Gurus and Devotees: Guides or Gods? Pathology or Faith?

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This research investigated whether individuals who were members of a religious group in which they participated in a guru-devotee relationship differ in particular psychological and developmental ways (the need to be mirrored, the need to idealize, and retrospective perceptions of styles of having been parented) from individuals who were members of other groups, religious or non-religious. One hundred and eight subjects were drawn from three groups: (a) a Hindu based guru-devotee group, (b) a Unitarian Universalist Church with a non-hierarchical polity, and (c) a non-religious group, a computer company. Subjects were men and women ranging in age from 23 to 83. Each completed the Goal Instability and Superiority Scales (GIS) the Parental Authority Questionnaire (PAQ) and a demographics questionnaire. Results demonstrated no statistically significant differences among the groups on the measures of idealizing, mirroring, and perceived styles of having been parented, thus challenging the conventionally held belief that guru-devotee involvement is indicative of pathology.

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