The book, Cults: Faith, Healing and Coercion (Oxford 1999), by Marc Galanter, is hard to put down.
It’s not just an excellent introduction to the dynamics of religious cults, but of social psychology in general.
The author uses systems theory as a method for thinking about cults—reflecting, for example, on how feedback, monitoring, and group border control can assist us in understanding insular religious movements.
One interesting aspect of cults that the author discusses, and that I had not ever read elsewhere, is their ability to induce in members the ‘Stockholm Effect.’
This is a term borrowed from a hostage bank robbery in Stockholm some years back, in which hostages began to identify with the person holding them hostage. The author argues that something like this is going on in charismatic religious movements, where initiates are both threatened with abuse and derive their emotional comfort from the same source. People are made to feel abandoned or damned if they stray from the group’s norms, but are given family comfort and safety if they adhere closely to the group’s beliefs and goals. Like a roach motel, you check in, but have difficulty checking out.
I feel that this book’s insights into the social psychology of cults is also valuable in understanding propagandistic movements and charismatic manipulation generally. For those interested in the academic study of cults, charismatic movements, or social psychology in general, I recommend it strongly.
You can find the book at Amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/Cults-Healing-Coercion-Marc-Galanter/dp/0195123700/ref=cm_cr-mr-img