The new spiritual movements create curiousity around them all over the world. Sometimes the curiosity is expressed through suspicion, especially when newspapers, television stations, and badly informed blogs paint them in a negative way, hoping to have more clicks, but in general they urge attention to unusual themes such as the expression of personal freedom, of creativity, of faith as a way not only to save one’s soul but also to save the world.
One of the most authoritative private research centers in the field of spiritual movements and minority religions is the Study Center on New Religions (CESNUR), based in Italy, in Turin, founded by Massimo Introvigne and directed by him together with PierLuigi Zoccatelli. The CESNUR has for years been a fundamental reference on a global level on these issues and collaborates with the main universities of many countries. Every year it organizes an international conference, which attracts researchers from all over the world. This year’s conference, hosted by the Campus Luigi Einaudi university facilities, took place at the headquarters in Turin. The event took place from September 5th to 7th, on the theme “Re-Enchanting the World: Spiritualities and Religions of the Third Millennium“.

A diffused problem

One of the most interesting sessions was the one dedicated to mental manipulation, how the media, and in particular the publishing industry, deals with themes connected to the new spiritual and religious movements in an often biased way, trying to promote a distorted idea based on the principle of “cult” and “mental manipulation”. It is a widespread problem all over the world and, if on one hand it damages the movements because it defames them, on the other it damages the general public because it feeds them with fear and mistrust and precludes them from exploring their own original experiences.
The session, chaired by Introvigne, was conducted by psychologist Raffaella Di Marzio, founder of the Centro Studi Lirec, which deals with the protection of religious and spiritual rights in many countries. The speakers’ interventions emphasized that journalistic investigations of spiritual movements that are not based on real investigations but on fragmentary prejudices and information, which therefore create a distorted perception of the reality of the movements themselves, are increasing. Even the terminology that is used is often inadequate, starting with the use of the word “sect”, born to define new experiences that stand apart from others. From this point of view, one could say that Christianity was a sect of Judaism, and later became a kind of passe-partout to define groups of which it is good to be wary. By calling “sects” both spiritual groups and those who are actually guilty of crimes, the distortion of reality is complete.

Visiting Damanhur

The CESNUR conference covered new religious and spiritual movements also from other points of view, tracing a broad overview both on the nature and on the spread of the phenomenon.
The last part of the event consisted of a field trip in two areas close to the main venue. On Saturday the participants first visited the Anima Universal Church, not far from Turin, and then came to visit Damanhur.
The researchers, for some of whom it was the first direct contact with Damanhur, visited Damjl, the Temples of Humankind and finally Damanhur Crea, the art and research center.
Here, the closing dinner of the CESNUR conference was also held, in which it was announced that the 2020 meeting will take place at the Université Laval, in Québec (Canada).
The contemporary presence of so many scholars is not an unprecedented event for Damanhur, which was already the site of similar events in the past, but always represents a moment of reflection on the identity of the Federation of Communities. Also for this reason, it is always a pleasure to host researchers who are not only prepared but also honest and sensitive.