‘The silent majority?’: understanding apostate testimony beyond ‘insider/outsider’ binaries in the study of new religions
Apostate testimony about new religious movements (NRMs) tends to polarise opinion. The public gain much of their information about NRMs from ex-members who are generally highly vocal and negative in assessing their experience. Academics, by contrast, have traditionally been wary of ex-member testimony: Lonnie D. Kliever, for example, writes, “apostates from new religions do not meet the standards of personal objectivity, professional competence, and informed understanding required of expert witnesses” (Kliever 1995:12; italics original). While the academic generally writes as an ‘outsider’ to the organisation being studied, the ex-member will often claim to have the advantage of knowing both sides of the story, having been both insider and outsider. It is our purpose in this discussion to evaluate the testimony of the ex-member, and to discuss how such testimonies may be used, both in the academic study of new religions, and also within the broader study of contemporary religion.