The Swiss Canton of Ticino Report on Cults (2 October 1998): Another "Type II" Report


On October 2, 1998 the Swiss Canton of Ticino (the only Italian-speaking Canton of Switzerland) published its report on “Questions on Religious Cults”. This document, whose complete text in Italian may be obtained from CESNUR, confirms the recent European trend towards “Type II” reports on cults. Unlike Type I reports (France 1996, Belgium 1997, Canton of Geneva 1997), Type II reports (Italy 1998, Germany 1998, Sweden 1998, Berger report submitted to the European Parliament) take into account scholarly criticism of the anti-cult paradigm and do not include lists of “dangerous cults”. Type II reports are also open to criticism since, although each in a different way, they suggest taking some action against mind control or brainwashing, without completely considering problems raised by scholars about the shortcomings of the corresponding theories. They are, however, much more moderate and careful than Type I reports. They show that scholarly criticism of Type I report did not miss the mark, while further efforts are needed in order to expose European politicians and administrative officers to the best literature in the brainwashing/mind control field.

Although it includes some factual mistakes (for example, information on the Children of God/The Family and on the Unification Church is not updated), the Ticino report is a typical Type II report. It criticizes the anti-cult theories (and, implicitly, some feature of Type I reports). We should avoid, the report says, “to identify prejudices with judgements and to be led astray by faulty, if comfortable, general judgements lumping together very different groups” (p. 11). We should avoid “cheap theories regarding money as the very reason of being of cults. They are both dangerous and wrong. Firstly, there are cults where money is not worshipped. Secondly, the presence of huge amounts of money is not relevant because it is not typical of cults. One has only to look at the Catholic or Protestant churches (...)” (p. 9). There is, today, the risk of an “anti-cult terrorism” (p. 17). Co-operation with anti-cult movements such as ADFI may be “appropriate” within the framework of information campaigns taking into account different points of view, but runs the risk of making the state “the accomplice in the propagation of bigotry and prejudice (...)” (p. 39). In fact; “the activity of a very large majority of cults does not create any danger whatsoever, neither for their members nor for the state” (p. 39).

The report quotes often from criminological studies, but also from scholars of new religious movements including Massimo Introvigne, Jean-François Mayer and James Beckford. There are a number of references to CESNUR literature. It is particularly from criminological works that the report quotes theories about “mind control” or “brainwashing” (in our opinion, without taking into account the most recent scholarly criticism of these theories). It suggests, carefully, the possibility of legislation in this field, although it notes that “in applying new statutes, if any, we would face serious obstacles in matters of evidence and proof” (p. 34).

More than in new laws, the Ticino report (like its recent Swedish counterpart) sees hope in independent information centers working in co-operation with academic scholars, and in dialogue. “Society should not close itself in a merely defensive attitude towards these religious minorities. This would only reinforce their members in their persuasion that they are regarded as disposable victims in a kingdom of evil. A dialogue open and intelligent -- which should not be naive and idealistic -- is what society needs for dealing with this problem” (p. 38).


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