I am writing this post very laboriously with one finger at Stockhom airport as I want to assure followers of the blog that I am still alive!
Some follwers of the blog will know that I have been attending the annual conference of ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association) at Stockholm. It has been a kaleidoscope of conversations,talks and seminars with around 200 people from different parts of the world. The typical attendee (not me) is someone who has encoutered a high-demand group and is now in the process of recovery through training as a counsellor, organising political activity or writing. As a clergyman merely interested in the issue of extreme groups, I have been in a minority at the conference. I have become aware of how much suffering most of the people at the conference have had to go through before arriving at the therapeutic place of attending a conference of this kind.
One of the highlight moments of the formal part ofthe conference presentations was a seminar on forgiveness. Three women each spoke of their understanding of the meaning of fogiveness in the context of their individual stories of recovery. The atmosphere was,as you would imagine, taut with emotion and everyone in the room was full of tears by the end. That seminar perhaps typified what ICSA is all about, providing space for people to grieve and mourn the loss of time and relationships that their involvemnt in high demand groups had caused them. So many people were speaking about forced alienation from family members which escape from the extreme groups had caused them.
The other part the conference was the study side. This was where my own reflections came in. I was addressing the issue as to what social psychologists have recently had to say on the topic of shunning or ostracism. I was noting that the scholars had not really taken into account the extensive amount of material that cultic studies has revealed. My ‘section’was alongside the well-known cult expert Steve Hassan so my presentation was boosted by his ‘fans’. A video was made of the talk which may appear on his website. I will provide link if and when it appears.
As for the future I met up with a remarkable English couple Marc and Cora,both survivors of the Witnesses. They have an active ministry to the shunned of JWs and their work of producing Youtube videos enables them to contact people all over the world. Through them I have come to see that former Witnesses may find material on thig helpful to their recovery. I shall certainly be keeping in touch with them and their networks in the future. ICSA is meeting in impossibly hot Dallas in 2016.
I come away from Stockholm with a sense that my studying, writing and interest in the topics of this blog are still important and relevant to the Chritian church and the wider spiritual landscape for the timebeing. I shall be referring back to the topics of the conference as time goes by, particularly the main theme, the suffering of children in cults. The noisy crowded setting of airport does not make deep refection very easy.
Hope to get back to my normal rhythm quite soon. I also hope that my conference adventures might help to extend our readership a little more.