This Article was referenced in the Independent on 20th December
NRM’s can be empowering for women
It’s safe to say cults have a pretty bad rep, particularly for women. We’ve heard stories of manipulation, beatings, starvation and downright bizarreness.
However one sociologist who’s spent her life studying religious movements and cults believes there are some that are good for women.
Like many sociologists, Dr Puttick prefers the term “new religious movement” (NRM) to “cult” because it’s deemed more neutral.
She herself was a member of a NRM called the Osho movement, and it was her positive time there that drove her to look into other women’s experiences.
Dr Puttick explained to Broadly that the Osho movement focuses on meditation and philosophy, which appealed to her. After living in India and being part of the movement for five years, she gradually drifted away.
A lot of NRMs, however, are known for the extremely backwards roles they give women: “In more conservative movements, such as the Unification Church (‘Moonies’) and conservative Christian movements, women are often expected to serve men domestically, sometimes with restricted access to the teachings and practices,” Dr Puttick says.
And a lot of traditional NRMs are rife with misogyny, according to Dr Puttick.
However she explains that more progressive NRMs, such as the Osho Movement and the Brahma Kumaris, treat women equally if not superior to men.
“The Osho movement encouraged women to rise above their social conditioning and promoted them into leadership positions,” Dr Puttick explains. “Osho saw women as spiritually superior to male disciples and better equipped for becoming enlightened.”
Whilst singing the praises of the Osho movement, Dr Puttick admits that there are lots of NRMs that treat women badly, where the leader (or guru) exploits his female disciples, often taking them as lovers with the promise of a quicker path to enlightenment.
According to Dr Puttick, these relationships left some women feeling “abused and damaged”.
So how do you know whether an NRM is good or bad for women? “Perhaps the most important test is whether it’s as easy to leave the movement as it is to join,” says Dr Puttick.
If some cults and NRMs do leave women feeling more enlightened as she claims, that’s got to be a good thing.