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Cults, especially satanic cults, have sparked much interest in recent years. Cult leaders inspire morbid fascination. Concern is expressed for the followers, who may have been proselytized with subterfuge and induced to join with subtle coercion. When an innocent person with no interest in cults is victimized in a violent cultic ritual, the community reacts with horror and indignation. On the other hand, society values religious independence from the state and the individual's right to make personal choices. So many questions beg for answers, particularly regarding the interplay between cults and individual personalities. Regrettably, hard data are lacking because cultists, especially members of secret cults, elude investigative research and because serious researchers in sociology and psychology eschew mysticism and concentrate their efforts on more easily observed behaviors, both normal and abnormal.
Chief, Forensic Services, and professor of psychiatry, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX
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