The word “cult” has existed for centuries, but over time its precise meaning and interpretation have evolved. The original definition of “cult” refers to a ‘group of faithful individuals who detach themselves from a religion that is no longer considered attentive to the original message’. The reference to the fact of some originating religion is omnipresent across the historical situations which coined the term. The new ‘cult’ tries to maintain ties with the original religion, with critical and comparative evaluations, maintaining the sharing of basic beliefs.

What about the modern definition?

Today the word “cult” is generally used with negative connotations attached.

“Cult” refers to groups of people which seemingly possess any combination of the following characteristics:

  • closed within itself, avoids contact with other similar groups or movements;
  • assume more rigid or radical opinions than those of the originating “mother church”;
  • requires members to cut ties with families, friends or environments previously frequented;
  • entraps and holds its members so that they cannot leave;
  • limits critical or creative thinking and leaves no room for any kind of reasoning;
  • characterized by the absence of humor;
  • large movement of people in and out

Is Damanhur a “cult”? What do sociologists say.

Over the years Damanhur has been the subject of study by great number of sociology researchers, both Italian and international, who have all come to an agreement that Damanhur is not a cult.

Here is why:

  • Damanhur develops its own philosophy and communicates it to the world openly
  • Damanhur has been around for nearly 50 years and is constantly changing; it has become a reference point for other social and community experiences.
  • Damanhurians have formulated a set of ethical values ​​and take concrete action to live by them in daily life
  • Damanhur has a social organization; the Damanhurians are autonomous from an economic point of view and have rules and laws that evolve over time.
  • Damanhurians citizens know how to laugh at their own account.
  • Everyone is free to express public criticism and point out mistakes.
  • Anyone can leave the community setting at any time without any restriction.

The aforementioned observations have been quoted by:

  • Maria Immacolata Macioti: Professor of Sociology of Cultural Processes and Sociology of Religions at the Faculty of Sociology and Communication of La Sapienza University, Rome.
  • Bill Metcalf, sociologist at Griffith University in Brisbane (Australia). President of the International Communal Studies Association (ICSA) 1998–2001.

Why don’t sociologists use the term “cult”?

Sociologists hardly ever use the word “cult”, because it is not considered an analytical or scholastically useful categorization.

Damanhur does not fit the title even remotely, as nowadays it is often used to issue politically colored and often profane labels. Whenever communities create opposition, a “dialectical process” takes place: when a new society is proposed, a “dialectical opponent” immediately presents itself. Basically, it is a sign that a community is creating effects in its environment: if there is no opposition, the group does not really affect its social environment.

A final reflection: if by “cult” we mean active ideological brainwashing, then the Roman Catholic Church should be considered the largest cult in the world (because it has been proselytizing for centuries and attaches a lot of value to conversion…).

The larger question therefore is not which groups behave like a “cult”: the problem is how one, as an individual, responds in this situation.

Damanhur vs historical “cult” label

…group that originates from a pre-existing religion

Damanhurian convictions do not depart from any previously existing organized pathway, whether religious or philosophical. Rather, these convictions represent a syncretistic philosophical elaboration (which is based on the contents of various historical experiences) that aims to create an original School of Thought.

…is a group closed within itself

Damanhur is socially active both in Italy and many countries worldwide, organizes conferences, conventions and educational courses and maintains thriving relationships with other communities. Damanhur is not a stranger to Italian politics, and holds active membership in a number of networks both in Italy (including Conacreis (Social Promotion Associations), Rive (union of Italian eco-villages)), and internationally – eg. GEN (Global Ecovillage Network). We have also founded an international NGO registered with the UN, and generally hold a rather vivid public profile.

…requires citizens to interrupt relations with their families and loved ones

Many parents and family members of Damanhurian citizens have moved to Damanhur and are now a significant percentage of residents in the municipalities of Valchiusella (where the Damanhurian communities are located).

…entraps and holds its members so that they cannot leave

Becoming a member of Damanhur is not an easy process that cannot be made without careful consideration; it takes at least a year before anyone can call themselves a “citizen” of Damanhur communities. Conversely, anyone who decides to leave the community can do so unilaterally at any moment, without as much as asking anyone.

…there is no possibility of thinking critically and creatively

The space for criticism and, above all, for creativity is very wide: from families to research and work groups. Creativity is considered one of the main characteristics of Damanhurian society; nurturing creative spirit is an integral part of the quality of life, practiced in recurring games (coordinated by the Game of Life movement, one of the main social fabric organisms of the Federation) and on many occasions involving art and craft workshops.

…is characterized by the absence of humor;

In Damanhurian philosophy, humor is considered a divine gift, to be discovered and used for evolutionary purposes. The opportunities for using humor are different: from informative publications circulating in the communities of the Federation to common moments of parties and public gatherings.

…leaves no room for any kind of reasoning;

Damanhur has published writings, research papers, and experiments since its beginning years. In the last decade, in particular, two public meetings have been held every week in which philosophical aspects relating to that research are discussed; the evenings are also open to the public. Publishing activity and public conferences Damanhur organizes and participates in are frequently used opportunities to inspire discussion on scientific and social issues. Many of these are also open to public.

…large movement of people in and out

Damanhur is known precisely for the opposite phenomenon, called “revolving doors”. It has a low percentage of exits and contains a number of entry requests, just to guarantee itself and the individuals who ask to be part of the Federation. Only those who know its philosophy and social organization become “citizens” of Damanhur, choosing to be an active subject of the Federation.

And here we answer typical questions…

Is there a boss who ultimately decides everything?

There is no concept of “boss”. In Damanhur, citizens participate in the elections of the community-level and federal governing bodies. This means most people can become candidates for any role, create electoral programs, everyone’s vote has equal power, etc. Whoever candidates for any position and gets elected, places themselves at the service of the public good: everyone in charge of any sector works towards the interests of community and its citizens.

Is there a common ownership of everything?

No. The citizens of Damanhur are members of associations that own dwellings and land. Individuals have their own private property and manage their businesses and money as they see fit.

How much does the promised “enlightenment” through courses and gadgets, end up costing?

The so-called “enlightenment” can only be obtained through personal will and commitment; it is always subject to an individual achievement, not a promise; therefore it has no material cost.

Are there intents to save humankind? Or perhaps salvation is meant for only a select few?

We have no objective of saving anyone, least of all we occupy ourselves with salvation of the select few. Evolution, if, how and possibly when occurs, concerns the entire human race.

Are there gods that are worshiped in Damanhur?

Damanhurian philosophy attributes a divine nature to the Human Being and does not provide for the worship of divinities as occurs in a religious context.

Are there rituals one must do, and esoteric attributes to utilize?

Damanhurian spirituality includes the celebration of the Solstices and Equinoxes as well as the Commemoration of the Dead, as many cultures have done and continue to do until today, in complete autonomy from any religious beliefs.

Are you prevented from reading “external” books?

Culture and education are based on studying, reading books, and the intelligent use of audio-visual and computer systems that everyone chooses for themselves and uses as they see fit.

Is there a tendency to diminish the value of contacts with relatives, friends or “external” connections?

The relationship with friends and family falls within the sphere of individual choices. Damanhurian philosophy is based on knowledge and respect for human experiences and supports the usefulness of exchanging experiences, information, and products made by others and with other organized social realities. Considering that everyone must be free to have relationships with whomever they wish, the Damanhurian philosophy encourages respect and harmony in relationships.

Do we tend towards autarchy?

Damanhur orients itself towards the concept of ‘self-sufficiency’ which is essentially an intent to be able to produce equivalent goods and energy to those we consume, in order to maintain a balance point in exploiting resources of our planet. We see this as an important goal from an ethical, economic, social, and environmental point of view.

Is there money going around?

Without economic autonomy, there is only dependence on someone, whether they are benefactors, patrons, philanthropists or others. Money is seen as a means to conquer and maintain the freedom of individuals in any society.

Does the boss have his own little harem?

Personal and sexual relationships are part of the private life of each individual: Damanhurians are asked to live harmonious relationships, always respecting the freedoms of others.

Do you work underpaid or for free inside the community?

In Damanhur all active people work and support themselves, consequently, with the fruit of their commitment. Participation of citizens in projects of common interest tends to be devotional and volunteering kind, according to the time resources each person is able to contribute. The practice of volunteering has, in fact, become a widespread phenomenon in progressive societies internationally in recent decades; it was also endemic to Italian social culture until the mid-1900s, when the citizens dedicated a few voluntary hours of work to small projects of common interest.

Are other religions or sects being belittled?

Damanhur exercises respect for philosophies and religions; what always counts is mutual respect. Before expecting it from others, it must be expressed.

How are you paying taxes?

Like the rest of the world: everyone observes their personal fiscal responsibility in relation to the activities and work performed.

Do the rules apply to some but not all?

The rules are the same for everyone.

Do you sell pseudo-therapies that have no scientific basis?

Science is not a dogma and neither should it play the role of an absolute religion, having claim to being the sole source of truth. We believe in natural therapies integrated with traditional and medical ones, according to a holistic idea of ​​well-being.

Do you have to ask permission to go out or not to attend certain mandatory meetings?

We asked parents for permission to go out only up to a certain age. Many young Damanhurians anticipated their autonomy as much as possible before reaching the age of maturity.

Only the “guru” and “that special” group give true salvation?

The only certainty included in our philosophy is that there are no certainties and doubt is a boost to knowledge.

Are there ‘special powers’ Damanhurians are promised to acquire? What of the extraordinary things being told about your “guru”?

We speak about what we are and what we do: whether these stories are perceived as extraordinary or normal is up to every listener to decide. ‘Special powers’ are only those that the human being can acquire through expanding existing senses. We believe such powers are much greater and more interesting than is normally believed.

Can the cult or the community be immune to the same problems as an organized religion or real society?

Damanhur’s philosophical thought excludes all certainty. Yet Damanhur does not intend to reproduce situations that we consider non-evolutionary.

Written by Coboldo Melo