Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
During periods of spiritual ferment, unconventional and sometimes rather authoritarian sects have developed. Such groups have often elicited extreme hostility and distrust and have, moreover, been perceived as fundamentally subversive of civil order and the ideals of Americanism. Counter-subversive movements have sought to mobilize opinion against heterodox sects and to legitimate religious persecution. The current agitation against cults exemplifies a counter-subversive campaign and bears similarities with nineteenth century anti-Masonic, anti-Mormon and anti-Catholic agitation. Both the growth of deviant sects and the emergence of counter-subversive hysteria should be viewed in the context of disturbances in the American civil religion with consequent cultural confusion and normative ambiguity.