Defectors, Ordinary Leavetakers and Apostates: A Quantitative Study of Former Members of New Acropolis in France

Massimo Introvigne
("Nova Religio" 3 .1 ,October 1999 - a preliminary version of this text was presented, before the investigation was completed, at the 1997 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion - San Francisco, 23 November 1997)




A considerable amount of sociological literature exists on exit processes from social organizations in general.[1] A good number of these studies deal, specifically, with religious organizations [2], and particularly with new religious movements [3]. An important part of this research is concerned with how exit roles are socially constructed. Starting from earlier methodology developed by David Bromley--and leaving aside less frequently occurring roles, such as whistle-blowers [4]--I shall use three ideal types of exit roles: defectors, ordinary leave-takers, and apostates [5]. My assumption is that different exit roles may co-exist among former members of the same organization (a possibility Bromley also mentions). These types identify the experience of an ex-member at a given moment in his or her personal history (an ordinary leave-taker may eventually become an apostate, and vice versa) and correspond to socially constructed roles. An exit narrative results from the dynamic interaction between the psychological and social experience of the person who leaves an organization and the environment. The latter is the social context in which the former member is situated and by which he or she is requested (with greater or lesser pressure) to give an account of his or her former affiliation. Although social-psychological explanations of exit role constructions have been attempted in the past [6], there is no such a thing as a "pure", "photographic" narrative of an exit process. All such narratives are socially constructed, culturally conditioned, and politically negotiated.

Type I narratives characterize the exit process as defection. According to Bromley, "the defector role may be defined as one in which an organizational participant negotiates exit primarily with organizational authorities, who grant permission for role relinquishment, control the exit process, and facilitate role transition. The jointly constructed narrative assigns primary moral responsibility for role performance problems to the departing member and interprets organizational permission as commitment to extraordinary moral standards and preservation of public trust." [7] The ultimate responsibility for leaving the organization is attributed solely to the exiting member. The latter accepts that he or she was simply not able to conform to the standards required by the organization. The exiting member had tried to merge into the organization, but failed because of personal difficulties. The organization and the former member negotiate an exiting process aimed at minimizing the damage for both parties. It is expected that the former member expresses a certain amount of regret for not having been able to remain in an organization he or she still regards as benevolent and of a high moral standard.

Type II narratives—ordinary leave-taking—are both the most common and the least often discussed. In fact, participants exit a wide variety of organizations every day, and little is heard about the actual exit processes unless they are contested in some way. Non-contested exit processes involve a minimal degree of negotiation between the exiting member, the organization he or she intends to leave, and the environment or society at large. In fact, contemporary society offers a readily available narrative of how a person, in what has become the normal process of moving from one social "home" to another in different fields, simply loses interest, loyalty, and commitment to an old experience and proceeds to a new one. In this sense, the usual narrative implies that the ordinary leave-taker holds no strong feelings concerning the past experience. Since loyalty towards it has diminished, and the organization was ultimately exited, the leave-taker’s narrative will normally include some comments on the organization’s more negative features or shortcomings. The ordinary leave-taker, however, may also recognize that there was something positive in the experience. In fact, ordinary leave-taking is not normally seen as requiring any particular justification, and there will be no deep probing into the causes and responsibilities behind the exit process.

Type III narratives define the role of the apostate. In this case, the ex-member dramatically reverses his or her loyalties and becomes a professional enemy of the organization he or she has left. "The narrative," in Bromley’s terms, "is one which documents the quintessentially evil essence of the apostate’s former organization chronicled through the apostate’s personal experience of capture and ultimate escape/rescue."[8] The former organization could easily label the apostate a traitor. However, the apostate—particularly after having joined an oppositional coalition fighting the organization—often claims that he or she was a "victim" or a "prisoner" who did not join voluntarily. This, of course, implies that the organization itself was the embodiment of an extraordinary evil. Having been socialized into an oppositional coalition, the apostate finds a number of theoretical tools (including powerful brainwashing metaphors) ready for use, which help to explain precisely why the organization is evil and able to deprive its members of their free will.

It is normally assumed that the more controversial a religious organization is, the higher the number of apostates there will be. Conversely, highly respected organizations will produce more defectors and fewer apostates. Comparisons should preferably be made between voluntary associations a person freely joins rather than between denominations or churches within which he or she was born. There are, however, several voluntary associations within the mainline churches, such as religious orders, lay movements, and even the Roman Catholic priesthood in general. Although extremely vocal apostates exist among former Catholic priests and nuns, many of those leaving the priesthood or religious orders would rather blame themselves for their failure to meet the Church’s standards. Accordingly, they will often reconstruct their experiences through Type I (defector) narratives. This happens, we are told by Ebaugh [9] and others, because the Roman Catholic Church is a powerful (although, of course, not unchallenged) organization. It is thus able, more often than not, to negotiate damage-controlling narratives with exiting members. By contrast, organizations perceived as subversive—including most new religious movements—are typically less able to negotiate damage-controlling narratives with exiting members, thus generating more apostates and fewer defectors. This theoretical expectation seems eminently reasonable on the surface, but is not entirely confirmed by empirical research. New religious movements are normally perceived as subversive, and they tend to generate extremely vocal apostates. Current research, however, seems to suggest that apostates may represent but a minority segment of former members of even the most controversial new religious movements [10]. A large majority of former members can be classified as ordinary leave-takers, and some of them even as defectors.[11]

A distinction may be established here between visible and invisible former members. Most former members are invisible insofar as they do not care to discuss their former affiliation. In fact, their very existence can often only be discovered through quantitative research that is able to access a group’s membership records. They are less likely to be available even for qualitative sociological work, although this should not be ruled out entirely. Visible former members are primarily apostates, and the oppositional coalitions they have since joined make every effort to assure their visibility. In a much smaller proportion, defectors may also become visible, and can occasionally be mobilized by those organizations attacked by the apostates. They may also spontaneously come out of their social closet to defend their former organization as being unfairly criticized or misrepresented. This means that, although apostates (and defectors) may constitute only a minority of former members of several organizations, no matter how controversial, they may well constitute the majority of visible ex-members. This is a risk run also by mainline and relatively noncontroversial organizations. Vocal apostate ex-priests are much more visible than the quiet majority of former priests who prefer not to go public with their defector-type narratives. The almost exclusive visibility of apostates may also become the rule for controversial organizations such as some new religious movements.





New Acropolis

New Acropolis is commonly labeled as a "cult" by the anti-cult movement and was listed as such in a 1996 French parliamentary report. It emphatically denies being in any way a religious movement, however, and prefers to be regarded as a school of philosophy. While it is outside of the purposes of this paper to reconstruct the history and the ideas of New Acropolis, some general information is offered to provide a useful context for what follows. [12]

Founded in Argentina in 1957 by Jorge A. Livraga Rizzi (1930-1991), New Acropolis is a post-theosophical movement, combining ideas of the Theosophical Society with other sources. In the 1970s, it expanded into Europe and in 1974 was established in France by Fernand Schwarz, an archaeologist. In 1997, the movement claimed some 20,000 members worldwide. It is currently headquartered in Brussels and its international president is Delia Steinberg Guzman. In accordance with the larger theosophical tradition, New Acropolis accepts the idea of a universal "philosophy" or "Tradition," the existence of which is presupposed behind the world’s different religious and esoteric traditions. However, compared with the Theosophical Society, New Acropolis emphasizes Western rather than Eastern esotericism (although Eastern references are occasionally included) and focuses particularly on Greek philosophy in the tradition of Pythagoras and Plato.

The stated aim of New Acropolis is to help each member reach his or her Higher Self and to reclaim a higher consciousness that, while normally dormant, is preserved in the esoteric schools and accessible through symbols, the active use of imagination, the study of one’s own dreams, and other techniques. The Higher Self, in turn, is a gateway to the Cosmic or Universal Self, described as a collective archetypal reality. When an adequate number of human beings achieve that Higher Self, the Universal Self may emerge as collective consciousness and may have important social and political implications. Although the society inspired by the collective consciousness of the archetypal Universal Self has been described in different ways throughout the history of the movement, it is certainly different from modern democracy. Indeed, the founder’s criticism of contemporary democracy (quoting Plato and other authors) is often offered by critics of New Acropolis as evidence of the movement’s "reactionary" or "fascist" political attitude, although other texts by Livraga and his successors unequivocally condemn nazism, fascism and—more recently—the National Front in France [13]. The use by New Acropolis of allegedly paramilitary language, symbols, and forms of organization has also been criticized in much the same vein. More recently, brainwashing charges have been added, particularly within the framework of the new European cult scares following the suicides and homicides of a number of Order of the Solar Temple members in 1994, 1995, and 1997. New Acropolis has thus become particularly controversial in some European countries, including France, a country in which widespread fear of "cults" (sectes, in French) and right-wing extremism are often part of the same rhetoric. These controversies—and the role of apostates in them—made New Acropolis in France a promising subject for a quantitative case study of former members.


Another reason why the French branch of New Acropolis seemed a promising movement for a quantitative investigation of former members is that, as mentioned earlier, it does not claim to be a religious organization as such. It neither requests nor receives any tax benefit associated with the status of religious congregation. Under French law, it is obliged to keep complete and accurate records of the annual fees paid by its members. In the wake of recent public controversies, it became the subject of an in-depth tax investigation concluded in 1989, which ultimately judged in its favor. In 1997, the French leadership of New Acropolis accepted a proposal by CESNUR (the Center for Studies on New Religions, whose managing director is the undersigned) to conduct a quantitative survey of members who had left the association in France between January 1986 and April 1997 [14]. Under the agreement reached between CESNUR and the French branch of New Acropolis, we were given access to membership records for the previous ten years, which indicated how many members had stopped paying their yearly fees after the year 1986. A CESNUR team verified all New Acropolis records. We found no evidence that records had been tampered with, and any such tampering would indeed have been extremely dangerous for New Acropolis given the not exactly benevolent attention paid by French tax officers to groups listed in the 1996 parliamentary report as "cults." [15] We recognized the names of a couple of its more prominent apostates who had gone public with their criticism of New Acropolis, but most names meant nothing to us. Labels were affixed to the envelopes enclosing the questionnaire, and no copies of them were kept by CESNUR. We had to dispatch a second limited number of questionnaires, which had come back with no clear indication that the address was hopelessly wrong, but under the agreement we had with New Acropolis all the envelopes including names of the senders were destroyed. We had, at any rate, recommended that answers be sent anonymously, and most were.

A discussion of what a "member" of New Acropolis in France exactly is seems, at this stage, in order. The by-laws distinguish between six different membership categories. Categories I, II, and III include, respectively, the two founders in France (Mr. Schwarz and Ms. Winckler), honorary members, and supporters who are not part of the association but contribute to it financially or otherwise. Category V includes the core members of the association who have followed at least a first degree course, have requested recognition as full members, and participate in the activities of the New Acropolis’ Center for Philosophical Formation. Category IV includes members of Category V occupying national leadership positions. Category VI includes members of what is called the Cultural Center of New Acropolis. They pay a small yearly fee and receive various publications as well as reduced rates for attendance at conferences organized by the association. These people are not members of the Center for Philosophical Formation (the real core of the association) but only of the Cultural Center. They have limited contacts with the association and can not be regarded as members of the corresponding social movement in any usual sociological sense.

The members of the Cultural Center numbered around 2,000 in 1991, and the figure was roughly the same in 1997. The members of the Center for Philosophical Formation (we refer to them as members of New Acropolis in France belonging to Categories IV and V) numbered 701 in 1986, 710 in 1991, and 260 as of April 30, 1997. It appears, therefore, that New Acropolis lost almost two thirds of its membership in France between the years 1991 and 1997. In view of the fact that new members have joined in the meantime, the number of leave-takers is higher than 450. Our examination of the records showed 530 leave-takers (i.e. former members who had ceased their annual fee payment) between January 1986 and April 1997. Questionnaires were sent to all these 530 leave-takers, although an obvious problem was that the association did not keep track of their changes of address once they had left. In fact, of the 530 questionnaires sent, 236 were later returned with "transferred" or similar indications on them (in some cases, Post Office comments were ambiguous, and we tried a second mailing with prepaid notices of receipt). Of the 294 addressees who presumably received the questionnaires, 120 replied (although two replies were very incomplete). This means that 40.8% of the questionnaires received were completed and returned, yielding a 22.6% response rate out of the total population of former members, a respectable result in terms of quantitative research.

An important question is whether or not those who did not respond might systematically differ in attitude from those who did. Similar problems obviously affect any research conducted by means of a mailed questionnaire, rendering their results always to some extent tentative. In this case, however, one may specifically ask whether, in the heated climate of the current French cult wars, apostates may have been less likely than other ex-members to return a questionnaire to CESNUR. It is true that CESNUR has been criticized by anti-cultists in France as an association of "cult apologists," and that the anti-cult milieu is extremely suspicious of scholars in general. On the other hand, it is also true that apostates are more eager than other ex-members to make their voices heard and to engage in fierce debates with scholars [16]. The latter circumstance may possibly balance the former.


Questionnaires are, in turn, socially constructed tools culturally conditioned by the status of the research and by the different biases of the scholars involved [17]. They are aimed at proposing falsifiable conjectures, "models," or "figures," which presuppose the relationship with empirical reality to be one of analogy, rather than at "discovering" the "truth."

I present in this paragraph some relevant answers from the questionnaire [18]. Questions 13 to 17 requested demographic and general information (sex, age, religion, profession, and marital status). The first and second questions asked how long each respondent had been a member of New Acropolis and when he or she had left. Questions 3 to 12 requested an evaluation of life within New Acropolis, the reasons for leaving it, and an opinion on the most common criticism (including political) of the group.

The sample appears to be equally divided among male and female respondents. The age group most represented (42.5%) is 30 to 40 years, followed by 40 to 50 years (28.3%). Younger former members appear to be comparatively rare (nobody under 18 years and only 2.5% in the 18-25 years group). 57.1% of the respondents indicated their religion as "Catholic" (the questionnaire did not ask whether they were active Catholics), and 25.2% declared themselves to be "nonreligious." A variety of professions, mostly middle-class, is represented in the sample. Lawyers, doctors, and business consultants prevail (14.3%), followed by professors and schoolteachers (9.2%). A significant minority is unemployed (8.4%). A majority of the respondents (57.1%) are unmarried.

Most respondents remained in New Acropolis for more than three years (31. 7%), with only 2.5% leaving within less than six months of their joining it. In terms of their leaving New Acropolis, the largest group had left more than three years previously (48.7%). Bearing in mind that several members who left three or more years ago probably have not been reached since their address has changed, this percentage could be even more significant.

Respondents were evenly distributed between those who regarded their former engagement in New Acropolis as "very important" (24.2%)," important" (39.2%) and "not particularly important" (35%). 74.8% have internalized—and still maintain—the self-definition of New Acropolis as "a philosophy"; 19.3% regard it as a "cultural association"; only 3.4% define it as "a religion" and 2.5% as "a political organization." In terms of the "main" reason for quitting, a large majority (65%) indicated (selecting among a range of eight possible replies, plus "other") that the experience, "while interesting, had lasted long enough." The second largest group (10.2%) mentioned negative changes in the internal climate of the association, and 8.5% simply stated that they had moved (presumably to a city where there was no New Acropolis center). "Ideological" reasons for quitting were mentioned by smaller percentages: 7.6% indicated that they have changed to "another movement, or group, or church" or that they "no longer believed in the doctrines." Another 6.8% had been influenced by media hostility, and 1.7% by the negative judgments of relatives and friends.

An important question is whether or not anti-cult movements had played a role in the decision to leave New Acropolis. In this context, 7.5% mentioned ADFI (Association for the Defense of the Families and the Individual, the largest French anti-cult movement). No one in our sample mentioned CCMM (Center Against Mental Manipulations, the second largest French anti-cult movement), whilst 0.8% referred to other unspecified anti-cult organizations.

Another important item was the present opinion of respondents about New Acropolis. Respondents were offered a choice between five possible answers: "It is a dangerous cult"; "It is probably my way, I regret having left it"; "It is an interesting way, but it is not my way"; "It is not very interesting"; "It is an association spreading false ideas." The answer "It is probably my way, I regret having left it" identifies the classical defector, and a total of 18% of the respondents gave this answer. A large proportion, however, answered that "it is an interesting way, but it is not my way" (67.4%), and 2.6% regarded New Acropolis as "not very interesting." The apostate-type answers (an association "spreading false ideas" [1.7%] and "a dangerous cult" [10.3%]) reflect a sizable minority of the respondents. Another question asked whether New Acropolis exerted "excessive pressure" on them, with four options offered. 68.3% replied that they felt "they have always been free" (option 1), and another 21.7% also answered in the negative, conceding nonetheless that the association was "strict" (option 2). A further 6.7% accused New Acropolis of "brainwashing" practices (option 3) and 2.5% of "fraud" (option 4). A parallel question concerned money (three options). 85.8% did not regret money spent during their time with New Acropolis (option 1). 6. 7% regretted having spent money in the interests of the association (option 2), and 5% felt the money had been "stolen by fraudulent means" (option 3).

We also included two questions about politics. One asked the reaction of each respondent when he or she had heard New Acropolis accused of being a "nazi," "fascist," or "extremist right-wing" movement (three options were offered). 77.1% of the respondents regarded these accusations as "false and a libel" (option 1), and 5.1% as "true" (option 2). A total of 14.4% selected option 3, i.e. that New Acropolis is a "right-wing movement, but neither nazi nor fascist." Answers to the second political question (with only "yes" or "no" offered as options) indicated that 7. 6% also felt that New Acropolis was guilty of propagating a "racist" ideology.

We compared the responses of those who attributed a role to the anti-cult movements in their decision to leave New Acropolis to the general sample. The majority of those influenced by anti-cult movements in general (the "anti-cult" sample) regarded their former engagement in New Acropolis as important (60%). Some of them are now persuaded that New Acropolis (according to the usual anti-cult version) is in fact a religion (20%, compared to 3.4% in the general sample), whilst half of them still regard it as a "philosophy." Those who have been in touch with the anti-cult movements are also more likely (30%) to have been influenced by the hostile media. They generally regard New Acropolis as "a dangerous cult" (90%) and attribute their own persistence within it to the use of "brainwashing" techniques (80%). They are also more likely to regard its leaders as "intolerant" (70%) and to claim that their money was stolen from them fraudulently (50%). No less than 30% of those who had had significant contacts with an anti-cult movement regarded the "extremist right-wing," "nazi," or "fascist" labels attached to New Acropolis as "true" (although 50% of them still preferred to regard the movement as "right-wing but neither nazi nor fascist"). A total of 70% of the "anti-cult" subgroup also regarded New Acropolis’ ideology as "racist." The principal difference in demographic terms is that 70% of the anti-cult sample respondents (compared to 35.3% of the general sample) were married. Table 1 compares a number of answers given to different questions by the total sample (T; n=120) and by those respondents (8.3% of T) who had stated that an anti-cult movement had played a key role in their decision to leave New Acropolis (AC).



Total and "Anti-Cult" Samples Compared

New Acropolis as religion
Influence by hostile media
NA regarded as a

"dangerous cult"

Brainwashing used by NA
6. 7
Leaders of NA as intolerant
Money stolen by fraud
NA as extremist, nazi or fascist
NA as racist
7. 6
Respondent married

Note: Each row refers to a different possible answer to a different question. For example, the first row identifies what percentage of the total sample gave "a religion" in answer to the question about the nature of New Acropolis (96.6 % gave answers different from "a religion," or no answer, to that question), as opposed to what percentage of the anti-cult sample indicated "a religion" in reply to the same question (80% in the anti-cult sample gave answers other than "a religion," or no answer, to that question). For this reason percentages do not add up.


Table 1 shows the relationship between the former members' perception of New Acropolis and their socialization process into an anti-cult movement. Theories of brainwashing often rely on the "consistency" of apostate accounts, and they regard as highly significant that "a great many individuals independently report similar accounts of disenchantment." [19] The research suggests that, in some cases at least, the situation may actually be more ambiguous. Similar accounts may simply be the effect of a comparable exposure to a pre-existing anti-cult milieu. On the other hand, ex-members with a particularly negative view of their former movement may be more likely to associate with an anti-cult movement.

We cross-tabulated some answers according to a preliminary classification of the respondents on the basis of the three identities presupposed by our study, i.e. the ordinary leave-taker, the defector, and the apostate. Once again, this classification represents a definition rather than a "discovery" of some hidden "truth." Such definitions may be useful, however, in generating additional falsifiable conjectures. We have considered as defectors those who replied to question 7 that New Acropolis "is probably my way, I regret having left it" and, at the same time, do not feel that New Acropolis exerted "excessive pressure" on them. We have classified as apostates (1) those who regard New Acropolis as "a dangerous cult" or "an association spreading false ideas"; and/or (2) those who accuse New Acropolis of "brainwashing" or of fraud. Respondents who do not qualify as defectors or apostates have been classified as ordinary leave-takers. Results are presented in Table 2.



Defectors, Ordinary Leave-takers, and Apostates

Ordinary leave-takers

Cross-tabulations reveal no highly significant results in terms of time spent in New Acropolis, when the movement was left, and demographics. On the other hand, apostates are less frequent (6.9%) and defectors more frequent (31%) among those who regarded their former engagement in New Acropolis as "very important." Apostates represent 75% of the total number of respondents who categorize New Acropolis as "a religion." However, 42.9% of the apostates still look on New Acropolis as a philosophy. Not surprisingly, 88.9% of those attributing a role to ADFI in their decision to leave New Acropolis have become apostates. The great majority of apostates, however, are still reluctant to identify New Acropolis as "fascist" or "nazi." A large proportion of them (46.1%) prefers to view it as a right-wing movement, but neither nazi nor fascist. It is only apostates who accuse New Acropolis of spreading racism.



New Acropolis’ Political Perception among Former Members (percentage)

Total Sample
Ordinary Leave-takers

generally unfair

Right-wing, but neither nazi nor fascist
Accusations True: NA as extremist, nazi or fascist
No answer

Note: Rows indicate answers to a single question (multiple responses were not permitted). The "no answer" subgroup has been included so that columns add up to 100.




Although, in order to be complete, a study of former members of New Acropolis in France should also include a significant amount of qualitative research in the form of case histories of individual ex-members, the importance of quantitative research in this field should not be underestimated. In fact, when it comes to new religious movements in general, some anti-cult authors oppose the approach of social scientists and the experiential truth of ex-members, the latter being allegedly closed to social analysis. This is, obviously, a misunderstanding, because the positions and experiences of ex-members are open to both qualitative and quantitative social analysis. Quantitative analysis would seem to be particularly appropriate in assessing whether the individual experience of a given ex-member is representative of a larger group. In this respect, the results of this study, although by no means definitive, may nonetheless be useful in raising further questions and promoting further research.

1. The present study suggests that Type II (Ordinary Leave-taker) narratives may prevail among exiting members of even a controversial social organization such as New Acropolis. The common presupposition that apostates are likely to be more prevalent in highly controversial organizations may not, in itself, be untrue; it does not necessarily mean, however, that apostates constitute the greater number of members exiting from such groups. There is little doubt that New Acropolis in France is an extremely controversial organization. Irrespective of whether or not the accusations are true, for a sizable number of French media New Acropolis embodies two of the most widespread current subversion fears: the fear of the sectes (cults) and the fear of right-wing extremism. Controversies notwithstanding, our research suggests that the majority of members exiting from New Acropolis are ordinary leave-takers who, whilst they have mixed feelings about New Acropolis, still regard their past experience as not entirely negative. These ex-members remain largely invisible and do not usually talk to the media. The fact that ordinary leave-takers and uncontested exit processes prevail even within such a highly controversial organization as New Acropolis is not really so surprising. After all, those repelled by the very ideas of groups such as New Acropolis would not join them in the first place.

2. It is possible that defectors—i.e., former members who actually regret having left the organization—are less evident among members exiting a minority controversial group such as New Acropolis than among those leaving a voluntary association within a more mainline organization such as a Catholic religious order. However, even in a group like New Acropolis, the percentage of defectors (16.7%) is not insignificant and there are, in fact, more defectors than apostates.

3. The percentage of apostates among former members of New Acropolis (11.7%) should also not be overlooked. Again, further research on this point is needed. It is, however, not improbable that apostasy is more prevalent among former members of New Acropolis than among ex-members of less controversial social and religious organizations. Examples of the latter may include the Roman Catholic priesthood and perhaps even some of the new religious movements subjected to less extreme forms of criticism. The hypothesis that apostates may however constitute a minority among ex-members of even very controversial movements—a possibility emerging from previous research on a variety of groups—appears to be supported by this study.

4. A quantitative study may not adequately answer the question of why some exiting members become apostates rather than ordinary leave-takers or defectors. One point, however, emerges unambiguously from our results and confirms other similar studies (such as those by Lewis and Solomon). An overwhelming majority of the apostates have apparently had contact with an oppositional coalition of some kind, in this case an anti-cult movement (in France, mostly ADFI). Large numbers (88%) of those who have left New Acropolis after contact with an anti-cult movement have since become apostates. Conversely, all apostates have had some contact at some time with one of the anti-cult movements. Most (88. 9%) of those who regard New Acropolis as a "dangerous cult" have also had contact with an anti-cult movement, and 80% of the respondents who had been in touch with such a movement explained their sustained allegiance to New Acropolis on the basis of its use of brainwashing techniques. Words like "dangerous cult" and "brainwashing" were selected almost exclusively in the questionnaire by respondents who had been in contact with one or other of the anti-cult movements. As mentioned earlier, it may also be true that ex-members whose assessments of New Acropolis were negative were more likely to seek contact with an anti-cult movement. On the other hand, once socialized into the anti-cult subculture, former members not only became apostates but also found a number of interpretive tools (primarily the brainwashing model) that would ultimately shape the narrative of their experience within the movement. Conversely, those who had not been exposed to the anti-cult model rarely, if ever, used the "cult" narrative. Most apostates may thus be described as exiting members who apparently sought or had contact with anti-cult movements and were socialized into their peculiar subculture.

5. In general, former members—be they ordinary leave-takers, defectors, or apostates—strongly resisted the idea that New Acropolis is a "nazi," "fascist," or "racist" movement. In contemporary French society, these labels are so unacceptable that not even in the interests of constructing a credible apostate narrative is it easy to admit having supported such subversive ideas. On the other hand, apostates and those who have been socialized into the anti-cult subculture are clearly much more likely to view New Acropolis as a "fascist," "nazi," or "racist" organization, although it should also be said that a significant number of them disapprove of these labels.

6. It is interesting to note that 75% of those who regarded New Acropolis as a "religion" were apostates. This is consistent with the anti-cult narrative, which describes New Acropolis as a religious (or "pseudo-religious") cult. Defectors, ordinary leave-takers, and even some apostates still believe that the movement is what it claims to be, i.e. a school of philosophy, or a cultural association.

7. As we mentioned earlier, New Acropolis lost almost two thirds of its core members (or members of the Center for Philosophical Formation) between the years of 1991 and 1997. Its leadership has occasionally blamed the campaigns of the anti-cult movement that, as far as New Acropolis is concerned, became particularly vociferous from March 1991 onwards. However, as previous research on new religious movements indicates, similar claims, by both the anti-cultists and the "cults" themselves, may be exaggerated. The activities of the anti-cult movement and the reports in the media influenced by it are but two of several factors which determine why and how many members decide to leave a controversial movement. In fact, less than 8% of our sample were of the opinion that either hostile media reports or the anti-cult movements were important factors in their resolve to leave New Acropolis. Internal factors seem to have played a much more important role in this disaffiliation process. On the other hand, external factors and the anti-cult movements themselves may be more relevant in explaining why fewer new members have been attracted to groups such as New Acropolis in the last few years [20]. Media and anti-cult criticism, thus, appear to have influenced the membership decline by making the movement less attractive to would-be followers, rather than by directly provoking a significant number of disaffiliations.



1. See, for example, Albert Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970); Frances DellaCava, "The Process of Leaving a High Commitment Status," Sociological Enquiry 45 (1975): 41-50; J. Keith Murnigan, "Defectors, Vulnerability and Relative Power: Some Causes and Effects of Leaving a Stable Coalition," Human Relations 34 (1981): 589-609; Helen Rose Ebaugh, Becoming an Ex: The Process of Role Exit (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

2. See, among others, Roger Jehenson, "The Dynamics of Role Leaving: A Role Theoretical Approach to the Leaving of Religious Organizations," Journal of Applied Behavioural Science 5 (1969): 287-308; David G. Bromley, ed., Falling from the Faith (Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1988); David G. Bromley, ed., The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998).

3. See Janet Jacobs, Divine Disenchantment: Deconverting from New Religions (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989); Trudy Solomon, "Integrating the Moonie Experience: A Survey of Ex-Members of the Unification Church," in In Gods We Trust: New Patterns of Religious Pluralism in America, eds. Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony (Princeton: Rutgers University Press, 1981), 275-94; James R. Lewis, "Reconstructing the ‘Cult’ Experience," Sociological Analysis 47, no. 2 (1986): 151-59; James R. Lewis, "Apostates and the Legitimation of Repression: Some Historical and Empirical Perspectives on the Cult Controversy," Sociological Analysis 49, no. 4 (1989): 386-96; Dick Anthony and Thomas Robbins, "Law, Social Science, and the ‘Brainwashing’ Exception to the First Amendment," Behavioral Sciences and the Law 10 (1992): 5-30.

4. A whistle-blower is commonly defined as a member of an organization who advises an external regulatory agency (e.g. the police) of real or alleged wrongdoings taking place in his or her organization.

5. This is a modified typology with respect to David G. Bromley, "The Social Construction of Contested Exit Roles: Defectors, Whistle-blowers, and Apostates," in Bromley, The Politics of Religious Apostasy, 19-48. While largely relying on Bromley’s seminal study, I would like to focus more on the role of ordinary leave-takers. I am also largely indebted to Bromley’s chapter for a number of invaluable bibliographical leads.

6. See Lewis Coser, "The Age of the Informer," Dissent 1 (1954): 249-54.

7. Bromley, "The Social Construction of Contested Exit Roles": 28.

8. Ibid., 36.

9. Ebaugh, Becoming an Ex.

10. See Solomon, "Integrating the Moonie Experience"; Lewis, "Reconstructing the ‘Cult’ Experience"; Lewis, "Apostates and the Legitimation of Repression".

11. In addition to Solomon and Lewis see Stuart Wright, "Post-Involvement Attitudes of Voluntary Defectors from Controversial New Religious Movements," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 23 (1984): 172-82; Jacobs, Divine Disenchantment; Bromley, Falling from the Faith.

12. For a scholarly assessment see Antoine Faivre, "Nouvelle Acropole en France," in Pour en finir avec les sectes. Le débat sur le rapport de la commission parlementaire, 3rd ed., eds. Massimo Introvigne and J. Gordon Melton (Paris: Dervy, 1996), 236-46.

13. See Faivre, "Nouvelle Acropole en France," 245 for the references. See also Horacio Labat and Isabelle Ohmann, Le Défi de la démocratie. Vivre ensemble libres (Paris: Editions Nouvelle Acropole, 1997) for New Acropolis’ present assessment of democracy.

14. CESNUR is an association of scholars of new religious movements established in 1988 and independent of any church, denomination, or religious movement. Religious affiliations of its directors vary, while CESNUR per se is in no way sponsored or financed by any religious organization. Its only institutional funding comes from the Region of Piedmont, Italy. The research discussed in this paper was part of CESNUR’s regular activities and was not financed by New Acropolis or by any other group or association.

15. Of course, some conspiracy theorists may still argue that parallel bogus records were produced solely for our perusal. We doubt, however, that the benefits for New Acropolis of this research, if any, would have balanced the efforts required. Besides, the records we used obviously included militant apostates, as the results of the survey show.

16. As even a cursory search among the usenet groups would reveal, apostates and anti-cultists in general immediately react to the posting on the internet of scholarly papers about the group to which they were affiliated and express their disagreement accordingly. CESNUR receives a large amount of unsolicited correspondence of this kind.

17. On common scholarly biases in this field and their influence see David G. Bromley and Anson Shupe, "Organized Opposition to New Religious Movements," Religion and the Social Order 3 (1993): 177-98.

18. In the text of the article, statistical results have been rounded to the closest decimal. Questions were not open, i.e. only one answer was allowed. It was, on the other hand, possible to leave one or more question unanswered, and this explains why the total (in percentage) of the answers to each question is occasionally lower than 100 percent.

19. Benjamin D. Zablocki, "Exit Cost Analysis: A New Approach to the Scientific Study of Brainwashing," Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 1, no. 2 (April 1998): 216-49 (231).

20. Laurence Bernard-Mirtil, Sûkyô Mahikari: Une nouvelle religion venue du Japon (Trignac, France: Bell Vision, 1998), 129, suggests the same conclusion for the Japanese new religious movement Sûkyô Mahikari currently operating in France. The anti-cult campaigns and the inclusion in the list of "dangerous cults" in the 1996 report of the French parliamentary commission, according to Bernard-Mirtil, made no decisive contribution to the number of defections, but they were partially responsible for the lower number of new members. Interestingly, Sûkyô Mahikari has also been accused in France of being both a cult and a right-wing political organization.

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