Cult controversies are enduring in France, and it is likely that the state will continue to be involved, but there are signs of a possible change on this issue, reported French sociologist Véronique Altglas, currently a research fellow at the University of Cambridge, at the recent INFORM/CESNUR conference in London (April 16– 19).
Some changes have already taken place over the past few years: for instance, the notorious list of 172 “dangerous” movements included in the 1995 parliamentary report is no longer allowed to be used for official purpose since 2005. At the same time, however, the French MIVILUDES (Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combating Cultic Deviances) has tended to extend its field to alleged “cultic” risks presented by certain techniques (e.g. various therapeutic practices).
Moreover, MIVILUDES continues to be engaged in a privileged partnership with private anti-cult groups, giving it what could sometimes appear as a quasi-official status. However, Altglas remarks that other voices are increasingly heard: the head of the department in charge of religions at the Ministry of Interior has voiced very critical comments regarding MIVILUDES. In contrast to some perceptions, Altglas suggests that French State agencies are far from being unanimous in their approach to the issue. This has been made clear by recent comments by President Sarkozy’s cabinet secretary, describing cults as a “non-issue” in France.
This does not mean that the State intends to give up the monitoring of possible deviances associated with “cults”. But there are indications that the French Ministry of Interior would like it to be a more neutral approach, concerned only about wrongdoings against the law and more consistent with a positive interpretation of French secularism, according to Altglas’ analysis. It remains, however, to be seen if such projects will be implemented and how far it will be possible for the State to dissociate such efforts from those of anti-cult groups.