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I know what a sekt is, but I’m still not sure what a sect is. What I do know is that the non-profit organization “New Acropolis” is considered a sect in some countries, including France and Belgium.

This organization runs courses about philosophy and the (free) introductory meeting for one such course took place yesterday, here in Lausanne – a great chance to see what a sect is really like!

Given the large number of posters spread all around the city, I was surprised to find myself in a room with only 5 other “students” along with the teacher. My fellow students spanned the whole age spectrum between 25 and 75 years. The teacher appeared to be in his 50s. If I had even the slightest talent for visual memory, I’d describe the whole scenery in far more detail, but people who know me will understand that I’ll have to leave more or less everything to your imagination.

Anyways, the teacher started with explaining the structure of the course and the teaching method. The program you can find here. The method … well, it claims to be heavily based on comparative studies between various schools of philosophy, spanning the last 4000 years and all continents (… except the Arcticas). The official aim of the course is “to produce philosophers and not philosophy teachers”, meaning that it is supposed to be of very practical use and not academic philosophy for its own sake. So far nothing conspicuous. It was made clear that the organization (and the course) were both apolitical and secular.

Actually, nothing that was mentioned during the first 60 minutes gave even the slightly hint of any lurking danger. There was just an obviously very well-read person outlining methods and contents which would appeal to any curious person.

So finally, after all the nice chit chat,  I asked the teacher, why he thought that the organization was considered a sect in some countries.

Some points from his answer were that:

(i) Any way of thinking which is not in line with the “regime” tends to be regarded as potentially dangerous. E.g., the  comparative approach which also takes positive examples from the Arabic culture could cause some mistrust.

(ii) As the organization is secular it is regarded with disdain by the established churches.  For these powerful organizations it is a very effective way to get rid off competitors by simply branding them as “sects”.

(iii) [Not directly an answer but still interesting:] He said that he’d much rather follow a supposed “dangerous cult” than following the mainstream thinking.

(iv) He also said that he’d like to talk to anybody who has worries/concerns and who is thinking about dropping the course.

One thing which he said at the end (and in an apparent attempt to label me as a coward), and which I found rather cheap, was that they only want people who have enough courage to join and to live with occasional scornful comments by outsiders.

So, is it a sect? Well, according to the overall impression I got (also from other helping volunteers) the group certainly has a strong sense of identity and I could see, how there’d be a lot of peer pressure put on anybody who wants to leave. But then this characterization also holds for the local football club.

In the end, I still don’t know what really constitutes a sect. Maybe the best way to find out is to start my own sect. Any faithful apostles among you?

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That’s what Max Liebermann said exactly 75 years ago, when Adolf Hitler was sworn in as chancellor. (The original quote is: “Ich kann gar nicht so viel fressen, wie ich kotzen möchte.“)

Wow!

I’ve already had 7 visits to my blog. If I can increase the total number of hits by a factor of 7 every day, then in less than two weeks the whole world will have read my blog! Obviously, a wise decision by them!  😉

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