May 16, 2022

International Cultic Studies Association Announces Retirement of Executive Director

 The Board of Directors of International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) hereby announces that Michael Langone, after more than 40 years of service to ICSA, is retiring as Executive Director on July 31, 2022.  We will soon send an announcement on the search process to hire his successor. Michael, who will be available in a consultative role after the new executive director is hired, has guided us through many years of challenges and successes. The following are his reflections on his upcoming retirement.

Though I turned 75 last fall, I am not retiring because of ill health. My health is good, and statistics say that I should have productive years ahead of me. I remain supportive of and supported by the Board of Directors. However, as the old Frank Sinatra song says, I am in “the September of my years.”  I want to devote the autumn of my life to personal pursuits, especially writing projects. I have been thinking about retirement for a long time. 

Nobody alive has been as closely connected to ICSA for as long as I have. I was there at ICSA’s inception in 1979. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had stumbled into a career. I have seen ICSA’s ups and downs. I was there when we were excited about the future and when we thought for sure that we would go under. 

ICSA was founded as a professional organization that aimed to research the cult phenomenon, educate the public, and help its victims – a mission that we have pursued since our founding. In its early years, the organization was fortunate to have been led by dedicated persons who shared ICSA’s founding vision: Kay Barney, Jack Clark, Guy Ford, and Herb Rosedale. See the ICSA history page.

In the 1980s, ICSA consisted of a small staff and several dozen volunteers who were mainly helping professionals, clergy, educators, researchers, parents, and former cult members. This early group was diverse. They had different socio-economic backgrounds, professional disciplines, religious perspectives, and political affiliations. What united them was a moral outrage about how some cultic groups mistreated and exploited their members.  Dr. John Clark called the cult phenomenon “an impermissible experiment.” He said that cults were using techniques of behavioral change and control that no ethical researcher would be allowed to use. In short, what held ICSA’s diverse group together – and still holds us together – was a belief that “people shouldn’t be treated like that.” That proposition has unified us over the years and made us seek always to avoid the exploitative manipulation and closed-mindedness that characterize harmful cults. Thus, ICSA has always tried to be respectful and open to people with diverse, even conflicting, views.

In its early years, most people who approached ICSA for information or assistance were families concerned about a cult-involved loved one. As the years passed more and more former cult members sought help and became involved as volunteers. By the end of the 1980s, ICSA’s leadership realized, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of former cult member Carol Giambalvo, that former members were vital to the future of this movement. We formalized this then radical notion under the rubric of Project Recovery. My edited book, Recovery from Cults (1993), was a vital achievement of Project Recovery. But the book was only a tangible product of a broad effort.

The 1990s was an energetic decade. Several important research studies were conducted. We did important educational work under the leadership of Marcia Rudin. ICSA changed to a membership structure, which fortified the ties binding its supporters and volunteers. Former members became more active. ICSA established important relationships with cult education organizations in other countries. We began the annual international conference that continues to this day. And we began to talk about what made ICSA unique, namely, that the organization somehow brought together in a coherent way four important constituencies: former members, families, helping professionals, and researchers.  The disciplined diversity of interests, needs, and perspectives of these four constituencies interacting with each other has brought breadth and depth to ICSA.

Before his death in 2003, Herb Rosedale, who had been ICSA’s president and legal advisor for many years, was a larger-than-life presence within the ICSA world. I estimate that he gave at least two million dollars in pro bono legal assistance to former members, families, professionals, writers, and researchers. He was idealistic, yet he understood and was comfortable in the world of money and power. His moral compass kept ICSA pointed in the right direction. His practical wisdom kept us tied to reality. His death in November of 2003 was a crisis.

Since I had worked so closely with Herb, I felt obligated after his death to do what I could to preserve his legacy. Herb’s leadership style rested on informality, creativity, and dynamism. This worked when Herb was at the helm. But I knew that ICSA would have to change after he died. So, I talked with people who had been active in ICSA for many years, and we formed a revitalized Board of Directors, with Alan Scheflin as the first president to succeed Herb. Since that time, the Board has been at the helm, even as its membership has changed. The Board now has its fifth president since Herb’s death, Debby Schriver.  Steve Eichel, Lorna Goldberg, Phil Elberg, and Alan preceded her.  Under Debby’s leadership, ICSA is undergoing a governance review that aims to prepare the organization for the next 40 years. 

The smoothness with which these leadership changes have occurred bodes well for the future. 

Though I stumbled into a career in 1979 (my life plan never included anything related to “cult”), that career has been gratifying. I have learned so much about how humans do – as well as how they ought to – relate to other persons. I have had the privilege of working with so many good people: Christians and Jews (from liberal to orthodox in both religions – clergy and laypersons), agnostics, atheists, republicans, democrats, libertarians, socialists, therapists (from all theoretical perspectives), researchers, lawyers, writers, journalists, educators, businesspersons, family members, former members, and so many others whose lives were affected by cults. I salute you all! 

And I trust that you – the more than 5000 individuals who receive ICSA’s emails - will preserve ICSA’s legacy so that future generations will benefit from what we have collectively learned as we pondered and acted on the moral proposition that “people shouldn’t be treated like that.” 

International Cultic Studies Association, Inc.
PO Box 2265
Bonita Springs, FL 34133

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