In religion and sociology, a cult is a cohesive group of people (often a relatively small and recently founded religious movement) devoted to beliefs or practices that the surrounding culture or society considers to be far outside the mainstream. Its separate status may come about either due to its novel belief system, because of its idiosyncratic practices or because it opposes the interests of the mainstream culture. Other non-religious groups may also display cult-like characteristics. In common usage, "cult" has a negative connotation, and is more generally applied to a group by its opponents, for a variety of possible reasons.
- Whenever there is an absolute truth at stake, the manners become careless. This applies both to the owners as well as their opponents of that truth and to all people involved.
- It is both disquieting and even embarrassing that scholars supposedly studying the same phenomenona could have such strong differences of opinion.
- James T. Richardson, Ph.D., J.D., University of Nevada professor of sociology, "The Psychology of Induction: A Review and Interpretation"; Cults and New Religious Movements (1989), Marc Galanter, ed., American Psychiatric Association
- Who has or was given this authority to decide what beliefs or practices are orthodox or genuine, and what are unorthodox or spurious? In the realm of religion and belief, one person's or group's norm is another's anathema, and what is regarded as false or counterfeit by one person or group is regarded as genuine and authentic by another.
- Lloyd Eby, testimony before the Task Force to Investigate Cult Activity on the Campuses of Maryland Public Higher-Education Institutions, June 1999, 
- We conclude . . . that the vast bulk of scientific findings — whatever clinical, field observation or survey methodologies used — never supported the ACM [anti-cult movement] perspective that most "cult" members were duped or psychologically shanghaied into membership, coercively maintained in subservience as slaves or impaired in any meaningful way through their membership.
- Shupe, Bromley and Oliver, The Anti-Cult Movement in America
- There was nothing special about our time with Andrew. We've been members in just another cultish group that make its members feel special. Our experiences are fundamentally no different from countless others in spiritual and political groups. We see clearly that corruption is difficult to avoid when a charismatic individual is given absolute power over a group of followers. All authoritarian groups have more or less the same dynamic. The emphasis on surrender, the initial happiness of merging into something bigger, the dogmatism, the rules and regulations, the suppression of doubts, it's the same everywhere.
- Cult leaders succeed in dominating their followers because they have mastered the cruel art of exploiting universal human dependency and attachment needs in others.
- We often seem most comfortable with people whose religions consist of nothing but a few private sessions of worship and prayer, but who are too secularized to let their faiths influence the rest of the week. This attitude exerts pressure to treat religion as a hobby.
- Stephen Carter, The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion
- Religion, cult, there's no real definition of which is which. It's more like, "if the shoe fits". I personally define a "cult" as any religion with fewer followers than Snooki has on Twitter. Also, Mormonism is secretive, and that's another trait I associate with cults. Catholics own their crazy. It's right on the table. Mormons are more like Fight Club.
- Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher (2012-05-04)
- referring to the rules of Fight Club in Fight Club: "The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club."
- The difference between a cult and an established religion is sometimes about one generation.
- If Jones' People's Temple wasn't a cult, then the term has no meaning.
- Scott McLemee, "Rethinking Jonestown"
- Outsiders often criticize the extreme commitment of group members. But what is really happening is that leader and followers are conspiring to realize a vision that is falsified daily. For the cult is not paradise, and the leader is not God. Hence the follower is embattled; to squarely confront the many failings of the leader and the group is to call into question one's own great work. Only by daily recommitting himself can the follower continue to work toward his ultimate goal. Each follower works out a secret compromise, acknowledging some things while denying or distorting others. Clearly this is a high-risk strategy that may go awry.
- Dr. Len Oakes, Australian psychologist, Prophetic charisma: The Psychology of Prophetic Charisma, chapter "Followers and Their Quest", page 137; Syracuse University Press (1997 first edition), ISBN 0-8156-2700-9
- A central issue confronts[ed] at the outset is the definition of a cult. As he rightly points out, one person's cult is another's religion; all religions begin life as cults. An alternative definition is that a cult is a religion which you happen to dislike. . . . "cult" is a four-letter word.
- Anthony Campbell, review of David V. Barrett's The New Believers
- The most dangerous lie is that which most closely resembles the truth.
- Despite all the elegant rhetoric about the Pilgrim fathers...Amerian has not set an exemplary record in the area of religious freedom. The English Calvinists who settled in Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay did not come to found a society where spiritual liberty would reign supreme. They came to found a theocracy, as the four Quakers...who were hanged on Boston Common between 1659 and 1661 soon found out. Unpopular and unconventional religious beliefs and practices were not only unwelcome, they were not tolerated. Roger Williams, a Baptist, was hounded into the frozen wilderness. When Henry Dunster, the president of Harvard College, decided not to have his fourth infant baptized because he had come to accept adult baptism, he was forced to retire. Later on, in other parts of the country, Mormons, Jews, Masons, Jesuits, and ordinary Roman Catholics felt the hard edge of harassment and discrimination because of their religious convictions. A couple of generations ago, Jehovah's Witnesses were the main target of prejudice. Now we have the 'cults.' It seems Americans are never really happy unless there is some unfamiliar religious group to abuse. The spirit of theoracy lingers on.
- Harvey Cox, Thomas Professor of Divinity, Harvard University
- Actually, it's all quite simple. Like many dramatic terms, "brainwashing" is a metaphor. A person can no more wash another's brain with coercion or conversation than he can make him bleed with a cutting remark. If there is no such thing as brainwashing, what does this metaphor stand for? It stands for one of the most universal human experiences and events, namely for one person influencing another.
- Thomas Szasz
- When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you've ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate and understanding person you've ever met, and then you learn the cause of the group is something you never dared hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be true -- it probably is too good to be true! Don't give up your education, your hopes and ambitions to follow a rainbow.