More than 300 religious practitioners and representatives of cultic study organizations, including academics and ex-members, took part in a three-day conference entitled the “2011 International Conference: Psychological Manipulation, Cultic Groups, Social Addictions and Harm” in Barcelona Spain, July 7-9. ISKCON communication representatives were amongst the participants including Anuttama Das ISKCON World Communications, Mahaprabhu Das ISKCON European Communications, and Yadunandana Swami Bhaktivedanta College Principal at Radhadesh.
“They were very open and respectful to us and starting to see us in a new light” said Mahaprabhu Das. This is the result he explained “after many years of participating fully and creating trust with these organizations.”
ISKCON is now being considered more than ever as a serious religious organization. Creating trust with such organizations is no piece of cake for ISKCON devotees in many countries, as it is not an easy battle to re-establish broken or misapprehended relationships with cultic organizations. But it is events such as these that are changing the tides in the academic world and trickling their way down to the common understanding.
Yadunandana Swami explained that in Spain there was a particular misunderstanding of ISKCON propagated specifically by the news media. However this conception has been relieved and this very journalist has become a friend of the movement.
“Prominent anti-cult leaders are looking up to ISKCON as an organization who has developed from a state of immature cultic attitude to a respectable organization,” said Yadunanda Swami adding that “I think Anuttama Prabhu deserves the credit for this achievement [as he has been] helping our worldwide community to reflect on our behavior and to take responsibility for our mistakes in a mature way,” he said.
Although a majority of the event was spoken in Spanish, there were other English-only speaking persons than just our Anuttama Das, including Eileen Barker; of the UK based non-profit group INFORM, who is a familiar face to many ISKCON devotees as she was part of this year’s ISKCON Communications Seminar in Radhadesh where she made a presentation about New Religious Movements from an academic perspective. Here at this conference she made a presentation entitled “Religious Movements and Aging,” while Aunttama Das’ presentation was part of a section called “Applying Conflict Resolution and Mediation to Cultic and Related Problems – II, Changing Groups Through Dialogue: A Macro Approach to Conflict Resolution – The Case of ISKCON,” a panel discussion that dove into the past and future of the ISKCON movement. Anuttama Das has participated in many panel discussions in the ICSA over the years including an intriguing one entitled: “Can Cultic Groups Change?”
For Anuttama Das and others involved in the process of developing relationships with such organizations as the ICSA it is crucial that ISKCON is not afraid to speak of its past and address its current issues, using resources such as the ICSA conferences to better understand our own organization.
“ISKCON has made important steps to strengthen our society by developing international ombuds and mediation programs, a Child Protection Office, and expanded leadership programs to help leaders, including gurus, understand the importance of transparency, accountability, peer association, etc.” said Anuttama Das. “These are all ways to ensure healthy leadership and devotee care and avoid what the ICSA calls ‘cultic’ behaviors,” he said.
The ICSA is a non-profit organization created in 1979. It has a worldwide network organized to give information to people about abuse in cultic groups, alternative movements, and other environments. It is not affiliated with any religious or commercial organization.
Next year’s international event will take place in Montreal Canada, and the following year in Trieste Italy.