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INFORM

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INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements)
Formation1988
FounderProf. Eileen Barker
TypeNon-profit charity
HeadquartersDepartment of Theology & Religious Studies, King's College London, United Kingdom
Membership
religious, secular
Honorary Director
Suzanne Newcombe
Chair of the Board of Governors
Prof. Kim Knott
Treasurer
Rev. Andrew Maguire
Chair of the Management Committee
George Chryssides
Websitehttp://www.inform.ac

INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) is an independent registered charity[1] located in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College, London;[2] from 1988-2018 it was based at the London School of Economics. It was founded by the sociologist of religion, Eileen Barker, with start-up funding from the British Home Office and Britain's mainstream churches.[3] Its stated aims are to "prevent harm based on misinformation about minority religions and sects by bringing the insights and methods of academic research into the public domain" and to provide "information about minority religions and sects which is as accurate, up-to-date and as evidence-based as possible."[4]

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Charitable organization

Charitable organization

A charitable organization or charity is an organization whose primary objectives are philanthropy and social well-being.

London School of Economics

London School of Economics

The London School of Economics and Political Science is a public research university located in London, England and a constituent college of the federal University of London. Founded in 1895 by Fabian Society members Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb, Graham Wallas, and George Bernard Shaw, LSE joined the University of London in 1900 and established its first degree courses under the auspices of the university in 1901. LSE began awarding its degrees in its own name in 2008, prior to which it awarded degrees of the University of London.

Eileen Barker

Eileen Barker

Eileen Vartan Barker is a professor in sociology, an emeritus member of the London School of Economics (LSE), and a consultant to that institution's Centre for the Study of Human Rights. She is the chairperson and founder of the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (INFORM) and has written studies about cults and new religious movements.

Home Office

Home Office

The Home Office (HO), also known as the Home Department, is a ministerial department of His Majesty's Government, responsible for immigration, security, and law and order. As such, it is responsible for policing in England and Wales, fire and rescue services in England, visas and immigration, and the Security Service (MI5). It is also in charge of government policy on security-related issues such as drugs, counter-terrorism, and ID cards. It was formerly responsible for His Majesty's Prison Service and the National Probation Service, but these have been transferred to the Ministry of Justice.

History

The founding of INFORM was motivated by a shared impression among clergy and academics that groups hostile to cults often aimed to feed rather than alleviate enquirers' fears.[5] During the 1980s, the British Home Office received many complaints related to cults and NRMs from concerned parents, but did not feel that any of the existing counter-cult and anti-cult groups deserved state funding.[5] Answering the need for a body that would disseminate well-researched, impartial, and easily understood information,[6] Eileen Barker, a leading sociologist of religion based at the London School of Economics and Political Science, established INFORM in 1988 with the support of the Home Office, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Hume and other mainstream churches.[3][7][5][8] Eileen Barker argued that the media have an interest in attracting and keeping readers, most of whom are likely to be attracted by sensational stories. Suppliers of information may well have an agenda that leads them to adjust their product to meet a perceived demand.[9]

Its founding aim was to provide neutral, objective and up-to-date information on new religious movements (NRMs) to government officials, scholars, the media, and members of the general public, in particular to relatives of people who have joined a new religious movement,[10][11][7] as well as religious or spiritual seekers.[9] Founder Eileen Barker retired from directing Inform in 2020 and from its Board of Governors in 2022 (although she is still active as an Observer).

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Home Office

Home Office

The Home Office (HO), also known as the Home Department, is a ministerial department of His Majesty's Government, responsible for immigration, security, and law and order. As such, it is responsible for policing in England and Wales, fire and rescue services in England, visas and immigration, and the Security Service (MI5). It is also in charge of government policy on security-related issues such as drugs, counter-terrorism, and ID cards. It was formerly responsible for His Majesty's Prison Service and the National Probation Service, but these have been transferred to the Ministry of Justice.

Anti-cult movement

Anti-cult movement

The anti-cult movement consists of various governmental and non-governmental organizations and individuals that seek to raise awareness of cults, uncover coercive practices used to attract and retain members, and help those who have become involved with harmful cult practices. One element within the anti-cult movement, Christian counter-cult organizations, oppose New Religious Movements on theological grounds, categorizing them as cults, and distribute information to this effect through church networks and via printed literature.

Eileen Barker

Eileen Barker

Eileen Vartan Barker is a professor in sociology, an emeritus member of the London School of Economics (LSE), and a consultant to that institution's Centre for the Study of Human Rights. She is the chairperson and founder of the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (INFORM) and has written studies about cults and new religious movements.

Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop of Canterbury

The archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and a principal leader of the Church of England, the ceremonial head of the worldwide Anglican Communion and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. The current archbishop is Justin Welby, who was enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March 2013. Welby is the 105th in a line which goes back more than 1400 years to Augustine of Canterbury, the "Apostle to the English", sent from Rome in the year 597. Welby succeeded Rowan Williams.

New religious movement

New religious movement

A new religious movement (NRM), also known as alternative spirituality or a new religion, is a religious or spiritual group that has modern origins and is peripheral to its society's dominant religious culture. NRMs can be novel in origin or they can be part of a wider religion, in which case they are distinct from pre-existing denominations. Some NRMs deal with the challenges which the modernizing world poses to them by embracing individualism, while other NRMs deal with them by embracing tightly knit collective means. Scholars have estimated that NRMs number in the tens of thousands worldwide, with most of their members living in Asia and Africa. Most NRMs only have a few members, some of them have thousands of members, and a few of them have more than a million members.

Activities

INFORM, based in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College London,[2] researches and collects information on new religious movements and makes this data available to all interested parties – government officials, researchers and the media as well as relatives of people who have joined a new religious movement.[10][5] Seeking to dispel the often inaccurate and distorted information disseminated about new religious movements in the media, INFORM aims to provide reliable information, based on in-depth research, about the character, policy and origins of new religious movements, as well as information about what motivates converts, and how movement membership tends to affect members' subsequent lives and careers.[10] INFORM does not itself perform counselling, but refers enquirers to a nationwide network of qualified experts.[3] Where parents have lost all contact with their son or daughter, INFORM may be able to put them in touch with a go-between who has established lines of communication to the movement.[12] In some instances, INFORM has arranged meetings between families and founders or officials of new religious movements.[10]

Since 1988 INFORM has been holding regular seminars about thematic topics and new and minority religions,[13] and recent seminars have been conducted online and recordings are available.[14]

INFORM maintains a database and historical archives which it draws upon to provide information for enquirers and researchers. It has produced summary information about some individual groups[15] and traditions[16] on its website. More recently INFORM staff and affilates have provided Factsheets for the Religion Media Centre[17] and the Critical Dictionary of Apocalyptic and Millennial Movements (CDAMM).[18] INFORM publishes a book series with Rougledge on Minority Religions and Spiritual Movements which "addresses themes related to new religions, many of which have been the topics of Inform seminars. The series editorial board consists of internationally renowned scholars in the field."[19]

Recently INFORM has been involved in the AHRC-funded Abuse in Religious Contexts[20] and in a Culham St Gabriel's-funded project exploring the teaching of Religion and Worldviews in English schools.[21]

Reception

In a book of essays in tribute of Eileen Barker, Bryan R. Wilson, a leading scholar of religion from Oxford University, stated that INFORM has often managed to resolve or defuse the deeply emotional conflicts surrounding membership in a new religious movement.[10]

INFORM has been criticised by anti-cult organisations, in particular the Family Action Information Resource (FAIR) chaired by former Conservative Home Office minister and anti-cult campaigner Tom Sackville, who cut INFORM's Home Office funding in 1997.[22] In 1999, it was reported that INFORM was facing closure, due to lack of funds.[23]

By 2000, Home Office funding was restored, prompting Sackville to warn that INFORM might provide government with bad advice, adding, "I cancelled INFORM's grant and I think it's absurd that it's been brought back."[22] Criticism of INFORM has focused on Barker's reluctance to condemn all new religions as "cults".[22] Barker responded to the criticism by saying, "We are not cult apologists. People make a lot of noise without doing serious research – so much so that they can end up sounding as closed to reason as the cults they're attacking. Besides, I imagine FAIR was disappointed not to get our funding."[22]

During 2021 a letter to The Lancet cited research from Inform-associated authors, suggesting that the sociological approach to studying "cults" which emphasises "inquisitive dialogue and contextual understanding" might be usefully applied to the anti-vax movement.[24]

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Funding

INFORM has a policy of not accepting money from any of the new religious movements or any other organisation that might wish to prejudice the outcome of its research. INFORM has received funding, project grants and assistance in kind from different branches of the British government including the Home Office; Department for Education, Department of Communities and Local Government/Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, European Research Council, the Church of England, the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church; and trusts and foundations including the Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements (CenSAMM), Culham St. Gabriel's, the Spaulding Trust, J.P.Getty, Nuffield, Wates, and the Jerusalem Trust, amongst others. Affiliated researchers have been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, British Academy, Leverhulme, and the Department of Health. In addition, INFORM receives some donations from enquirers and makes small profits from its seminars and the sale of literature.[25]

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Home Office

Home Office

The Home Office (HO), also known as the Home Department, is a ministerial department of His Majesty's Government, responsible for immigration, security, and law and order. As such, it is responsible for policing in England and Wales, fire and rescue services in England, visas and immigration, and the Security Service (MI5). It is also in charge of government policy on security-related issues such as drugs, counter-terrorism, and ID cards. It was formerly responsible for His Majesty's Prison Service and the National Probation Service, but these have been transferred to the Ministry of Justice.

Department for Education

Department for Education

The Department for Education (DfE) is a department of His Majesty's Government responsible for child protection, child services, education, apprenticeships and wider skills in England.

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), formerly the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), is a department of His Majesty's Government responsible for housing, communities, local government in England and the levelling up policy. It was established in May 2006 and is the successor to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, established in 2001. The department shares its headquarters building, at 2 Marsham Street in London, with the Home Office. It was renamed to add Housing to its title and changed to a ministry in January 2018, and later reverted to a government department in the 2021 reshuffle.

European Research Council

European Research Council

The European Research Council (ERC) is a public body for funding of scientific and technological research conducted within the European Union (EU). Established by the European Commission in 2007, the ERC is composed of an independent Scientific Council, its governing body consisting of distinguished researchers, and an Executive Agency, in charge of the implementation. It forms part of the framework programme of the union dedicated to research and innovation, Horizon 2020, preceded by the Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7). The ERC budget is over €13 billion from 2014 – 2020 and comes from the Horizon 2020 programme, a part of the European Union's budget. Under Horizon 2020 it is estimated that around 7,000 ERC grantees will be funded and 42,000 team members supported, including 11,000 doctoral students and almost 16,000 post-doctoral researchers.

Church of England

Church of England

The Church of England is the established Christian church in England and the mother church of the international Anglican Communion. It traces its history to the Christian church recorded as existing in the Roman province of Britain by the 3rd century and to the 6th-century Gregorian mission to Kent led by Augustine of Canterbury.

Catholic Church

Catholic Church

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2019. As the world's oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church consists of 24 sui iuris churches, including the Latin Church and 23 Eastern Catholic Churches, which comprise almost 3,500 dioceses and eparchies located around the world. The pope, who is the bishop of Rome, is the chief pastor of the church. The bishopric of Rome, known as the Holy See, is the central governing authority of the church. The administrative body of the Holy See, the Roman Curia, has its principal offices in Vatican City, a small enclave of the Italian city of Rome, of which the pope is head of state.

British Academy

British Academy

The British Academy is the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and the social sciences. It was established in 1902 and received its royal charter in the same year. It is now a fellowship of more than 1,000 leading scholars spanning all disciplines across the humanities and social sciences and a funding body for research projects across the United Kingdom. The academy is a self-governing and independent registered charity, based at 10–11 Carlton House Terrace in London.

Articles

  • "Cults need vigilance, not alarmism", article in the Church Times, 2008-06-20, by James A. Beckford, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick and chairman of INFORM's management committee
  • Eileen Barker (2006) "What should we do about the Cults? Policies, Information and the Perspective of INFORM." pp. 371–95 in The New Religious Question: State Regulation or State Interference? (La nouvelle question religieuse: Régulation ou ingérence de l'État?), edited by Pauline Côté and T. Jeremy Gunn. Brussels: Peter Lang.[9]
  • Eileen Barker (2001) "INFORM : Bringing the Sociology of Religion to the Public Space." In P. Côté (Ed.), Chercheurs de dieux dans l’espace public - Frontier Religions in Public Space (pp. 21–34). University of Ottawa Press.[6]

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Inform Associated Books

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Eileen Barker

Eileen Barker

Eileen Vartan Barker is a professor in sociology, an emeritus member of the London School of Economics (LSE), and a consultant to that institution's Centre for the Study of Human Rights. She is the chairperson and founder of the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (INFORM) and has written studies about cults and new religious movements.

Jean La Fontaine

Jean La Fontaine

Jean Sybil La Fontaine FRAI is a British anthropologist and emeritus professor of the London School of Economics. She has done research in Africa and the UK, on topics including ritual, gender, child abuse, witchcraft and satanism. In 1994 she wrote a government report: The Extent and Nature of Organised and Ritual Abuse.

Cambridge University Press

Cambridge University Press

Cambridge University Press is the university press of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by King Henry VIII in 1534, it is the oldest university press in the world. It is also the King's Printer.

Routledge

Routledge

Routledge is a British multinational publisher. It was founded in 1836 by George Routledge, and specialises in providing academic books, journals and online resources in the fields of the humanities, behavioural science, education, law, and social science. The company publishes approximately 1,800 journals and 5,000 new books each year and their backlist encompasses over 70,000 titles. Routledge is claimed to be the largest global academic publisher within humanities and social sciences.

Source: "INFORM", Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, (2022, November 25th), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INFORM.

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Notes
  1. ^ "Information Network Focus on Religious Movements, registered charity no. 801729". Charity Commission for England and Wales.
  2. ^ a b ""Theology & Religious Studies at KCL:Research Impact"".
  3. ^ a b c Beckford & Richardson 2003, p. 5
  4. ^ "Inform: About Us".
  5. ^ a b c d Chryssides 1999a, p. 351
  6. ^ a b Barker 2001
  7. ^ a b Fautré 2006, p. 328
  8. ^ Chryssides 1999b, p. 270
  9. ^ a b c Barker 2006
  10. ^ a b c d e Wilson 2003, p. 20
  11. ^ ICSA 2009
  12. ^ Chryssides & Wilkins 2006, p. 375
  13. ^ ""Inform: Past Events"".
  14. ^ ""Inform: Online Seminars"".
  15. ^ "Inform: Individual Grops".
  16. ^ "Inform: General leaflets".
  17. ^ "Religion Media Centre: Factsheets".
  18. ^ "Critical Dictionary of Apocalyptic and Millennial Movements (CDAMM)".
  19. ^ "Routledge-Inform Book Series".
  20. ^ "Abuse in Religious Settings Project, University of Kent".
  21. ^ ""Faith and Belief Forum/Open University/Inform Collaborative Partnership"".
  22. ^ a b c d Telegraph staff 2000
  23. ^ Thomson 1999
  24. ^ Mylan & Hardman 2021, p. 1181
  25. ^ Inform GDPR and Ethics 2022
References
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