The 1970’s brought with it an unexpected rise of new religions movements and most of these had links with Eastern origins. These religions operated on the fringes of the traditional religious institutions were immediately controversial. This controversiality combined with the interest shown in them by especially the educated youth, as well their subsequent conversion to these new alternate religious movements, raised serious concerns with the stalwarts of the traditional value systems and the term brainwashing became the acceptable theory in order to explain the reasoning behind those defecting to these movements.
In this essay the phenomenon of brainwashing will be discussed and its legitimacy as an valid theory to utilise as an reason behind the conversion to the new religious movements, critically evaluated.
2. The “Brainwashing” Hypothesis
Those who subscribe to the brainwashing theory believe that the person who is a member of a new religious movement is in such position due to the fact that specialised brainwashing techniques that have been employed by the leaders of these groupings in order to bring about impairment of the individual’s cognitive abilities resulting in diminished personal autonomy which then as an effect, leads to a dependency on the group. In the process the person is believed to be stripped of his old identity and that the function of independent judgement is therefore no longer possible.
It is thus believed that the person has through this indoctrination process undergone a metamorphosis that has led to him/her becoming a “robot” like being that has effectively been stripped of the ability of independent functioning and the power of critical reasoning thereby effectively leaving him/her without the ability to question authority. The normal processes of function are thereby replaced with a mental state of rigid loyalty and unquestionable obedience to the leadership (Anthony & Robbins, 2004).
These “brainwashing” techniques are believed to be originally developed in the Russian purge trials of the 1930’s and later refined by the Chinese communists after coming to power in 1949. The techniques were also believed to have been employed against the American prisoners of war during the Korean War of the 1950’s.
The term brainwashing was first introduced to the Western world in 1951 by American Edward Hunter who was a foreign correspondent in his book titled Brainwashing in Red China (Steyn, 2009: 148).
3. New Age Religious Movements
New Age Religious Movements can be defined as religious community or a spiritual group of modern origins which operates outside the boundaries of the mainstream religions. They offer innovative solutions as response to the sociological and psychological demands of the modern world. This is despite the fact that most of their practices are rooted ancient traditions they are seen as alternatives to the mainstream religions. They generally found to charismatic in nature...