Compiled by Safe Passage Foundation Advisory Board Member Alexandra Stein. Stein and Mary Russel recently founded Free Minds UK, a cult recovery and education support group.

This is an initial bibliography on the topic of Children in Cults. Most entries are annotated with a brief description of the item. Where there is no annotation, the item has not been read by the contributor, but it is assumed to be relevant and useful. Please contact us with additions to this list.

Current categories are:

  • Personal accounts written by persons born and/or raised in cults or totalitarian systems
  • Studies on children and the issues of families in cults or totalitarian systems
  • Children in cults and the law
  • Fictional accounts of persons born and/or raised in cults or totalitarian systems
  • Personal accounts of parents/families in cults
  • Trauma and its impact on development
  • Child development: The impact on children of secure versus insecure relationships
  • Recovery from cults
  • How cults work: Theories of brainwashing / Theories of influence

Personal accounts written by persons born and/or raised in cults or totalitarian systems

Jones, Kristina, Celeste Jones, and Juliana Buhring. 2007. Not without my sister: The true story of three girls violated and betrayed. London: Harper Element.

A gripping, extremely moving account of three sisters raised in The Children of God/The Family cult.

Layton, Deborah. 1998. Seductive poison : a Jonestown survivor’s story of life and death in the Peoples Temple. New York: Anchor Books.

A brave, very well-written account of a survivor of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple. Layton helps one understand the process of becoming involved in a cult whose actions are so clearly against the followers’s own interests.

Min, Anchee. 1994. Red Azalea. New York: Pantheon Books.

Another beautifully-written book. Min describes her growing up in Communist China, the way the country-wide brainwashing and closed society affected her personally, and her eventual exit to the West.

Pran, Dith. 1997. Children of Cambodia’s killing fields : memoirs by survivors. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press

Heart-breaking first person narratives of Cambodians who were children during the period of the Pol Pot’s totalitarian regime. The movie, The Killing Fields, is worth watching along with this book.

Tate, Sonsyrea. 1997. Little X: Growing up in the Nation of Islam. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.

Short, readable book on growing up in the Nation of Islam, a political and religious cult.

Studies on children and the issues of families in cults or totalitarian systems

Bardin, Livia. 2005. “Child protection in an authoritarian community: Culture clash and systemic weakness.” Cultic Studies Review 4, 3.

Good article showing how child protection tends to fail when it comes to children in closed, cultic communities.

Kent, Stephen. 2006, “A Matter of Principle: Fundamentalist Mormon Polygamy, Children, and Human Rights Debates.,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 10 Issue 1 (2006): 7-29.

Kent, Stephen. 2005, “Education and Re-education in Ideological Organizations and Their Implications for Children.” Cultic Studies Review 4 No. 2 (2005): 119-145.

Kent, Stephen and Deanna Hall. 2000. “Brainwashing and Re-Indoctrination Programs in the Children of God/The Family.” Cultic Studies Journal 17:56-78.

This is a very interesting article on how children and teens were treated in the Children of God/The Family and describes the extremely difficult conditions young people were subject to in that group.

Stein, Alexandra. 1997. “Mothers in cults: The influence of cults on the relationship of mothers to their children.” Cultic Studies Journal 14:40-57.

The first study of mothers and children in cults. The study shows how cults consistently work to break down the bond between mothers who belong to such groups and their children.

Whitsett, Doni and Kent, Stephen. 2003., “Cults and Families‚” Families and Society (October-December): 491-502; Reprinted in Cultic Studies Review 3 No.2 (2004)

From the abstract: “This article provides an overview of cult-related issues that may reveal themselves in therapeutic situations. These issues include: families in cults; parental (especially mothers‚’) roles in cults; the impact that cult leaders have on families; the destruction of family intimacy; child abuse; issues encountered by noncustodial parents; the impact on cognitive, psychological, and moral development; and health issues.”

Children in cults and the law

Boyle, Robin A. 1999. How Children In Cults May Use Emancipation Laws To Free Themselves. Cultic Studies Journal,  16(1), 1-32

Fictional accounts of persons born and/or raised in cults or totalitarian systems

Muller, Robert. 1941. The world that summer. Great Britain: Sceptre.

This book is based on the author’s real life experience as a half-Jewish boy growing up in Hitler’s Germany. Good descriptions of the atmosphere of cultic control in Nazi Germany and its impact on children.

Personal accounts of parents/families in cults

Stein, Alexandra. 2002. Inside out: A memoir of entering and breaking out of a Minneapolis political cult. St. Cloud: North Star Press of St. Cloud.

Gripping memoir of a woman who became a mother while in a political cult. It shows how the developing threats to her children’s well-being helped her to finally leave.

Williams, Miriam. 1998. Heaven’s harlots: My fifteen years as a sacred prostitute in the Children of God cult. New York: William Morrow.

Moving account of a member of the Children of God/The Family cult who became a mother while in that group.

Trauma and its impact on development

Herman, Judith. 1992. Trauma and recovery. New York: Basic Books.

Highly relevant, ground-breaking and readable book on the processes of, and recovery from trauma.

Lifton, Robert Jay. 1993. The protean self: Human resilience in an age of fragmentation. New York: Basic Books.

A discussion of the importance of flexibility and openness in the contemporary world: this book discusses an opposite model to fundamentalist, intolerant ideologies and organizations and their destructive impact on human development.

Perry, Bruce D. and Maia Szalavitz. 2007. The boy who was raised as a dog and other stories from a child psychiatrist’s notebook: What traumatized children can teach us about loss, love and healing. New York: Basic Books.

Marvelous, deeply moving, and very educational book about children and trauma. It has a hopeful perspective and shows the power of trusting relationships in healing from trauma.

van der Kolk, Bessel A. and Alexander C. McFarlane. 1996. “The black hole of trauma.” in Traumatic stress : the effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society, edited by B. A. van der Kolk, A. C. McFarlane, and L. Weisaeth. New York: Guilford Press.

This is an academic, scientific book on the neurobiological impacts of trauma. Very relevant to cult survivors, and to those raised in cults.

Child development  – The impact on children of secure versus insecure relationships

Bowlby, John. 1988. A secure base. New York: Basic Books.

Just one of several books written by Bowlby, a pioneer in understanding the evolutionary and developmental importance of close attachment relationships in childhood. Bowlby discusses the problems that occur when these relationships are not secure, as often happens to children in cults.

Karen, Robert. 1998. Becoming attached: First relationships and how they shape our capacity to love. New York: Oxford University Press.

A history and overview of Bowlby’s attachment theory, including more recent work by later researchers.

Siegel, Daniel J. 1999. The Developing Mind: Toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience. New York: Guilford Press.

A scientific, but readable, book on how the mind develops in the contexts of close relationships. Helps to understand some issues for families with cult experiences, and the impact on the mind when close relationships are controlled or cut off.

Recovery from cults

Ford, Wendy. 1993. Recovery from abusive groups. AFF, Bonita Springs, FL.

Helpful, short book on recovery by a woman who was herself in a cult.

Lalich, Janja and Madeleine Tobias. 2006. Take back your life: Recovering from cults and abusive relationships. Berkeley: Bay Tree Publishing.

Wonderful book full of information, ideas, a range of people’s experiences. Very readable and sensitively written. Highly recommended for anyone coming out of a cult.

How cults work: Theories of brainwashing / Theories of influence

Arendt, Hannah. 1948/1979. The origins of totalitarianism. Orlando: Harcourt Brace.

This is a hard-to-read, but excellent analysis of how Stalin and Hitler’s regimes shared features of totalitarianism. It is a classic, pioneering view of cultic processes and structures applied to nations.

Cialdini, R. 1984. The psychology of influence. New York: William Morrow.

The author discusses a broad range of social-psychological influence processes: from high pressure sales to cult recruitment.

Lalich, Janja. 2004. Bounded choice: The dilemma of true believers and charismatic commitment. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Fascinating comparative case study of the Heaven‚Äôs Gate cult and a lesser known, political cult, the Democratic Workers’ Party. Lalich introduces her theory of  “Bounded Choice” to help understand how cults work.

Lalich, Janja. 2001. “Pitfalls in the Sociological Study of Cults.” in Misunderstanding cults: Searching for objectivity in a controversial field, edited by B. D. Zablocki and T. Robbins. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Excellent essay explaining many of the difficulties in researching cults, with solid ideas of how to overcome these problems.

Lifton, Robert Jay. 1961. Thought reform and the psychology of totalism. New York: The Norton Library.

This book is a primary text in the study of cults and brainwashing. Lifton studied persons who had undergone brainwashing in Communist China and North Korea, and developed his very useful Eight Criteria for Thought Reform.

Lofland, John. 1977. Doomsday Cult : a study of conversion, proselytization, and maintenance of faith. New York: Irvington Publishers : distributed by Halsted Press.

An early study of the Unification Church (the Moonies). In this ground-breaking study, Lofland developed his model of seven conditions necessary for “total conversion”.

Schein, Edgar H. 1961. Coercive persuasion; a socio-psychological analysis of the “brainwashing” of American civilian prisoners by the Chinese Communists. New York,: W. W. Norton.

Schein studied a similar population to Lifton, and developed the model of “unfreezing/changing/refreezing” in the process of what he termed “coercive persuasion”

Singer, M.T. and J. Lalich. 1995. Cults in our midst: The hidden menace in our everyday lives. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Margaret Singer was a pioneering psychologist who counseled thousands of cult members and former cult members. This book, written with cult expert Janja Lalich, is a highly readable and helpful introduction to the topic of cults.

Zablocki, Benjamin D. 2001. “Toward a demystified and disinterested scientific concept of brainwashing” in Misunderstanding cults: Searching for objectivity in a controversial field, edited by Benjamin D. Zablocki and T. Robbins. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

This article is thought-provoking and an interesting approach to trying to nail down a scientific understanding of brainwashing. Zablocki has been studying cults for over thirty years.

Zimbardo, Philip. 1999. “Stanford Prison Experiment.”

This video is about the classic experiment set up by social-psychologist Phil Zimbardo to show how even well-adjusted, “normal” college students can quickly become authoritarian given the right conditions and cues.

Zimbardo, Philip. 2007. The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York: Random House.

Social-psychologist Zimbardo discusses in-depth his Stanford Prison Experiment and extends it with, for example, the “systematic application of the lessons learned from the SPE and social science research to a new understanding of the abuses at Abu Ghraib” and other contemporary cases of group violence (Zimbardo, 2007).

Leave a reply

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> 


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.