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Disclaimer: The below information contains many generalisations and may not apply to any particular cult.

Types of cults

The word "cult" can be used in a large number of ways. Below are listed several ways for a group to qualify as a cult, and it's possible for a group to qualify as a cult in more than one of the ways listed. These categories are not exclusive of each other, and it is possible to have, for example, an Eastern/Hindu education mind control cult.

Mind Control Cults | Religious Cults: Christian cults, Eastern cults, Original cults |
Non-religious Cults: Business cults, Education cults, Personality cults, Political cults

Mind Control Cults

This is the stereotypical cult – any group with an elistist cause and view of itself that abuses people's rights and freedoms, especially its members'. It uses significant amounts of mind control to manipulate and control its members. The members may have no idea that they are being used and controlled. For more information see Techniques of mind control.

Religious Cults

Groups which on the surface appear similar or very similar to a main religion but have serious doctrinal differences with that religion.

Christian cults. Seemingly Christian groups which deny most or all of the fundamentals of Christianity. Most Christian cults get all of these wrong. These fundamentals are:

  • The Bible is the inerrant Word of God.
  • Jesus Christ – God incarnate (God in flesh), and part of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
  • The virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus Christ's sacrificial atonement (that He paid the penalty for our sin by dying on the cross).
  • Bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and that he will bodily return at some unspecified time in the future.
  • Salvation by grace alone. (Cults insist that some sort of work must be done, normally in the service of the cult.)

For more information about the essential beliefs of Christianity, see CARM's article Essential Doctrines of Christianity or their Doctrine Grid. Note that biblical inerrancy – number 12 in the grid – should actually be listed as a primary essential, since all the other essential doctrines depend on it; Why Should We Believe in the Inerrancy of Scripture?

Eastern cults. Many groups have come from India and other eastern countries, and are a modified form of Hinduism in a similar way to Christian cults being a modified form of Christianity. These eastern cults often centre on the teachings and person of one guru who is commonly of Hindu origins. The guru is often worshipped as a god. Example: Hare Krishna.

There are also animistic cults in Bhuddist countries that have sprung from Buddhism.

Original cults. There are also cults which are based on "original" religions. Particular beliefs are taken from all sorts of places, particularly the New Age Movement. UFO cults come into this category. Example: Raëlians.

"Non-religious" Cults

These cults are not necessarily non-religious – they may or may not be religious – but they do not depend primarily on religious beliefs. Instead they have other traits in common.

Business cults. Businesses may have very little in the way of religious beliefs, but instead sometimes substitute belief in unproven medical products such as fringe dietary supplements. (However, that alone would only enough to earn them "quack product" status.) Business cults have the prime purpose of making money for the leaders (normally at the expense of the members), and the prime lure of members/recruits being able to make money*. To this they add mind control practices such as deceptive recruitment, deceptive marketing, etc. Pyramid schemes and multi-level marketing schemes are very likely to fall into this category. Before getting involved, ask yourself if success in the business will depend on you recruiting other people to the scheme. Examples: Amway, Mannatech.

* Some business cults manage to substitute idealism and saving the world for the lure of making money, especially if they are mixed with New Age philosophies.

Education cults. Organisations which offer training as their primary drawcard. If the education or training offered is of a religious nature the group is obviously a religious education cult.

Personality cults. This type of cult may not have a formal group, but instead are a collection of people simply bound by a common focus of their attentions on the teachings or person of a highly charismatic or persuasive individual. This leader encourages his/her followers to devote their attentions to him/her and to change their life or lifestyle. Film star fan worship is not an example of a personality cult.

Political cults. Groups with an extreme politically oriented agenda. Often the agenda will be based on a misinterpretation of the Bible or other religious texts. Example: White supremicists.


For an alternative list of the types of cults, have a look at's cult types list.

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