THL242 New Religious Movements and Alternative Spiritualities (8)

This subject introduces the beliefs and identifying characteristics of various new religious movements, 'cults', sects, and other alternative forms of spirituality. It also explores major historical, religious, social, legal and ethical issues raised by the presence of such groups within an Australian and global context. In particular, this subject examines responses to new religious movements, 'cults' and sects from the churches, civil society, the media, judiciary, government and law enforcement agencies.

No offerings have been identified for this subject in 2021.

Where differences exist between the Handbook and the SAL, the SAL should be taken as containing the correct subject offering details.

Subject Information

Grading System



One session


School of Theology

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this subject, students should:
  • be able to critically and accurately discuss the beliefs, character and activities of new religious movements;
  • be able to research and communicate issues surrounding the definition of the term "cult";
  • be able to evaluate the role and rights of new religious movements within a pluralist democratic society;
  • be able to demonstrate and articulate an understanding of the relevance of the mind control/brainwashing debate and its relevance for the study of new religious movements;
  • be able to critically evaluate and articulate the role of the media in the public perception and response to new religious movements;
  • be able to analyse and articulate a basic understanding of the legal issues raised by new religious movements;
  • be able to research, critically evaluate, and articulate community and individual responses to new religious movements; and
  • be able to demonstrate self-guided learning, including sound research, writing and communication skills.


This subject will cover the following topics:
  • Beliefs, identifying characteristics and activities of new religious movements
  • Analysis of theological, psychological, and sociological definitions of "cults"
  • Major theories concerning the attraction and character of the membership and leadership of new religious movements, cults and sects
  • Sources of information about, and engagement with, new religious movements
  • Responses of churches, the media, government, welfare, civil society and law enforcement agencies
  • Violence and malfeasance in new religious movements
  • The role and use of the Internet by new religious movements and their critics
  • An analysis of the cult awareness/anti-cult movement
  • The debate surrounding so-called "mind control" and "brainwashing"
  • The role of the media
  • Case studies

Indicative Assessment

The following table summarises the assessment tasks for the online offering of THL242 in Session 3 2020. Please note this is a guide only. Assessment tasks are regularly updated and can also differ to suit the mode of study (online or on campus).

Item Number
Value %
Thematic essay
Book review
Case study

Residential School

This subject contains a 3 day Optional Residential School.

This residential school provides students with the opportunity of engaging with the subject matter in an intensive manner in a group setting.

Activities include lectures, tutorial presentations and library  research.

Special Resources

Online students who choose to attend the optional residential school in Canberra will need to arrange and cover the costs of travel, accommodation and meals.

The information contained in the CSU Handbook was accurate at the date of publication: May 2021. The University reserves the right to vary the information at any time without notice.