CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

Margaret Singer, Mother of Anti-Cult Brainwashing Theory, Dies in Berkeley

Margaret Singer, 82, died on November 23, 2003 after a long illness at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley, California. A clinical psychologist who had collaborated in the past with Edgar Schein, even co-authoring some articles with him, and was adjunct professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, she often appeared in court as an expert witness testifying against the «cults.» In a sense, she invented a new profession as a psychologist in the service, practically full-time, of anti-cult lawsuits and initiatives. Margaret Singer made frequent use of terms such as Schein's «coercive persuasion» and Robert J. Lifton's «thought reform,» treating them as synonyms for «brainwashing.» This employment of the same words that Schein and Lifton used, but with very different meanings, is at the very heart of the confusion that arose in the 1970s and 1980s and that still continues, though it was partially cleared up by criticism offered by Dick Anthony. Singer's decline started with the rejection of a report of a commission she had chaired by the American Psychological Association in 1987, and with the ruling in the Fishman case in 1990 excluding her testimony on brainwashing as not part of mainline science. Still lionized by the anti-cult movement and by some media, she was increasingly criticized even by "moderate" anti-cultists, and appeared increasingly irrelevant to the "new" cult wars of the late 1990s.

Brainwashing Controversies

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