Richard Monvoisin

Doctor of didactic sciences and part-time lecturer at the University Grenoble 1, France. He is a specialist in the education of critical thought. He is a researcher associated with the laboratory of Zetetic science in Nice



 outline of a teaching kit on the lexis used by cults[1]


For a last minute health problem Richard Monvoisin was not present with us in Pisa but was kind enough to allow us to publish his interesting comments.

I am to some extent an intruder in this congress, because even if I am a member of GEMPPI, my work does not concern cults/sects explicitly. I am a researcher associated with the laboratory of Zetetic science in Nice and part-time lecturer of Zetetic in the faculty of Grenoble. That means that my essential work concerns Zetetic, from the Greek name Zeteîn meaning “to seek the reason of things”. The modern interpretation of the word Zetetic covers two concepts. Initially, the investigation of phenomena considered strange, odd, supernatural, paranormal: I study all the extraordinary theories which seem to leave the interpretative framework of known science. I work therefore on “scientific” beliefs, i.e. those which

attempt to gain people’s adhesion with insufficient evidence.


Zetetic for us means all that refers to education to critical thought. Using the strange phenomena we study, we point out distorted reasoning, traditional errors of interpretation, sophisms, the mental mechanisms of persistence in adhesion. The objective is to guide individuals toward working out a panoply of tools for intellectual self-defence vis-à-vis all the requests which could take over their judgement fallaciously.


This means that my colleagues and I work upstream of the problems which are of concern to you. We know that local associations dealing with cults such as ADFI or the GEMPPI in France would not have so much work if we, the teachers of critical thought, were numerous and did our work well. The strategy is thus to develop this education, on all the levels: a kind of prevention of sectarianism at the source. That seems all the more easy to achieve as the concepts brought into play are simple and do not require pointed scientific training.


Language is the first chronological source of sectarian alienation. Many individuals get caught into the sectarian spiral starting because of a close relationship of language, a kind of tacit intellectual communion on the basis of a common vocabulary. That is the reason that I chose, with Didier Pachoud, to speak to you on this subject. I will point out two preconditions which seem significant to me.


Firstly, the best means that I know to teach someone to detect an error or an intellectual trap is to name it.


Secondly, the best way to teach is to give it a name easy to retain.


There are four points which I will approach during the conference and whose illustration can easily be replaced by others, in your language, your country, your social group.


1)      Terms with scientific but diverted “savour”, like energy, resonance, magnetism, etc. To indicate these shifts in the meaning of a word, in Zetetic we speak of the Door mat Effect. Why door mat? Because frequently “Wipe your feet” is written on door mats. However, no one ever removes shoes, socks, and literally wipes his feet. The shift in meaning, without consequence here, can be dramatic in certain cases.


2)      Some intuitive hold-all concepts: balance (and unbalance), fluids (strange powers), tensions, aura, wellbeing, personal development. We speak in Zetetic about Impact Effect, since the choice of the words rests not on their meaning but on the emotional impact which they generate.


3)      Some rhetoric: at least three kinds are very simple to explain. The rhetoric of initiatory secrecy, which makes it possible to flatter the “prey”. The rhetoric of the external plot, which makes it possible to isolate him. Lastly, the rhetoric of the false dilemma, which consists in creating an illusion to give credit to one’s camp by criticizing a competitive discipline.


4)      Vague claims. Show that certain cultic theories are sufficiently nebulous that, even without real effect, the follower cannot check the alleged effects himself and loses  all control of what he is putting into practice.


All activity will centre on finding the examples which, taken in the sociolinguistic sphere of your public, will be give you the possibility of sensitizing the latter one and leave a mark on his memory. It should be pointed out that if a sectarian engagement leads to incredible dramas, at the start it is generally harmless. Following the concepts of first assistance given at a very early age, this range of tools for intellectual self-defence, allows all and each one to make choices in full knowledge of cause and defuses terrible human dramas at little cost.


[1] “Pour une didactique de l’esprit critique – zététique & utilisation des interstices pseudoscientifiques dans les médias”, à l’adresse suivante :