This course has concessions available

The Social Psychology of Cults and Totalitarianism

This interdisciplinary course will examine the phenomena of cults and totalitarian regimes - closed, hierarchical systems led by charismatic, authoritarian leaders. Using in-depth case studies, we will use a variety of theoretical approaches to understand these systems, in addition to reading narrative and literary accounts. We will explore the processes of recruitment, conversion, conformity, commitment and disaffiliation, with a particular emphasis on understanding the extreme obedience found in these systems. This course will examine commonalities between cults and totalitarian systems including: the effects on personal life and relationships, social networks, a shared absolute ideology, and charismatic relationship between leader and followers.

Available Classes:

Who is this course for

This course is suitable for any student with an interest in, or experience of, cults or totalitarianism. No previous knowledge or experience is needed, other than an ability to read the material provided, and to contribute to discussions.

What does this course cover

This interdisciplinary course will examine the phenomena of cults and totalitarian regimes - closed, hierarchical systems led by charismatic, authoritarian leaders. Using in-depth case studies, we will use a variety of theoretical approaches to understand these systems, in addition to reading narrative and literary accounts. We will explore the processes of recruitment, conversion, conformity, commitment and disaffiliation, with a particular emphasis on understanding the extreme obedience found in these systems. The course will examine commonalities between cults and totalitarian political systems including: the effects on personal life and relationships, social networks, a shared absolute ideology, and a charismatic relationship between leader and followers. We will gain some understanding of the historical and contemporary impact of these forms of human organization. We will explore the varieties of groups that share these dynamics: religious, political, self-help, nation-state, philosophical, environmental and commercial.
At the end of the course students will be able to apply sociological, social-psychological and developmental theories to selected cases. These theories will cover: charisma, group processes, obedience, conformity, thought reform, absolute ideology, trauma, network theory, and attachment theory. Students will develop critical thinking skills and understand the importance of these skills in evaluating group processes. This course will help participants distinguish between coercive and non-coercive behaviors, structures, and relationships. We will also grapple with some of the complexities of the gray areas in between these two poles of human interaction.

What will it be like

Short readings will be provided on a weekly basis to kick-start a combination of lecture and plenty of large and small group discussion. There will also be occasional video showings, or links to films for watching at home. A class blog will provide a repository of study resources as well as linking to relevant current events.
Each student will be asked to read one book (or possibly watch a film) from a bibliography of narrative accounts by individuals who have experienced a cultic or totalitarian system. Assessment will be based on participation and a written review of the book/film, using what we have learned in class.

What else do you need to buy or do

You will need to buy or borrow one of the books/films on the bibliography. One to three hours homework a week is recommended.

What this course could lead to

This course may also lead to an interest in political science or philosophy. With a solid understanding of the dynamics involved in cults and totalitarianism they can be helpful in alerting their communities when they see such things operating.

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I've been to many Centres to study in London and the Mary Ward Centre is one of the nicest I've studied in.

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Concessions:

This course has concessions available for people who meet certain criteria

Got a Question about this Course?

Contact The Departmental Administrator.

Why come to Mary Ward Centre?

Mary Ward Centre is the adult education centre with a difference. We provide a wide range of subjects for people at all levels and run courses during the day, evening or weekend to suit your timetable.

Get inspired and enjoy excellent teaching in an environment where each individual’s learning experience is valued. That’s what makes Mary Ward Centre ‘the friendly place to learn.’