The Boyd Cult Scale

By George A. Boyd © 2003

A rating scale for a religious or spiritual group can help you make a decision as to whether it is a cult. The Boyd Cult Scale uses 10 factors, each of which are ranked from 0 to 10.

0 is used to indicate that the factor is not present at all, on up to 10, which indicates that the factor is always present and completely true of the group. This yields a cumulative value from 0 to 100. Groups higher in cumulative value may be seen to have more features of a cultic group.

Cult Factors

The 10 factors of the Boyd Cult Scale are shown below.

Rate Each Item 0 to 10

Factor 1 Information Control — to what degree are followers not allowed to read materials not regarded as group scriptures, texts or literature?

Factor 2 Devotion for the leader — to what degree does the group encourage love and devotion to the leader of the group?

Factor 3 Dependence — to what degree is the followers’ behavior specified and directed by group doctrine and leader commandments, so that this guides followers’ decisions?

Factor 4 Coercion — to what degree are followers manipulated to enter the group and to remain in the group by instilling fear, shame or guilt, by humiliation or public embarrassment, or by threats or emotional blackmail?

Factor 5 Mystification — to what degree do followers learn a special language and interpretation of symbols that creates an alternate mindset from which they view reality?

Factor 6 Dissociation — to what degree are followers asked to remain in an altered state of awareness outside of their grounded state of awareness, affecting their ability to function normally in their personalities?

Factor 7 Identification — to what degree do followers identify themselves with an element of the Superconscious Mind (the spirit, their ensouling entity or a nucleus of identity) and detach from identification with their ego and self?

Factor 8 Isolation — to what degree does the group cut followers off from relating to family and friends outside the group, and limit contact with society outside the group?

Factor 9 Cognitive Restructuring — to what degree does indoctrination from the group change followers’ beliefs about themselves and their relationships with other people, their moral values and their cosmological world view?

Factor 10 Nexus of motivation — to what degree do followers’ goals and dreams shift from a personal focus to a spiritual focus, so that personal goals are postponed or abandoned altogether in favor of spiritual aspirations and group mission?

Deciding Whether a Group is a Cult

A rule of thumb that you may wish to use is that a group whose cumulative score is above 60 is probably a cult, with those above 50 being borderline.

Without actually joining the group, you can obtain information by:

  1. reading literature about the group written by cult researchers (may be moderately to strongly biased against the group).
  2. Analyze information written by the group (will be strongly biased for the group) to look at what they advocate for their followers (we suggest that you obtain actual texts or scriptures and not merely materials prepared for seekers).
  3. Interview current followers (may try to convert you — watch out!). They may be, moreover, very suspicious of your questioning and be guarded and defensive when answering your questions.
  4. Interview followers who have left the group (can be very candid, though will often emphasize negative experiences in the group). Interview questions should tap each factor so that you can get an impression of what the group actually does.

Assessing a Cult

Typical questions that you could ask include:

Factor 1: “Is it all right for you to read and study materials from outside of your group?”

Factor 2: “Who is your leader?” If they deify the leader or make him or her a savior figure, then you may assume that this factor is very high. In some groups, the leader may be the conduit, messenger, or prophet of the true leader, who is a spiritual leader or Master on the higher spiritual Planes—look for the uniqueness of his or her capacity to channel the leader or Master and how the member regards the leader.

Factor 3: “How much has your faith influenced your choices? Do you do the same things that you did before you joined the group or have you changed your behavior radically?”

Factor 4: “Do other members of your group or you leader ever make you afraid, shame you or embarrass you if you voice an opinion that they don’t agree with? If you ever thought of leaving this group, have the group members or leader pressured you to stay? Have they threatened you with fearful consequences if you do leave?”

Factor 5: “Did you have to learn a whole new set of ideas to understand your faith? Does your leader interpret your scripture in a way that is different but makes more sense to you now?”

Factor 6: “How much of the time are you asked to remain in union with your spiritual essence? Are you asked to continually meditate or pray?”

Factor 7: “Do you think of yourself as being your human self or personality, or as a spiritual essence now that you have become a member of this group?”

Factor 8: “Do you still have regular contact with your family and friends that you had before you joined the group? Does the group ask you to cut your ties with your family and friends because the are worldly or deluded?”

Factor 9: “Would you say that what you believe about yourself and your relationships with other people has changed a lot since you joined the group? What about your morality, your beliefs about what is right or wrong? Do you view the world differently? Have your beliefs about God changed?”

Factor 10: “Would you say that your spiritual aspirations and your desire to follow your teacher and to advance your group’s mission has become very important to you now? Do you still pursue your personal goals and dreams that you had before you joined the group?”

To Learn More

I believe that it is important that you thoroughly evaluate a group for its cultic potential before you join it.

If you are already attending the group, then you can also use this scale to determine if your group is cultic.

If you think that it is a cult, then you may wish to reflect upon what is the long-term outcome of continuing with this group.

We would also encourage you to study articles and texts about cults to learn more about their potential harmful effects. Books that I have read that I have found helpful include:

Tobias, Madeleine L. and Janja Lalich. Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships. Alameda: Hunter House, Inc., 1994.

Conway, Flo and Jim Siegelman. Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change. New York: Dell Pub. Co. 1981.

Sargent, William. Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing. New York: Harper and Row. 1959.

There are also several other articles that I have written about cults that you may wish to read to learn more about this topic. You can go to the cult section in our Library to read them.

For those of you who wish to make a more in-depth study about cults, you will benefit from reading our book on this topic, Religions, Cults, and Terrorism: What the Heck Are We Doing? [In 2023, we published the follow up volume to this book, The Path across the Sky: New Reflections on Religions, Cults, and Terrorism.]