New religious movements—or so-called “cults”—continue to attract and mystify us. While mainstream America views cults as an insidious mix of apocalyptic beliefs, science fiction, and paranoia, with new vehicles such as the World Wide Web, they are becoming even more influential as the millennium approaches. Len Oakes—a former member of such a movement—explores the phenomenon of cult leaders. He examines the psychology of charisma and proposes his own theory of the five-stage life cycle of the two types of prophets: the messianic and the charismatic.
Len Oakes is a senior consultant psychologist with the Cairnmiller Institute of Melbourne, Australia. He has published widely on topics in communal studies, the psychology of religion, and on counseling issues associated with new religious movements. His previous book, Inside Centrepoint: The Story of a New Zealand Community, tells of an extraordinary communal experiment “down under.”