Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over (Paperback) book cover

Escaping Utopia

Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over

By Janja Lalich, Karla McLaren

Routledge

176 pages

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pub: 2017-09-06
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Description

Actors Michelle Pfeiffer, Glenn Close, Rose McGowan and Leah Remini. Humorist Garrison Keillor. Musician Lisa Marie Presley. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Each of these well-know people has more than fame in common; each was born or raised in a cult.

We think of cults as bizarre, inexplicable, or otherworldly places that only strange people inhabit, but cults and other abusive and high-demand groups (and relationships) are actually quite commonplace. In fact, the behaviors, social pressures, and authoritarian structures that create cults exist to a greater or lesser extent in every human relationship and every human group. Cult behavior is human behavior – and by studying cults, we can learn remarkably useful things about the social world and our place in it

In the first in-depth research of its kind, sociologist and cult expert Janja Lalich interviewed sixty-five people who were born in or grew up in thirty-nine different cultic groups spanning more than a dozen countries. What’s especially interesting about these individuals is that they each left the cult on their own, without outside help or internal support. In Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over, Lalich and award-winning author (and fellow cult survivor) Karla McLaren craft Lalich’s original and groundbreaking research into an accessible and engaging book, the first of its kind focusing on this particular population. Lalich and McLaren explore fundamental questions about human nature, human development, group dynamics, abuse and control, and triumphs of the human spirit in the face of intense and extended suffering.

Reviews

"ESCAPING UTOPIA is a must read book for everyone concerned about the real nature of human nature. Authors Lalich and McLaren do a brilliant job in revealing the various psycho-social mechanisms by which cults attract, deceive and bind recruits into their "families," at great personal costs-- and how to help them exit."

- Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University

"This is a unique and valuable book.The authors have taken a much-neglected subject: the fate of children growing up in cults who leave knowing little or nothing of the world outside their cult’s boundaries. The book is largely based on interviews with 65 of these former cult members from a wide variety of different types of cults. But the material is thematically unified by the authors’ profound theoretical understanding of cult dynamics gained through many decades of studying cults from both inside and out. This accessible and nuanced account of a controversial subject will be the standard reference on its subject for many years to come."

- Benjamin Zablocki, Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University

"By using contemporary scholarship to elucidate the abuse, then the resiliency, of young adults who left abusive cults, this study accomplishes the unusual task of creating an immensely accessible book for the general public, current and former members, and academics. Nothing else like it exists."

- Stephen A. Kent, Sociology Professor in the Interdisciplinary Program in Religious Studies, University of Alberta.

"Lalich and McLaren, both of whom are former cult members, have written the definitive work on the hidden world of those children and teenagers who grew up in cults, managed to get out, and start their lives over. With sympathy and understanding, Lalich and McLaren recount the struggles of 65 different individuals and their grief, pain, and suffering. It is a beautifully written story about the ultimate triumph of the human spirit. A well-developed theory of how cults operate and affect their members is presented to help us understand and guard against friends and family members being drawn into their orbit and how to help them, if they are."

- Scott G. McNall, author of The Problem of Social Inequality and the forthcoming Cultures of Defiance and Resistance University of Montana

Table of Contents

Introduction

Chapter 1. We Weren’t There by Choice: Meeting Our Narrators

Chapter 2. Purity, Perfection, and the Eradication of Individuality: The Transcendent Belief System

Chapter 3. Exhilarating Vision, Electrifying Charisma, and Total Domination: Charismatic Authority

Chapter 4. Social Pressures, Rigid Expectations, and Constant Manipulation: Systems of Influence

Chapter 5. Official Rules, Formal Structures, and Webs of Authority: Systems of Control

Chapter 6. Landing on Mars: Finding Their Way in an Alien World

Chapter 7. Resilience and Reintegration: Surviving and Thriving

Appendices

Acknowledgements

Notes to the Chapters

Index

About the Authors

Janja Lalich is a researcher, author, and educator specializing in self-sealing systems (cults, terrorist groups, situations of undue influence, and ideological extremism), with a particular focus on recruitment, indoctrination, and methods of influence and control. She is Professor Emerita of Sociology at California State University, Chico and has been studying the social psychology of controversial groups and exploitative and abusive relationships for thirty years.Her publications include Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships (Bay Tree Press 2006) and Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults (University of California Press 2004).

Karla McLaren is an award-winning author and social science researcher who grew up in a New Age healing cult in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her recent publications include The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill (Sounds True 2013) and The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You (Sounds True 2010).

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOC026000
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General