In this article from 1994, Professor Bryan Ronald Wilson briefly describes the history of apostasy—for instance in Roman Catholic and Protestant Christian churches—as a means to compare and contrast contemporary understandings of apostasy with respect to new religious movements. According to Dr. Wilson, apostates (ex-members) of new religious movements ought to be viewed with suspicion by academics and media outlets. “The apostate,” he explains, “is generally in need of self-justification. He seeks to reconstruct his own past, to excuse his former affiliations, and to blame those who were formerly his closest associates. Not uncommonly the apostate learns to rehearse an ‘atrocity story’ to explain how, by manipulation, trickery, coercion, or deceit, he was induced to join or to remain within an organization that he now forswears and condemns. Apostates, sensationalized by the press, have sometimes sought to make a profit from accounts of their experiences in stories sold to newspapers or produced as books (sometimes written by ‘ghost’ writers)…. Neither the objective sociological researcher nor the court of law can readily regard the apostate as a creditable or reliable source of evidence,” Dr. Wilson concludes. “As various instances have indicated, he is likely to be suggestible and ready to enlarge or embellish his grievances to satisfy that species of journalist whose interest is more in sensational copy than in objective statement of truth.”
Bryan Ronald Wilson, Ph.D., (1926–2004) was reader emeritus in sociology at the University of Oxford. From 1963 to 1993 he was also a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and in 1993 was elected an emeritus fellow. For more than fifty years he conducted research into minority religious movements in Britain, the United States, Ghana, Kenya, Belgium, Japan and other countries. Dr. Wilson earned his doctorate in sociology from the London School of Economics in 1955, authored dozens of articles, and wrote or edited dozens of books, including: Sects and Society: The Sociology of Three Religious Groups in Britain (1961); Patterns of Sectarianism (edited, 1967); Religious Sects (1970, also published in translation in French, German, Spanish, Swedish and Japanese); Magic and the Millennium (1973); Contemporary Transformations of Religion (1976, also published in translation in Italian and Japanese); The Social Impact of the New Religious Movements (edited, 1981); Religion in Sociological Perspective (1982); The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism (1990); and A Time to Chant: the Soka Gakki Buddhists in Britain (1994). In 1984, the University of Oxford recognized the value of his published work by conferring upon him the degree of D.Litt. In 1992, the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, awarded him the degree of doctor honoris causa. In 1994, he was elected a fellow of the British Academy.