinder To Melton, Shupe, And Lewis " in Skeptic Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 1 1999
  27. ^ https://tonyortega.org/2019/06/19/ignore-the-apologists-yes-l-ron-hubbard-lied-about-having-an-engineering-degree/
  28. ^ https://tonyortega.org/2018/04/11/a-new-academic-book-takes-apart-scientology-and-pop-culture-and-the-apologists-hate-it/
  29. ^ https://tonyortega.org/2019/06/21/scientology-founder-l-ron-hubbard-provost-marshal-another-apologist-claim-debunked/


  • 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]