Balancing pragmatism and precision

Newcombe, Suzanne and Harvey, Sarah (2024). Balancing pragmatism and precision. In: Thomas, Aled and Graham-Hyde, Edward eds. 'Cult’ Rhetoric in the 21st Century: Deconstructing the Study of New Religious Movements. London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 21–39.




Founded in 1988, Inform (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) is an educational charity that was formed in the crucible of the ‘cult wars.’ Its central purpose is to provide accurate information about new and minority religious movements. It has sought to prevent harm based on misinformation about minority religions and sects by bringing the insights and methods of academic research into the public domain. While the guiding principles of Inform over this period have remained constant, our understandings have been refined and the context in which we have been working has changed dramatically. This chapter will cover Inform’s positionality in regard to the word ‘cult’ and how its approach has been consistently defined by a concern for both pragmatics and precision, working within the framework of the law.
This chapter is written by the current director and senior research officer at Inform, both of whom have been working at Inform for over twenty years. We will argue that Inform’s approach to the word cult has largely been driven by pragmatism and a desire for precision in description. Inform attempts to maintain dialogue with all of those active around minority religions– academics, critics and former members, as well as current and prospective members, legal professionals, social workers, police officers, civil servants, journalists and students (amongst others). Drawing on the methodological principle of triangulating research evidence, we believe that the quality of information we can offer will only be improved by the more perspectives and experiences which we can draw upon.

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