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Valley of the Dawn members celebrate ‘Day of the Indoctrinator’ at their temple complex in Brazil on May 1. This year’s event is postponed due to coronavirus. Márcia Alves

Brazilian mystics say they’re sent by aliens to ‘jump-start human evolution’ – but their vision for a more just society is not totally crazy

Brazil's Valley of the Dawn faith is often dismissed as a cult. But many of the group's fantastical rituals are a recognizable reaction to this harsh world of inequality, loneliness and pandemics.
The ‘Christ of the Pacific’ statue in Lima has caused controversy in Peru because of its financing by a graft-tainted Brazilian construction company. Both religion and corruption loomed large in Peru’s 2020 legislative elections. CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP via Getty Images

Fringe religious party gains power in crisis-stricken Peru

After a bribery scandal that took down four presidents and led Congress to dissolve, some Peruvians are putting their faith in an austere religion called the Israelites of the New Universal Pact.
Trump is seen in the Oval Office in early January 2020. Viewing him as a cult leader and his supporters as cult followers doesn’t help us understand why he appeals to some voters. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Why it’s wrong to refer to the ‘cult of Trump’

There are many legitimate ways to critique Donald Trump, but demonizing his voters as cult followers doesn’t help us understand why they are attracted to him and how their world view has developed.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg listens during a meeting with climate scientists at the COP25 summit in Madrid, Spain. AP Photo/Paul White

The dangers of depicting Greta Thunberg as a prophet

Some have started to frame Thunberg's activism in messianistic terms – and this can serve as fodder for climate deniers.
Not many knew Prophet Shepherd Bushiri until three people died in a stampede at his Enlightened Christian Gathering Church in Pretoria. Facebook

Why ‘money’ gospel followers aren’t simply credulous dupes

Prosperity gospel in South Africa is in the news for all the wrong reasons. But for its followers, it's not a con, just a different approach to God.
Followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh embrace during a meditation session at Rajneeshpuram. AP Photo/Bill Miller

I did research at Rajneeshpuram, and here is what I learned

A scholar visited Rajneeshpuram and met the many highly accomplished men and women who became devotees of the controversial guru. What brought them to the spiritual community, and what made them stay?
Edward Jenner, who pioneered vaccination, and two colleagues (right) seeing off three anti-vaccination opponents, with the dead lying at their feet (1808). I Cruikshank/Wellcome Images/Wikimedia Commons

A short history of vaccine objection, vaccine cults and conspiracy theories

Some people have objected to childhood vaccination since it was introduced in the late 1700s. And their reasons sound remarkably familiar to those of anti-vaxxers today.
Gurneys to remove bodies from the Heaven’s Gate cult house in San Diego, California, March 27, 1997. AP Photo

What the Heaven’s Gate suicides say about American culture

Twenty years ago, the paranoia that consumed cults like Heaven's Gate existed on the margins of American society. Now it's moved toward the center of the nation's political life.

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