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Essay written by CL OConnor The controversy surrounding new religious movements seems to be foremost concerned with whether or not the members of these religions come of their own freewill or if they convert as a necessary and inevitable response to advanced coercion or brainwashing techniques employed by the cult leaders The concept of brainwashing came into popular existence in the 1950s as the result of attempts to try and explain the behaviour of some American GIs who defected to the Communists during the Korean War 19 Oct 1999 Many people including some professionals found brainwashing to be an acceptable explanation for the otherwise unexplainable behaviour However the brainwashing theory did nothing to explain why hundreds of other captured GIs chose to remain true to their country even at the risk of being tortured It could not accurately account for the behaviour of a select few GIs when it did not offer any explanation for the behaviour of the majority Since the 1950s the concept of brainwashing has faded in and out of public consciousness with a tendency to flare up again in the face of public controversy In the 1960s and 1970s the brainwashing debate again took center stage this time in an attempt to explain the behaviour of so-called radicals who left behind a normal life and opted instead for a cult existence Although scholars of new religious movements would agree that religious groups often have substantial influence over their followers they would also argue that the influence exerted in cults is not very different from influence that is present in practically every arena of life 19 Oct 1999 Mainstream religions also exercise influence over their members concerning matters such as lifestyle choices familial relations and monetary donations Furthermore most social scientists concede that some degree of influence is inevitable in each culture and facet of life even outside the arena of religious choice Despite
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