Janja Lalich

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Janja Lalich
OccupationProfessor Emerita of Sociology
OrganizationCalifornia State University, Chico

Janja Lalich (b. 1945) is an American sociologist and writer. Lalich is best known as a foremost expert on cults and coercion, charismatic authority, power relations, ideology and social control. She is a professor emerita of sociology at the California State University, Chico.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

The daughter of Serbian immigrants,[3] Lalich was born in 1945. Lalich has a Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California.[1] Beginning in the 1970s, Lalich spent around ten years as part of a radical Marxist-Leninist group, the Democratic Workers Party in California. She later came to realize that the group was a cult. Lalich recalls that during her time in the group she stored questions and doubts in the back of her mind, unable to express them.[2] Lalich became a high-ranking member of the group working long hours with little contact outside the immediate members. She claims that ex-members were harassed and attacked and that she felt increasingly threatened. Eventually, the group dissolved and she was able to leave.[4]


She is a recently retired professor in the sociology department of California State University, Chico, and has contributed several articles to academic journals on the subject of cults and religions.[5][6] After her experiences in a radical political group that she identifies as a cult, she founded the Center for Research on Influence and Control. In her work, she describes the main features of a "totalistic" control group or cult: "They 'espouse an all-encompassing belief system', 'exhibit excessive devotion to the leader', 'avoid criticism of the group and its leader', and 'feel disdain for non-members'."[7]

Lalich went on to write several books on the subject of cults, including her best known book, Bounded Choice (2004), based on Heaven's Gate.[8] As a recognized international authority in the field, Lalich has also appeared in several court cases as an expert witness on coercive control or undue influence.[9]

In 2007, Lalich was awarded the Margaret L. Singer Award: "for advancing the understanding of coercive persuasion, undue influence, and psychological manipulation" by the International Cultic Studies Association.[10][11]



  1. ^ a b Zablocki, Benjamin; Robbins, Thomas, eds. (1 November 2001). Misunderstanding Cults : Searching for objectivity in a controversial field. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 522. ISBN 978-0802043733.
  2. ^ a b Wollan, Malia (26 September 2018). "How to Get Someone Out of a Cult". New York Times. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  3. ^ Lalich, Janja. "The Violent Outcomes of Ideological Extremism: What Have We Learned Since Jonestown?". jonestown.sdsu.edu. Retrieved 17 October 2020.
  4. ^ Paoletta, Rae. "Women share their real-life horror stories of surviving a cult". Revelist. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  5. ^ "Campus Directory". CSU, Chico. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  6. ^ "Janja Lalich". ResearchGate. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  7. ^ Al-sibai, Noor (21 June 2018). "Expert explains how Trump's GOP has turned into a cult". Raw Story. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  8. ^ Taylor, Laurie. "Thinking Allowed: Charismatic cults". BBC Radio. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  9. ^ Berman, Sarah. "Courts Are Rarely Kind to 'Brainwashed' Victims". Vice. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  10. ^ Ashcraft, W. Michael (2018). A Historical Introduction to the Study of New Religious Movements. Routledge. pp. Chapter 4. ISBN 978-1351670838. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  11. ^ "Awards". International Cultic Studies Association. Retrieved 4 October 2018.

External links[edit]

YouTube - Why do people join cults? - Janja Lalich | TED-Ed
YouTube - Former Cult Member Answers Cult Questions From Twitter | Tech Support | WIRED