David G. Bromley

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David G. Bromley (born 1941) is a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. He has written extensively about "cults", new religious movements, apostasy, and the anti-cult movement.[1]

Education and career[edit]

Bromley received his B.A. in sociology (1963) from Colby College. He then obtained his M.A. (1966) and Ph.D. (1971) from Duke University.

He began his professional teaching career at the University of Virginia, where he taught from 1968 to 1974. He then taught at the University of Texas at Austin (1976–1980), and University of Hartford (1980–1983). Since 1983 he has held his professorial post at the University of Virginia and also at Virginia Commonwealth University.

His primary area of teaching and research is sociology of religion, with a specialization in religious movements especially new religious movements. He was also director of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Hartford and chairman of Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Virginia.

From 1992-1995, Bromley was the editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, published by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and is currently the editor of Religion and the Social Order, an annual serial published by the Association for the Sociology of Religion.

During the 1970s a social conflict erupted in North America concerning fringe religions labelled as cults. The social discourses of the critics of cults centered on allegations that cults were socially devious and subversive groups. The subversion was alleged to threaten the norms of mainstream society and of social institutions such as the family. The processes by which devotees were converted and indoctrinated into cults were alleged to involve various degrees of brainwashing and mind control.

Many of those who were opposed to cults were disaffected former members, and members of distraught families and friends who had loved ones involved in a group. As networks developed among these people a social movement developed which has come to be known as the anti-cult movement. He defined the anti-cult movement in 1981 as the amalgam of groups who embrace the brainwashing theory.[2][3] In the 1970s and 1980s the anti-cult movement came to prominence for their allegations and activities in resisting cults and in delegitimating these groups as inauthentic religious bodies. One of the controversial activities promulgated by some protagonists was known as deprogramming – a form of counter-brainwashing.

As a sociologist interested in topics like social deviancy and religious apostasy, Bromley became a prominent scholarly voice about the social conflict ensuing around cults. He defined in his 1998 article the apostate role as "one that occurs in a highly polarized situation in which an organization member undertakes a total change of loyalties by allying with one or more elements of an oppositional coalition without the consent or control of the organization. The narrative is one which documents the quintessentially evil essence of the apostate's former organization chronicled through the apostate's personal experience of capture and ultimate escape/rescue."[4]

However, Bromley's role soon extended from that of an observer as he expressed his opposition to the claims of brainwashing and the practice of deprogramming. Bromley was concerned that the social conflict was resembling aspects of the witch-hunts of the late Middle Ages, and that civil liberties guaranteeing religious freedom were at stake. He questioned the tactics of anti-cultists and their claims over brainwashing in several books and articles coauthored with Anson Shupe, such as Strange Gods, Moonies in America, and The New Vigilantes.[5]

Since 2001, Bromley has participated in scholarly discussions over the brainwashing controversy (see his essay contributed to the book Misunderstanding Cults).

Faculty positions[edit]

Source [6]

  • Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Virginia Commonwealth University: 1983-
  • Affiliate Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University: 1994-
  • Chairman, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Virginia Commonwealth University: 1983-1986
  • Head, Department of Sociology, University of Hartford: 1980-1983
  • Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Hartford: 1980-1983
  • Director, Institute for Social Research, University of Hartford: 1980-1983
  • Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, The University of Texas at Arlington: 1974-1980
  • Acting Chairman, Department of Sociology, The University of Texas at Arlington: 1976-1977
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Virginia: 1968-1974

Bromley also painted a series of children's paintings as well as adult.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Swatos, William H..; Kivisto, Peter (1998). Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Rowman Altamira. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-7619-8956-1. 
  2. ^ Bromley and Anson Shupe, Strange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare. Boston: Beacon Press, 1981
  3. ^ McCormick Maaga, Mary (1998). Hearing the voices of Jonestown, Syracuse University Press, ISBN 0-8156-0515-3
  4. ^ Bromley (editor) The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998.
  5. ^ Swatos, William H.; Kivisto, Peter (1998). Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, Rowman Altamira, ISBN 978-0-7619-8956-1, p. 63
  6. ^ "Curriculum Vitae". 

External links[edit]

  • Home Page of David Bromley at the Virginia Commonwealth University.