I have lived in Canada since 1977, and for decades considered myself Canadian (although I do hold dual citizenship, mostly for professional and familial reasons). My second MA and then PhD are from McMaster University in Ontario, and (with the exception of one year when I was in the Sociology department at the University of Waterloo) I have been at the University of Alberta since January 1984.
I received two Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grants to study sects, cults, and new religions in Canada and the United States, and because of this research I have amassed one of North America's largest collections on alternative and sectarian religions (currently owned as a restricted collection by the University Library). Graduate and undergraduate students use the collection (under my supervision) on a regular basis.
Because of this research and my work with students, I received my department's undergraduate teaching award (the Bill Meloff Award for Undergraduate Teaching) in 2010, and one of three campus-wide Graduate Supervisor Awards from the Graduate Students' Association in 2009.
For advancing the understanding of coercive persuasion and undue influence through my publications on the harmful aspects of some religious and other ideological sects, the International Cultic Studies Association awarded me the Margaret Thaler Singer Award in 2012
With degrees in both religious studies and sociology, my research and teaching interests focus on a wide variety of religious organizations and practices. Most of my research, and at least one course that I teach, is on controversial sects, cults, and alternative religions.I am working, for example, on a large project involving mental health issues related to sectarian leaders, and I have ongoing research and writing interests in the disturbing area of child sexual abuse in alternative religions.
Students under my supervision have published on a wide variety of topics. These topics include:: Evangelical youth and sexuality, medical doctors' concerns around vaccinations, Jim Jones's use of language, apocalypticism and white racism; anti-racist skinheads; sects and family violence; internal sectarian dissent; Scientology's business management programs; terrorism; Edmonton spiritual teacher John De Ruiter; Max Weber on charisma; sociology of knowledge issues surrounding the study of alternative religions; religion and child sexual abuse; psychobiographies of sectarian leaders; fundamenatalist Pakistani madrassahs, medical and psuedo-medical issues invovling some sects; pseudo-science; Scientology; dietary issues in some sects; social movements; the Children of God/The Family; sectarian surveillance issues; Heaven's Gate; rational choice theory; Marxism and sectarianism; and jurisprudence violations involving many sects.
My courses include ones on the sociology of religion; social psychology, religious sectarianism; fundamentalism, and the sociology of deviance and conformity. I also oversee numerous reading courses and independent studies for students, Finally, I supervise, and serve on committees of, numerous graduate students on the Masters and doctoral levels in both Sociology and Religious Studies.
Processes involved in defining behaviour patterns as deviant; factors that influence conformity and change; examination of behaviour patterns such as sexuality, alcoholism, drug use, and selected mental and physical disabilities; public reaction to such behaviour.Fall Term 2020
An introduction to the study of individual and group behaviour observed in social processes. Prerequisites: SOC 100, or PSYCO 104 or 105, or consent of instructor. Note: SOC 241 and PSYCO 241 may not both be taken for credit.Winter Term 2021
Religion as a social phenomenon: theories of religious behaviour; religious authority and leadership; the individual's religion and the interplay with other spheres of social life; the role of religion in relation to social change and social integration. Prerequisite: SOC 100 or consent of instructor.Fall Term 2020
Examination of conversion, membership maintenance, member disaffiliation, and resource acquisition strategies among religious sects. Emphasis on Canadian examples. Prerequisites: SOC 376 or consent of instructor.Winter Term 2021
I have been involved in thirty-four cult-related court cases, either through expert reports or court testimony, Cases involved:
Scientology (25 cases)
Polygamy (1 report and 1 testimony)
Satanism (3 testimonies)
Children of God (1 deposition)
Kabalarians (1 report)
VRRP Spiritual Learning (2 reports)
These cases have taken place in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland