19 – Alice Herron – Former Catholic, Hindu-Cult Member for 27 Years

Alice Herron – Former Catholic, Hindu-Cult Member for 27 Years

19 - Alice Herron - Former Catholic, Hindu-Cult Member for 27 Years - Women Beyond BeliefAlice Herron was born into an Irish Catholic family who had moved to Scotland after the end of WW2. She was educated in a convent school, was briefly married to a Muslim man. She then spent 27 years as a devotee of the New York based Indian Hindu guru Sri Chinmoy. For over 20 years, as a member of his group, she gave meditation classes to seekers, becoming one of the most experienced meditation teachers in the UK at that time.

Over her years as a devotee, she witnessed the guru become increasingly authoritarian, demanding, among other things, complete obedience from his followers. Over time, she says, the group developed all the classic characteristics of a cult.  Sri Chinmoy’s focus changed from pursuing spiritual goals to seeking name and fame for himself, in particular, initiating a campaign to win himself the Nobel Peace Prize.

In such an environment Alice became progressively unhappy, and eventually left the group in January 2002.  Around the same time, Sri Chinmoy, who had always claimed he was celibate, was exposed by several of his former female devotees as a sexual predator. Perplexed to discover her former guru had lied consistently to his followers, she began to study the psychology of religion, attaining an MA in the subject. Her Master’s dissertation was entitled, “Psychological Factors in the Emergence of New Religious Movements”.

She remembered how many of her fellow members in the Sri Chinmoy group believed in him because they they had mystical-type experiences associated with him. She was intrigued that such powerful experiences could be associated with someone who had been exposed for exploiting his followers in the worst possible way. This contributed to her decision to study for a PhD in psychology, researching atheists who claim to have had some kind of mystical-type experience, and to look at how they make sense of these experiences and whether it affects their sense of atheist identity.

The more she studied the psychology of religion the less religious she became. Although she now considers herself an atheist, she says she still has a soft spot for some aspects of religion, and believes it can be helpful for some people.  The problem, she believes, is the lack of transparency and accountability of many religious leaders that in turn leads to corruption and exploitation.

Alice’s email: aliceherronwork@hotmail.com

twitter account @godlessmystics

Alice’s blog:  Godless Mystics

Podcast YouTube Channel 

Music – Original Composition by Esther Nicholson

Podcast Logo by Sarah Nicholson