Massimo Introvigne

Massimo Introvigne, PhD


Mystics or Criminals? “Cults,” Religion, and Drugs


Several years ago, scholars of religion abandoned the word “cult,” arguing that it was being consistently used to discriminate against unpopular minorities. They, however, recognized that not all religious groups are benign. The word “cult,” in the meantime, kept being used by the media, the anti-cult movements, and regimes looking for a justification for their discrimination of new religious movements, such as Russia and China. Recently, I tried to introduce a new category, “criminal religious movements,” including groups that either (or both) consistently practice and justify common crimes such as terrorism, child abuse, rape, physical violence, homicide, and serious economic crimes, as opposite to the vague or imaginary crimes of “being a cult” or “brainwashing members.” The use of drugs is a test case for the new category. Are movements using drugs criminal? The paper argues that, while trafficking in drugs for monetary enrichment makes a religious movement criminal, the entheogenic use of drugs for religious purposes doesn’t.


Massimo Introvigne, a law and philosophy graduate, has been until 2016 a professor of Sociology of Religions at Pontifical Salesian University in Torino, Italy. He is the managing director of CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, also in Torino. In 2011, he served as the Representative of OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) for combating racism, xenophobia, and intolerance and discrimination against Christians and members of other religions, and from 2012 to 2015 as Chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, created by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is the author of some sixty books on religious pluralism and new religious movements, including Satanism: A Social History (Brill 2016), The Plymouth Brethren (Oxford University Press 2018), and Inside The Church of Almighty God (Oxford University Press 2020).



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