A unique centre for the study of religious cults based at the London School of Economics may be forced to close due to a lack of money, writes Alan Thomson.
The Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (Inform), which is affiliated to the LSE through the school's sociology department, has for the past 11 years offered an invaluable resource for people interested in new or alternative religious movements.
It now has until March 1 to find about Pounds 100,000 for next year's funding or face closure.
Inform, which employs four part-time researchers, also operates a helpline for people worried about potentially exploitative or abusive aspects of particular cultish movements.
With detailed information on about 1,000 different cults, its database is used frequently by academics and by the media.
The centre receives no core funding from the state although the Home Office is discussing the possibility of partial funding.
And despite widespread support, Inform also finds it difficult to secure sufficient funding from private sources such as churches.
Eileen Barker, chairwoman of the Inform governors, said: "I am sure that if we closed there would soon be the need to reinvent us in some other form. Why then risk losing the currency of an invaluable data-base or perhaps losing it altogether?" Among the more intriguing movements on record at Inform are the breatharians. They emerged from Australia and New Zealand preaching that it was possible to live without eating and by absorbing "nourishment" from light and air.
Inform researchers stress that the majority of alternative religious movements are not sinister or bad and that many people may join out of a need to belong to a community.
The heyday for cults was in the 1960s and 1970s. The millennium has given rise to a number of cults but the rate at which they have appeared has declined as 2000 approaches. Cults centred on UFOs and extraterrestrial intelligence are popular at the moment.