CESNUR (English: Center for Studies on New Religions, Italian: Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni), is an organization based in Turin, Italy. It was established in 1988 by a group of religious scholars from universities in Europe and the Americas, working in the field of new religious movements. Its director is the Italian sociologist and attorney Massimo Introvigne. CESNUR defines itself as being independent of any religious group, church, denomination or association. It has evolved into a network of scholars and organizations who study the field.
According to their website, CESNUR is devoted to promote scholarly research in the field of new religious consciousness, and are dedicated to exposing the problems associated with some movements, while defending the principles of religious liberty.
While established by a group of scholars who were mostly Roman Catholics, CESNUR is not affiliated with any religious group or denomination and has from the outset included scholars of various different religious persuasions. The Italian authorities recognized CESNUR as a public non-profit organization in 1996 and are currently the main contributors to CESNUR projects. Other sources of income include book royalties and member contributions.
CESNUR gives a greater weight to religious freedom than anti-cult activists and is critical about concepts like mind control, thought reform, and brainwashing asserting that they lack scientific and scholarly support and are mainly based on anecdotal evidence. They do not believe that all religious movements are benign but oppose special laws against religious movements.
CESNUR sponsor yearly conferences in the field of new religions. Conferences have been held inter alia at the London School of Economics (1993 and 2001), the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil (1994), the Sapienza University of Rome (1995), the Université de Montréal (1996), the Free university of Amsterdam (1997), the Industrial Union in Turin(1998), the Bryn Athyn College in Pennsylvania (1999), the University of Latvia in Riga (2000), the University of Utah and Brigham Young University (2002), and the University of Vilnius (2003).
CESNUR-affiliated scholars include:
- Eileen Barker, professor in sociology at the London School of Economics
- David Bromley, professor of Sociology & Anthropology, Virginia Commonwealth University
- Douglas Cowan, Renison College, University of Waterloo
- Jeffrey K. Hadden, University of Virginia
- Irving Hexham, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary
- Reender Kranenborg, Free university in Amsterdam
- J. Gordon Melton, Institute for the Study of American Religion (ISAR)
- Anson Shupe, Professor of Sociology of the School of Arts and Sciences, Indiana University
Criticism and response
CESNUR has been criticized by the Christian countercult movement and cult-watching organizations, and some former members of movements they consider to be cults. CESNUR rebuts these criticisms by saying that most of the information supplied by anti-cult activists is theoretical and anecdoctal, based on second-hand accounts by families of members, press-clippings, and accounts of ex-members who rationalize their past. One CESNUR-affiliated scholar responds to Hein's criticisms by stating that "Some of us – myself (Douglas Cowan), Eileen (Barker), Massimo (Introvigne), Jeff (Hadden), Irving Hexham, Anson Shupe, David Bromley, Gordon Melton – are listed on Hein's site as dedicated 'cult apologists' of varying degrees of prominence.
Scholars Stephen A. Kent and Raffaella Di Marzio consider CESNUR's representation of the brainwashing controversy one-sided, polemical and sometimes without scholarly value. Di Marzio, however, later somewhat changed her views, left the Catholic counter-cult organization Gruppo di Ricerca e di Informazione sulle Sette (GRIS) and worked quite regularly with CESNUR. She is listed among the contributors of the CESNUR online encyclopedia "Religions in Italy".
In an official OSCE report, Dick Marty, Swiss senator and member of the OECD Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, answered criticism by Introvigne, who was himself an official Rapporteur at the OCSE conference held in Vienna on March 22, 1999: "The CESNUR report misrepresents the contents of the "Regards sur" newsletter: taking everything into account, there is insufficient credible evidence for the allegations to be made out. As to the CESNUR document and in the absence of corroborative material, the Rapporteur views its credibility in the light of his conclusions on the partial and misleading report of the Beijing Conference."
Introvigne responded by claiming that the anti-cult movement have accused CESNUR of being a front for "Freemasonry, a "Methodist cult", the Roman Catholic Church and a number of Catholic organizations, including Opus Dei and Alleanza Cattolica." He noted that one of the directors, J. Gordon Melton, was an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, and that Introvigne himself was a member of Alleanza Cattolica, which he described as "a lay Catholic organization, enjoying a good relationship with a number of Italian Catholic dioceses where it is established, about which much nonsense has been written in Germany". Introvigne stated that CESNUR's only institutional funding came from the government of the Region of Piedmont, and that it did not receive funds from any religious organization or institution.
- Fautré, Willy (2006), "Non-state actors and Religious Freedom in Europe", in Andreopoulos, George J.; Kabasakal Arat, Zehra F.; Juviler, Peter H., Non-state actors in the human rights universe, Kumarian Press, ISBN 9780415309486
- CESNUR 2001 - Countercultists on Internet (Cowan)
- The French and German versus American debate over 'new religions', Scientology and human rights, by Stephen A. Kent, Marburg Journal of Religion, Volume 6, No. 1 (January 2001)
- "Brainwashing" in New Religious Movements, by Alberto Amitrani and Raffaella Di Marzio, from the Roman seat of G.R.I.S., April, 1998.
- Le religioni in Italia: Alcune osservazioni metodologiche
- European Federation of Research and Information Centres on Sectarism (FECRIS): request for consultative status with the Council of Europe
- CESNUR - Blacklisting or Greenlisting? A European Perspective on the New Cult Wars
- Sites critical of CESNUR