Document Type


Publication Date


Faculty Mentor

Maura Hanlon


The term "cult" has various definitions in academic discourse, including religious or quasi-religious groups and small, ideologically aligned communities. This paper explores the complexity of the term, its alternative labels, and the influence of media portrayal on public perception. It examines cult leaders' attributes, focusing on the "dark triad" personality traits—narcissism, machiavellianism, and psychopathy—and their manifestation in charismatic leaders. The functionality of cults is scrutinized, highlighting their appeal as a familial structure and promises of intellectual, spiritual, and political power. However, the darker side of cult functionality involves manipulative recruitment tactics and thought-stopping techniques. Additionally, the paper examines susceptibility to cult recruitment in relation to emotional vulnerabilities, psychological tendencies, and motivations, emphasizing the role of personality traits, particularly agreeableness. The paper also delves into the psychological trauma faced by ex-cult members, examining challenges in identity redefinition, trust issues, and difficulties in forming social connections.


Presented as part of the Ursinus College Celebration of Student Achievement (CoSA) held April 24, 2024.

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Poster Presentation

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