International Journal of Coercion, Abuse, and Manipulation (IJCAM)    

Vol. 1, pp. 29-46 (2020)        

DOI: 10.54208/ooo1/1002 

Late Twentieth-Century Psychoanalytic Interpretations of Sects and Cults: Weston La Bare, Norman Cohn, & E. P. Thompson 

Stephen Kent


Before the diminished influence of classical psychoanalysis in the late twentieth century, several now-classic studies of sectarian religions contained Freudian psychoanalytic perspectives on religious sects or cults. These studies included Weston La Barre’s analyses of both serpent handlers and the Native American Ghost Dance; Norman Cohn’s panoramic examination of medieval European sectarian apocalyptic movements; and E. P. Thompson’s groundbreaking examination of Methodism within the formation of English working-class consciousness. Regardless of the problems that are endemic to the application of Freudian psychoanalysis to history, the sheer (although sometimes flawed) erudition of these three authors suggests that classical psychoanalysis had an important interpretive role to play in the study of some sectarian and cultic groups.