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CESNUR (English: Center for Studies on New Religions, Italian: Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni), is an organization based in Turin, Italy.[1] It was established in 1988 by Italian attorney Massimo Introvigne, American historian of religion J. Gordon Melton, and British sociologist Eileen Barker. Introvigne serves as its director.

CESNUR (Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni)
FounderMassimo Introvigne
Typepublic non-profit
Purpose"Promote scholarly research in the field of new religious consciousness, and are dedicated to exposing the problems associated with some movements, while defending the principles of religious liberty"
HeadquartersTurin, Italy
ServicesResearch, Academic study of new religious movements
private persons
Massimo Introvigne
Key people
Luigi Berzano, J. Gordon Melton, Eileen Barker, Massimo Introvigne, Michael Homer, Reender Kranenborg, Gianni Ambrosio

CESNUR describes itself as an independent scholarly organization, but the organization has met with criticism for personal and financial ties to the groups it studies, leading one critic to accuse CESNUR of acting as an "apologetic political lobby group" for those sects.[2]


According to their website, CESNUR is devoted to promoting scholarly research in the field of new religious consciousness, and is dedicated to exposing the problems associated with some movements, while defending the principles of religious liberty.

While established by a group of scholars who were mostly Roman Catholics, CESNUR is not affiliated with any religious group or denomination and has from the outset included scholars of various religious persuasions.[3]

CESNUR is critical of concepts like mind control, thought reform and brainwashing, asserting that they lack scientific and scholarly support and are mainly based on anecdotal evidence. Thfey do not believe that all religious movements are benign but oppose special laws against religious movements.

Members and affiliates

CESNUR-affiliated scholars include:[citation needed]

Funding sources

The Italian authorities recognized CESNUR as a public non-profit organization in 1996 and were contributors to CESNUR projects.[3] Other sources of income include book royalties and member contributions.[3][4]


CESNUR sponsors yearly conferences in the field of new religions.[5] From 2017, CESNUR publishes the scholarly journal The Journal of CESNUR.[6] From May 2018, CESNUR publishes Bitter Winter, an online magazine on religions and human rights in China.[7]

Leaders of CESNUR have testified in court on behalf of the Church of Scientology and the Unification Church ("Moonies").[2]

Melton-Lewis investigation of Aum ShinrikyoEdit

Symbol of Aum Shinrikyo.

In May 1995, in the early stages of investigations into the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, CENSUR co-founder J. Gordon Melton, fellow scholar James R. Lewis and religious freedom lawyer Barry Fisher flew to Japan to voice concern that police behaviour, including mass detentions without charge and the removal of practitioners' children from the group, might be infringing the civil rights of Aum Shinrikyo members.[8][9][10] They had travelled to Japan at the invitation and expense of Aum Shinrikyo after they had contacted the group to express concern over developments, and met with officials over a period of three days.[8] While not having been given access to the group's chemical laboratories, they held press conferences in Japan stating their belief, based on the documentation they had been given by the group,[8][10] that the group did not have the ability to produce sarin and was being scapegoated.[8][9] Melton revised his judgment shortly after, concluding that the group had in fact been responsible for the attack and other crimes.[9] Some felt that the scholars' defense of Aum Shinrikyo led to a crisis of confidence in religious scholarship when the group's culpability was proven.[9] [11][12]


Scholar Herman de Tollenaere wrote of CENSUR: "one gets the impression of people blurring lines between such a scientific organization and an apologetic political lobby group for those movements"[2] In 2001, French publication L'Humanité criticized CENSUR: "Created in 1988 in Turin by the lawyer Massimo Introvigne, he distinguished himself in France by his systematic interventions in favor of sects brought to justice: Jehovah's Witnesses , Scientology , Order of the Solar Temple, etc. Moon , AUM sect (responsible for a deadly attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995), all the sects know they can count on CESNUR".[13]

Scholars Stephen A. Kent and Raffaella Di Marzio have argued that CESNUR's representation of the brainwashing controversy is one-sided, polemical and sometimes without scholarly value.[14][15]

CESNUR again met with controversy when one of the CESNUR's featured conference speakers, who was to present scholarship on the religious group New Acropolis, was discovered to be a member of the very group she purported to study.[11] Michiel Louter writing for Dutch magazine De Groene Amsterdammer opined: It is difficult to believe that CESNUR-director Introvigne was not up-to-date on her membership in the group.[11] CENSUR members have been criticized for "having too close personal and/or financial ties to problematic religious organizations". [2]

In an official OSCE report, Dick Marty, Swiss senator accused CENSUR of misrepresentation.[16]

Introvigne responded by claiming that the anti-cult movement have accused CESNUR of being a front for "Freemasonry, a "Methodist cult", the Roman Catholic Church and a number of Catholic organizations, including Opus Dei and Alleanza Cattolica." He noted that one of the directors, J. Gordon Melton, was an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, and that Introvigne himself was a member of Alleanza Cattolica, which he described as "a lay Catholic organization, enjoying a good relationship with a number of Italian Catholic dioceses where it is established, about which much nonsense has been written in Germany". Introvigne stated that CESNUR's only institutional funding came from the government of the Region of Piedmont, and that it did not receive funds from any religious organization or institution.[17]


  1. ^ Chryssides, George D. (2012). Historical Dictionary of New Religious Movements. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-8108-6194-7.
  2. ^ a b c d Scholars or Apologists? Herman de Tollenaere, 1997
  3. ^ a b c Fautré, Willy (2006), "Non-state actors and Religious Freedom in Europe", in Andreopoulos, George J.; Kabasakal Arat, Zehra F.; Juviler, Peter H. (eds.), Non-state actors in the human rights universe, Kumarian Press, ISBN 978-0-415-30948-6
  4. ^ Clarke, Peter (2004). Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements. Routledge. p. 101. ISBN 978-1-134-49970-0.
  5. ^ Lewis, James R. (2014). Cults: A Reference and Guide. Routledge. p. 204. ISBN 978-1-317-54513-2.
  6. ^ "The Journal of CESNUR".
  7. ^ "Bitter Winter".
  8. ^ a b c d "Tokyo Cult Finds an Unlikely Supporter", The Washington Post, T.R. Reid, May 1995.
  9. ^ a b c d Ian Reader, "Scholarship, Aum Shinrikyo, and Academic Integrity" Archived 2011-10-05 at the Wayback Machine, Nova Religio 3, no. 2 (April 2000): 368-82.
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ a b c
  12. ^ "A Rejoinder To Melton, Shupe, And Lewis " in Skeptic Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 1 1999
  13. ^ Dangerous liaisons Lyons universities , L'Humanité, June 27, 2001 by Serge Garde
  14. ^ Kent, Stephen A. (January 2001). "The French and German versus American debate over 'new religions', Scientology and human rights" (PDF). Marburg Journal of Religion. 6 (1).
  15. ^ "Brainwashing" in New Religious Movements, by Alberto Amitrani and Raffaella Di Marzio, from the Roman seat of G.R.I.S., April, 1998.
  16. ^ European Federation of Research and Information Centres on Sectarism (FECRIS): request for consultative status with the Council of Europe[dead link] Archived December 19, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Introvigne, Massimo (1998). Blacklisting or Greenlisting? A European Perspective on the New Cult Wars, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 1 (3), 16-23


  • Introvigne, Massimo (2016). CESNUR: a short history. In: Gallagher, Eugene V, (ed.), 'Cult Wars' in Historical Perspective: New and Minority Religions. Routledge. pp. 23–31. ISBN 978-1-317-15666-6.

External linksEdit