The Landmark Cult
It was recently brought to my attention that a family member of mine has been showing a growing interest in a group known as Landmark Worldwide. This group has been called a cult in media and as a matter of fact, was introduced to me as one. I shed the pejorative connotations associated with that label and began an impartial investigation. An article caught my eye published by the Guardian on the 14th of December 2003 by Amelia Hill titled “I Thought I’d be Brainwashed. But How Wrong Could I Be…” (http://tiny.cc/8fqbwx)
Amelia explains her journey with the “Forum”, a 39-hour program focused on personal development. She goes over a brief history of the organization and its attendance statistics as well her skepticism. Questioning former students only led to vague statements about ostensibly miraculous self-realization. The first day of the forum involves listening to a Landmark employee make grand claims about the organization, while insisting that success in the program can only be attained by abstaining from bathroom breaks and any other distraction.
Hill describes three days that are filled with religious and psychological theories and a strong encouragement to participate. Participants share their secrets and pain and Hill concludes that there is nothing yet magical about the forum. Day two involves defamatory words projected at the audience as a way, Hill suggests, to soften the individuals to resolving past indiscretions. Hill eventual “pops”, so to speak, and makes a phone call to an old friend to make up past transgressions.
I looked at Landmark Worldwide; a business designed for personal development and made an effort to classify it as a religious movement. I used Ninian Smart’s seven-dimension approach and found that Landmark Worldwide satisfies the ritual, experiential, and social dimensions but fails the material and mythic ones. If Landmark isn’t classifiable as a religious movement at all, where did the cult label come from? I believe that Landmark Worldwide has violated a number of societal mores and a misinformed public tried to find a label to distance themselves from it. The best analogy to the mores violated by the Landmark Forum is that of a cult, so the label stuck. This is a common fallacy, and what followed were attempts by the media to find the negative traits of a cult in the forum itself, tarnishing its name. Landmark Worldwide has since been quick to file lawsuits against those that label it as a cult. Hill acknowledges the cult accusations and addresses the common more that it is not normal to be separated from close friends and family. She found that Landmark Worldwide in fact attempts to bring family and friends closer, and this allegation has no basis.