Janja Lalich

Janja Lalich (born 1945) is an American author and professor of sociology who focuses on cult groups, specializing in charismatic authority, power relations, ideology, coercion and social control.[1][2]

Janja Lalich
OrganizationCalifornia State University, Chico
Notable work
Bounded Choice

Early life and educationEdit

The daughter of Serbian immigrants,[3] Janja Lalich was born in 1945. Lalich has a Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California.[1] Beginning in the 1970s, Lalich spent around ten years as part of a radical Marxist-Leninist group, the Democratic Workers Party in California. She later came to believe the group was itself a cult. Lalich recalls that during her time in the group she stored questions and doubts in the back of her mind, unable to express them.[2] Lalich became a high-ranking member of the group working long hours with little contact outside the immediate members. She claims that ex-members were harassed and attacked and that she felt increasingly threatened. Eventually, the group dissolved and she was able to leave.[4]


She is recently retired professor in the sociology department of California State University, Chico[5] and has contributed several articles to academic journals on the subject of cults and religions.[6] After her experiences in a radical political group that she herself calls a cult, she founded the Center for Research on Influence and Control. In her work, she describes the main descriptors of a "totalistic" control group, or cult: "They “espouse an all-encompassing belief system,” “exhibit excessive devotion to the leader,” “avoid criticism of the group and its leader,” and “feel disdain for non-members.”"[7]

Lalich went onto write several books on the subject of cults and religions, including her best known book, Bounded Choice (2004) based on the Heaven's Gate cult.[8] As a recognised authority in the field, Lalich has also appeared in several court cases as an expert witness on coercive or undue influence.[9]

In 2007, Lalich was awarded the Margaret L. Singer Award: "for advancing the understanding of coercive persuasion, undue influence, and psychological manipulation" by the International Cultic Studies Association.[10][11]


  • Tobias, Madeleine Landau; Lalich, Janja (May 1994). Captive Hearts, Captive Minds : Freedom and recovery from cults and abusive relationships. Alameda, CA: Hunter House. ISBN 978-0897931458.
  • Singer, Margaret Thaler; Lalich, Janja (1 March 1995). Cults in Our Midst. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0787900519.
  • Singer, Margaret Thaler; Lalich, Janja (27 September 1996). "Crazy" Therapies : What are they? Do they work?. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0787902780.
  • Zablocki, Benjamin; Robbins, Thomas, eds. (1 November 2001). Misunderstanding Cults : Searching for objectivity in a controversial field. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 123–155. ISBN 978-0802043733.
  • Lalich, Janja A. (15 September 2004). Bounded Choice : True believers and charismatic cults ([Online-Ausg.] ed.). Berkeley [u.a.]: Univ. of California Press. ISBN 978-0520231948.
  • Lalich, Janja; Tobias, Madeleine (17 August 2006). Take Back Your Life : Recovering from cults and abusive relationships. Berkeley, Calif.: Bay Tree Pub. ISBN 978-0972002158.
  • Lalich, Janja; McLaren, Karla (2017). Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over. Routledge. ISBN 9781138239746.


  1. ^ a b Zablocki, Benjamin; Robbins, Thomas, eds. (1 November 2001). Misunderstanding Cults : Searching for objectivity in a controversial field. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 522. ISBN 978-0802043733.
  2. ^ a b Wollan, Malia. "How to Get Someone Out of a Cult". New York Times. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  3. ^ Lalich, Janja. "The Violent Outcomes of Ideological Extremism: What Have We Learned Since Jonestown?". jonestown.sdsu.edu. Retrieved 17 October 2020.
  4. ^ Paoletta, Rae. "Women share their real-life horror stories of surviving a cult". Revelist. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  5. ^ "Campus Directory". CSU, Chico. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  6. ^ "Janja Lalich". ResearchGate. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  7. ^ Al-sibai, Noor. "Expert explains how Trump's GOP has turned into a cult". Raw Story. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  8. ^ Taylor, Laurie. "Thinking Allowed: Charismatic cults". BBC Radio. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  9. ^ Berman, Sarah. "Courts Are Rarely Kind to 'Brainwashed' Victims". Vice. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  10. ^ Ashcraft, W. Michael (2018). A Historical Introduction to the Study of New Religious Movements. Routledge. pp. Chapter 4. ISBN 978-1351670838. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  11. ^ "Awards". International Cultic Studies Association. Retrieved 4 October 2018.