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Dick Anthony is a forensic psychologist noted for his writings on brainwashing, and one of the most prolific researchers of the social and psychological aspects of involvement in new religious movements.[1][2]

Academic career

Anthony holds a PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.[3] He has supervised research at the Department of Psychiatry of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, and is a former director of the UC Berkeley-affiliated Center for the Study of New Religions.[4][5] His research has been supported by government agencies including the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and he has frequently testified or acted as a consultant in court cases involving allegations of religious coercion or harm resulting from involvement in a religious group.[6] Anthony has authored or co-authored a large number of scholarly articles on the topic and has co-edited several books.[3]

Involvement in the brainwashing debate

Anthony has been "a leading opponent of brainwashing theories", which he has characterized as "a pseudo-scientific myth", and spearheaded efforts which from 1990 onward led to the general rejection of brainwashing testimony as unscientific in United States courts.[7] Anthony has asserted in the Washington Post that "no reasonable person would question that there are situations where people can be influenced against their best interests, but those arguments are evaluated on the basis of fact, not bogus expert testimony."[7] Dismissing the idea of mind control, he has defended new religious movements, and argued that involvement in such movements may often have beneficial, rather than harmful effects: "There's a large research literature published in mainstream journals on the mental health effects of new religions. For the most part the effects seem to be positive in any way that's measurable."[5]

Anthony was a key consultant for the government in the Fishman case and acted as a consultant in many subsequent cases of a similar nature, "frequently getting pseudoscientific mind control testimony excluded from evidentiary hearings".[8][9] According to sociologist James T. Richardson, he was the "intellectual driving force" behind an amicus curiae brief on brainwashing endorsed by the American Psychological Association.[10] In the Fishman case, the court accepted Anthony's argument that Margaret Singer's brainwashing theory lacked scientific support, a decision that set a legal precedent and led to the exclusion of Margaret Singer and her colleague Richard Ofshe as expert witnesses in this and subsequent trials.[9][11][12] Afterwards, Singer and Ofshe twice sued Anthony, as well as the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association and several other scholars, for defamation and conspiracy to deprive them of their livelihoods.[9][11][12] Both suits were dismissed; in the second the judge granted the defendants a SLAPP motion, requiring Singer and Ofshe to pay Anthony's and the other defendants' legal costs.[11][12]

Anthony contributed a 100-page chapter on the brainwashing hypothesis to the book Misunderstanding Cults, edited by sociologists Benjamin Zablocki and Thomas Robbins, in which he criticized the "tactical ambiguity" of brainwashing theorists like Zablocki.[13] In Anthony's view, brainwashing proponents have, in their efforts to resurrect a discredited hypothesis, continually modified key assumptions underlying the concept in order to avoid any possibility of its empirical verification.[13] The chapter argues that "the term brainwashing has such sensationalist connotations that its use prejudices any scientific discussion of patterns of commitment in religious movements."[13]


David G. Bromley and Anson Shupe, writing in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society (1998), have credited Anthony and his co-author, sociologist Thomas Robbins, with having written "the most articulate critique" of the anti-cult movement's perspective on brainwashing.[14] The sociologist James T. Richardson has referred to Anthony's scholarly work on brainwashing as "without peer".[10]


Book chapters and articles



  1. Dawson, Lorne L.. Cults in context: readings in the study of new religious movements, Transaction Publishers 1998, p. 340, ISBN 9780765804785
  2. Robbins, Thomas. In Gods we trust: new patterns of religious pluralism in America, Transaction Publishers 1996, p. 537, ISBN 9780887388002
  3. 3.0 3.1 Zablocki, Benjamin; Robbins, Thomas. Misunderstanding Cults, University of Toronto Press 2001, p. 522, ISBN 9780802081889
  4. Barkun, Michael. Millennialism and violence, Routledge 1996, p. 176, ISBN 9780714647081
  5. 5.0 5.1 Sipchen, Bob (1988-11-17). "Ten Years After Jonestown, the Battle Intensifies Over the Influence of 'Alternative' Religions", Los Angeles Times
  6. Lewis, James R. (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. Oxford University Press 2004, p. xi, ISBN 0-19-514986-6
  7. 7.0 7.1 Oldenburg, Don (2003-11-21). "Stressed to Kill: The Defense of Brainwashing; Sniper Suspect's Claim Triggers More Debate", Washington Post, reproduced in Defence Brief, issue 269, published by Steven Skurka & Associates
  8. Lucas, Phillip Charles; Tobbins, Thomas (eds.). New religious movements in the twenty-first century: legal, political, and social challenges in global perspective, Routledge 2004, p. 13, ISBN 9780415965774
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Richardson, James T. "Sociology and the New Religions: 'Brainwashing', the Courts, and Religious Freedom", in: Jenkins, Pamela J.; Kroll-Smith, Steve (eds.). Witnessing for Sociology: Sociologists in Court, Praeger Publishers 1996, pp. 128–130, ISBN 978-0275948528
  10. 10.0 10.1 Richardson, James T. Regulating Religion: Case Studies from Around the Globe, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers 2004, p. 145, ISBN 9780306478871; the APA later withdrew its endorsement for "procedural and not substantial reasons".
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Wilson, Bryan R.; Cresswell, Jamie (eds.). New religious movements: challenge and response, Routledge 1999, pp. 227–228, ISBN 9780415200509
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Richardson, James T. Regulating Religion: Case Studies from Around the Globe, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers 2004, pp. 134–135, ISBN 9780306478871.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Zablocki, Benjamin; Robbins, Thomas. Misunderstanding Cults, University of Toronto Press 2001, p. 21, ISBN 9780802081889
  14. Swatos, William H.; Kivisto, Peter. Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, Rowman Altamira 1998, p. 62, ISBN 9780761989561. Retrieved 2010-06-20.
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