Understanding Cults
  I: Administrative Information   II: Course Details   III: Topical Outline(s)  Printable Version
Section I: Administrative Information
  Total hours: 42.0
Credit Value: 3.0
Credit Value Notes: N/A
Effective: Winter 2019
Prerequisites: N/A
Corequisites: N/A
Equivalents: N/A
Pre/Co/Equiv Notes: N/A

Program(s): General Education
Program Coordinator(s): Sarah Sinclair
Course Leader or Contact: Heather Fritzley
Version: 20190107_00
Status: Approved (APPR)

Section I Notes: N/A

Section II: Course Details

Detailed Description
This course is designed to provide students with an introduction to the study of cults and cultic behaviour. Students examine the historical development of cults, their place in contemporary society, and the reasons why individuals are attracted to cults. Topics include the phenomenon of brainwashing, social and psychological methods used to recruit and assimilate members, the function of cults in society, and specific cults (e.g. the Church of Scientology, the Solar Temple, Heaven's Gate). Through interactive lecture, in-class activities and research, students explore the impact of cults on society and individuals.

Program Context

General Education Program Coordinator(s): Sarah Sinclair
This course is part of the General Education curriculum which is designed to contribute to the development of the students' consciousness of the diversity, complexity, and richness of the human experience; their ability to establish meaning through this consciousness; and, as a result, their ability to contribute thoughtfully, creatively, and positively to the society in which they live and work. General Education courses strengthen students' generic skills, such as critical analysis, problem solving, and communication, in the context of an exploration of topics with broad-based personal and/or societal importance.

Course Critical Performance and Learning Outcomes

  Critical Performance:
By the end of this course, students will have demonstrated the ability to analyze the attraction of certain individuals to cults through a thoughtful and critical evaluation of the nature, composition and purpose of cults.
Learning Outcomes:

To achieve the critical performance, students will have demonstrated the ability to:

  1. Discuss the various definitions of the word 'cult.'
  2. Outline the origin and historical development of cultic groups providing reasoned explanations for their continuing emergence.
  3. Compare the major cultic groups of the past and present.
  4. Examine social psychological processes such as obedience, brainwashing, persuasion, and coercion in the context of cults.
  5. Explain why some cultic groups become violent.
  6. Analyze the relationship of cultic groups to religion and terrorism.
  7. Assess society's views of cults and cultic groups.
  8. Research the existence of cultic groups on college and university campuses with particular reference to individual personal experiences.
  9. Collaborate effectively with peers to complete oral and written activities that demonstrate a respect for differing viewpoints and an appreciation of diversity.

Evaluation Plan
Students demonstrate their learning in the following ways:

 Evaluation Plan: IN-CLASS
 Tests (4x10%)40.0%
 Project #1: Paper20.0%
 Project #2: Student Presentation20.0%
 In Class Activities20.0%

Evaluation Notes and Academic Missed Work Procedure:
TEST AND ASSIGNMENT PROTOCOL To encourage behaviours that will help students to be successful in the workplace and to ensure that students receive credit for their individual work, the following rules apply to every course offered within the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. 1. Students are responsible for staying abreast of test dates and times, as well as due dates and any special instructions for submitting assignments and projects as supplied to the class by the professor. 2. Students must write all tests at the specified times. Missed tests, in-class activities, assignments and presentations are awarded a mark of zero. If an extension or make-up opportunity is approved by the professor as outlined below, the mark of zero may be revised by subsequent performance. The penalty for late submission of written assignments is a loss of 10% per day for up to five business days (excluding weekends and statutory holidays), after which, a grade of zero is assigned. Business days include any day that the college is open for business, whether the student has scheduled classes that day or not. 3. Students, who miss a test or in-class activity or assignment or fail to submit an assignment on time due to exceptional circumstances, are required to notify their professor in advance of the class whenever possible. A make-up test may be supplied for students who provide an acceptable explanation of their absence and/or acceptable documentation explaining their absence (e.g., a medical certificate). All make-up tests are to be written at a time and place specified by the professor upon the student's return. Alternately, students may be given an opportunity to earn the associated marks by having a subsequent test count for the additional marks. Exceptional circumstances may result in a modification of due dates for assignments. 4. Unless otherwise specified, assignments and projects must be submitted at the beginning of class. 5. Students must complete every assignment as an individual effort unless, the professor specifies otherwise. 6. Since there may be instances of grade appeal or questions regarding the timely completion of assignments and/or extent of individual effort, etc., students are strongly advised to keep, and make available to their professor, if requested, a copy of all assignments and working notes until the course grade has been finalized. 7. There will be no resubmission of work unless this has been previously agreed to or suggested by the professor. 8. Students must submit all assignments in courses with practical lab and field components in order to pass the course.

Provincial Context
The course meets the following Ministry of Colleges and Universities requirements:


Essential Employability Skills
Essential Employability Skills emphasized in the course:

  • Communication Skills - Communicate clearly, concisely and correctly in the written, spoken, visual form that fulfills the purpose and meets the needs of the audience.
  • Communication Skills - Respond to written, spoken, or visual messages in a manner that ensures effective communication.
  • Critical Thinking & Problem Solving Skills - Use a variety of thinking skills to anticipate and solve problems.
  • Critical Thinking & Problem Solving - Apply a systematic approach to solve problems.
  • Information Management Skills - Analyze, evaluate, and apply relevant information from a variety of sources.
  • Information Management - Locate, select, organize and document information using appropriate technology and information systems.
  • Interpersonal Skills - Show respect for the diverse opinions, values, belief systems, and contributions of others.
  • Interpersonal Skills - Interact with others in groups or teams in ways that contribute to effective working relationships and the achievement of goals.
  • Personal Skills - Manage the use of time and other resources to complete projects.
  • Personal Skills - Take responsibility for one's own actions, decisions, and consequences.

General Education
This General Education course relates to the following themes as specified by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.

  • Social and Cultural Understanding

Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition
PLAR Contact (if course is PLAR-eligible) - Office of the Registrar
Students may apply to receive credit by demonstrating achievement of the course learning outcomes through previous relevant work/life experience, service, self-study and training on the job. This course is eligible for challenge through the following method(s):

  • Challenge Exam
  • Portfolio
  • Interview

Section III: Topical Outline
Some details of this outline may change as a result of circumstances such as weather cancellations, College and student activities, and class timetabling.
Instruction Mode: In-Class
Professor: Multiple Professors
OptionalOtherTextbook Available On-line; Details will be provided by professor Lewis, J.R. Cults: A Reference Handbook. 2nd Edition. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO

Applicable student group(s): Various Student Groups taking General Education Electives.
Course Details:
Unit 1

- definition of 'cult'
- what constitutes a 'cult'
- how many `cults' exist?
- stereotypes of cults
Readings: Lewis Chapter 1 (pp. 1-17, 35-45, and 52-58), Chapter 5, and handouts.
Unit 2

The History of Cults
Readings: Lewis Chapter 2 (pp. 75-98) and handouts.
Unit 3

Major Cultic Groups of the Past and Present
- The People's Temple; Heaven's Gate; Church of Scientology; The Unification Church; The Solar Temple
Readings: Lewis Chapter 3 - but focus on 5 major groups above (p.284-285, 272-274, 282, 288-289, 279-280) and handouts.

Unit 4

TEST I: Weeks 1 to 3 - worth 10% of final mark

Why Cults emerged
Readings: Lewis Chapter 1 (pp.45-49) and handouts.
Unit 5

Obedience, Process of 'brainwashing', and Psychological Coercion
Readings: Lewis Chapter 1 (pp.17-27), Chapter 4 (pp.218-219) and handouts.
Unit 6

How Cults work I
- recruiting new members
Readings: handouts.
Unit 7

Project 1 part (a) DUE (online quiz) - (plagiarism prevention aspect of paper) - worth 10% of mark
Due by the Friday of this week
How Cults work II
- physiological persuasion techniques
- psychological persuasion techniques
Readings: Lewis Chapter 1 (pp.49-52) and handouts.


Unit 8

TEST 2: Weeks 4 to 7 - worth 10% of final mark

Children and Cults
Readings: Lewis Chapter 4 (pp.200-209) and handouts.
Unit 9
Why some Cults become violent
Readings: Lewis Chapter 1 (pp.27-31 and 58-66).
Unit 10

PROJECT 1 part (b) DUE - Paper - 10% of final mark

Leaving the Cult and Recovery
Readings: Lewis Chapter 1 (pp.31-35) and Chapter 4 (pp.190-195 and 197-199).

Unit 11

TEST 3: Weeks 8 to 10 - worth 10% of final mark

Cults, Religion, and Terrorism
Readings: Handouts
Unit 12

Hostility toward Cults - the Anti-Cult Movement
Readings: Lewis Chapter 4 (pp.226 - 237)

PROJECT 2 - Student presentations - worth 20% of mark

Topic - Cults on campus
Readings - Students do their own research and present
Unit 13

Unit 14

TEST 4: Weeks 10 to 13 - worth 10% of total mark

Sheridan Policies

All Sheridan policies can be viewed on the Sheridan policy website.

Academic Integrity: The principle of academic integrity requires that all work submitted for evaluation and course credit be the original, unassisted work of the student. Cheating or plagiarism including borrowing, copying, purchasing or collaborating on work, except for group projects arranged and approved by the professor, or otherwise submitting work that is not the student's own, violates this principle and will not be tolerated. Students who have any questions regarding whether or not specific circumstances involve a breach of academic integrity are advised to review the Academic Integrity Policy and procedure and/or discuss them with the professor.

Copyright: A majority of the course lectures and materials provided in class and posted in SLATE are protected by copyright. Use of these materials must comply with the Acceptable Use Policy, Use of Copyright Protected Work Policy and Student Code of Conduct. Students may use, copy and share these materials for learning and/or research purposes provided that the use complies with fair dealing or an exception in the Copyright Act. Permission from the rights holder would be necessary otherwise. Please note that it is prohibited to reproduce and/or post a work that is not your own on third-party commercial websites including but not limited to Course Hero or OneNote. It is also prohibited to reproduce and/or post a work that is not your own or your own work with the intent to assist others in cheating on third-party commercial websites including but not limited to Course Hero or OneNote.

Intellectual Property: Sheridan's Intellectual Property Policy generally applies such that students own their own work. Please be advised that students working with external research and/or industry collaborators may be asked to sign agreements that waive or modify their IP rights. Please refer to Sheridan's IP Policy and Procedure.

Respectful Behaviour: Sheridan is committed to provide a learning environment that supports academic achievement by respecting the dignity, self-esteem and fair treatment of every person engaged in the learning process. Behaviour which is inconsistent with this principle will not be tolerated. Details of Sheridan's policy on Harassment and Discrimination, Academic Integrity and other academic policies are available on the Sheridan policy website.

Accessible Learning: Accessible Learning coordinates academic accommodations for students with disabilities. For more information or to register, please see the Accessible Learning website (Statement added September 2016)

Course Outline Changes: The information contained in this Course Outline including but not limited to faculty and program information and course description is subject to change without notice. Any changes to course curriculum and/or assessment shall adhere to approved Sheridan protocol. Nothing in this Course Outline should be viewed as a representation, offer and/or warranty. Students are responsible for reading the Important Notice and Disclaimer which applies to Programs and Courses.

[ Printable Version ]

Copyright © Sheridan College. All rights reserved.