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In general terms, Indoctrination is the process of inculcating ideas, attitudes, cognitive strategies or a professional methodology (see doctrine).[1] It is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.[2] As such it is used pejoratively, often in the context of political opinions, theology or religious dogma. Instruction in the basic principles of science, in particular, can not properly be called indoctrination, in the sense that the fundamental principles of science call for critical self-evaluation and skeptical scrutiny of one's own ideas, a stance outside any doctrine.[3] In practice, however, a certain level of non-rational indoctrination, usually seen as miseducative, is invariably present.[4] The term is closely linked to socialization; in common discourse, indoctrination is often associated with negative connotations, while socialization refers to cultural or educational learning. As explained below, in the case of Sociology, this grey area is delibertaely exploited in order to hide a radical socio-political agenda behind a facade of mainstream education. However the decline of Sociology has brought to the fore with more clarity the component of indoctrination which may be present in ostensibly mainstream education where there is a conscious attempt to pass off fringe preoccupations and values as normal.

Religious indoctrination

Religious indoctrination, the original sense of indoctrination, refers to a process of imparting doctrine in a non-critical way, as in catechism. Most religious groups among the revealed religions instruct new members in the principles of the religion; this is now not usually referred to as indoctrination by the religions themselves, in part because of the negative connotations the word has acquired. Mystery religions require a period of indoctrination before granting access to esoteric knowledge. (c.f. Information security)

As a pejorative term indoctrination implies forcibly or coercively causing people to act and think on the basis of a certain religion.[5] Some secular critics[who?] maintain that all religions indoctrinate their adherents, as children, and the accusation is made in the case of religious extremism. Sects such as Scientology use personality tests and peer pressures to indoctrinate new members.[6] Some religions have commitment ceremonies for children 13 years and younger, such as Bar Mitzvah, Confirmation, and Shichi-Go-San. In Buddhism Temple boys are encouraged to follow the faith while still very young.[citation needed] Critics of religion, including Richard Dawkins, maintain that the children of religious parents are often unfairly indoctrinated. The process of subjecting children to complex initiation rituals before they are able to critically assess the event is seen by Dawkins and other critics of religion as cruel.

Secular indoctrination

Religious conservatives see the uncritical teaching of evolution as a form of indoctrination.[1] Valerie Riches, founder of Family and Youth Concern, has also written a book called 'Sex Education or Indoctrination?: how ideology has triumphed over facts', in which she argues the state has undermined parental rights on this issue.

Military indoctrination

The initial psychological preparation of soldiers during training is referred to (non-pejoratively) as indoctrination. See Recruit training.

Information security

In the field of information security, indoctrination is the initial briefing and instructions given before a person is granted access to secret information.[7]

Sociology and Indoctrination

Since the 1970s a growing number of critics of Sociology have claimed that the field increasingly promoted strong positions of an ideological nature. For instance, Irving Louis Horowitz, in The Decomposition of Sociology (1994), has argued that the discipline (with that definition often being exploited as a basis for promoting certain ideological stances as non-negoiables) , whilst arriving from a "distinguished lineage and tradition", is in decline due to deeply ideological theory and a lack of relevance to policy making: "The decomposition of sociology began when this great tradition became subject to ideological thinking, and an inferior tradition surfaced in the wake of totalitarian triumphs."

The British Sociological Association in particular has invited a great deal of criticsm because when open ideological stances, even overt political positions have not been taken, claims have been made that its agenda is promoted through methods that have much in common with the techniques of brainwashing, mind control and indoctrination. The BSA remains committed to information gathering of a subversive nature, with this being rationalised as covert research in its policies. The concept of manipulation is in this context used as a euphemistic substitute for terms like mind-control :

These are examples from the BSA Code relating to covert research (covered in points 31 to 33 thereof):

Covert Research

31) There are serious ethical and legal issues in the use of covert research but the use of covert methods may be justified in certain circumstances. For example, difficulties arise when research participants change their behaviour because they know they are being studied. Researchers may also face problems when access to spheres of social life is closed to social scientists by powerful or secretive interests.

32) However, covert methods violate the principles of informed consent and may invade the privacy of those being studied. Covert researchers might need to take into account the emerging legal frameworks surrounding the right to privacy. Participant or non-participant observation in non-public spaces or experimental manipulation of research participants without their knowledge should be resorted to only where it is impossible to use other methods to obtain essential data.

33) In such studies it is important to safeguard the anonymity of research participants. Ideally, where informed consent has not been obtained prior to the research it should be obtained post-hoc.

The Role of Psychology in Indoctrination

The role of psychology is central to any religious or ideological conversion process. In the case of Sociology it has been claimed, for example, that social psychology is used on an ongoing experimental basis relying on the principle of group pressure in order to bring about conformity to a certain ideology.


Noam Chomsky remarks, "For those who stubbornly seek freedom, there can be no more urgent task than to come to understand the mechanisms and practices of indoctrination. These are easy to perceive in the totalitarian societies, much less so in the system of 'brainwashing under freedom' to which we are subjected and which all too often we serve as willing or unwitting instruments."[8]

Robert Jay Lifton argues[9] that the objective of phrases or slogans like "blood for oil," or "cut and run," is not to continue reflective conversations but to replace them with emotionally appealing phrases. This technique is called the thought-terminating cliché.

See also


  1. Funk and Wagnalls: "To instruct in doctrines; esp., to teach partisan or sectarian dogmas"; I.A. Snook, ed. 1972. Concepts of Indoctrination (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul).
  2. Wilson, J., 1964. "Education and indoctrination", in T.H.B. Hollins, ed. Aims in Education: the philosophic approach(Manchester University Press).
  3. See scientific method.
  4. Thiessen, Elmer John, 1985. "Initiation, Indoctrination, and Education", Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne de l'éducation 10.3 (Summer 1985:229-249), with bibliography.
  5. See OED, indoctrination.
  6. See Scientology beliefs and practices.
  7. The National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual defines indoctrination as "the initial security instructions/briefing given a person prior to granting access to classified information."
  8. Chomsky, Noam. "Propaganda, American Style". Retrieved 2007-06-29.
  9. Lifton, Robert Jay (1989). Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 524. ISBN 0-8078-4253-2.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Dilusion. New York: Bantam Books, 2006. Print.

External links


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