DiscoverLet's Talk About Sects
Let's Talk About Sects

Let's Talk About Sects

Author: Sarah Steel

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Let's Talk About Sects is an award-winning monthly podcast focusing on a different cult each episode. Sarah takes a storytelling, deep dive approach, looking at the history of a sect's leaders, the recruitment of members, their experiences, psychological aspects, and notable incidents during its existence.

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“A fascinating and well-researched look into cults and the charismatic leaders behind them.”
Peter Wells, The Sydney Morning Herald, May 2019

“A fantastic examination of sects, cults, and religion… a fact-based program that’ll hook you in and keep you coming back for more.”
Zach Johnston, Uproxx, February 2019

“Cleverly named, meticulously researched.”
Elena Nicolaou, Refinery29, December 2018

“The best podcast of its kind – I can’t wait for another episode!”
Apple Podcasts review from a US listener

“I study cults and sects and for this reason listen to many podcasts on these subjects. This one is by far the best.”
Apple Podcasts review from a US listener

“Best podcast about cults I’ve found.”
Apple Podcasts review from an Australian listener

Australian Podcast Awards 2019 Winner Badge Australian Podcast Awards 2018 Finalist Badge

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20 Episodes
On the 14 June 2019, news broke in Australia that many people had been waiting on for a number of years. That news was the death of this country’s most notorious cult leader, Anne Hamilton-Byrne.In this bonus episode, I’m bringing you an interview with investigative journalist Chris Johnston, who has been looking into The Family for quite some time. He worked with director Rosie Jones on her recent documentary ‘The Cult of the Family’, and they also co-wrote a book together about the group and its history. Chris spoke to me from Melbourne.CORRECTION: In this episode I mentioned that Chris Johnston is a senior journalist for The Age. He worked with The Age for 20 years but is not currently working there. Special Guest: Chris Johnston.
Chung Moo Quan

Chung Moo Quan


Chung Moo Quan positioned itself as a superior martial arts school that taught eight different practices at once. Though this may have originally struck prospective students as a bargain-and-a-half, many who chose to take it up would come out the other end having lost thousands of dollars, personal relationships and job opportunities, and even their sense of self. Before the school’s founder and four other defendants were jailed in 1995, various experts had told reporters that Chung Moo Quan fit their definition of a destructive cult. Special Guest: Russell Johnson.
Order of the Solar Temple

Order of the Solar Temple


The Order of the Solar Temple was a secret society that would go down sharing the pages of history with Jonestown, the Branch Davidians and Heaven’s Gate. But is it fair to compare the groups? When it comes to incidents of mass violence and cults, perhaps it may be unavoidable. Because whether they ended in mass murder-suicide or a different form of violence, in spite of the striking ideological differences between them, there were some similarities – in all of these groups that ended with such undeniable tragedy.
The Seaside Sect

The Seaside Sect


A New Zealand-born man who moved to Australia in the 1970s and started a sect, telling his eventual 9 wives and 60-plus children that he was Jesus Christ, was put behind bars for 7 years in Victoria in 2000. In spite of the fairly sensational nature of his lifestyle and crimes, his name is not well-known here, and his polygamous group gained the most media attention when a recent Bachelor Australia contestant was outed by the press for her childhood involvement.This episode we’re talking about a cult that didn’t officially have a name, but was unofficially referred to as The Seaside Sect.
Joy Kuo and her husband moved to Sydney from Taiwan in 2000, and the couple both began working for the University of Sydney Library the following year. They both studied for and gained their masters degrees, and enjoyed their work. By 2012 they had had a son together, and Joy found herself wanting to help humanity in some greater way. She was looking for something she could really dedicate herself to in her career.Iphigenie Amoutzias moved to New Zealand from Germany in 1996. She completed postgraduate studies in her new home country, and had practised Buddhism for many years. By 2011 she had reached a point in her life where something seemed to be missing. She felt that the modern world was lacking in connection, that technology was driving people apart, and that she wanted to be surrounded with a greater sense of community.Both women came across the same new age group at this point in their lives. They had no idea that years later they would find themselves broke, emotionally affected, and questioning all of their previous decisions to become involved. Special Guest: Joy Kuo & Iphigenie Amoutzias.
Grace J. Adams and Poia Alpha are two sisters from New Zealand, who joined David Koresh’s Branch Davidians in the 1980s along with their other sister, the younger Rebecca. Poia left the sect in early 1990, and Grace in late 1991. Rebecca remained with the group at the compound in Waco, Texas, and perished in the fire of April 1993. Grace and Poia have recently released their memoir, called ‘Hearken O Daughter’, and I caught up with them on a recent trip to Auckland. Special Guest: Grace J. Adams and Poia Alpha.
Laura left Outreach International when she was 32 years old, having been born into the sect in the late 1970s. Hear her story as she relates the experience of being a young woman in a highly patriarchal and controlling organisation, the difficult decision to leave, the trauma of starting her life from scratch, and the joy that she's found in this new life – a kind that most of us take for granted. You'll also hear from other ex-members about their experiences, and where the sect stands today. Special Guest: Laura Sullivan.
In May 2017, a sect that started in Melbourne, Australia, 50 years ago, and has been highly secretive over the last few decades, decided to change its closed-doors policy and go public with a website. Whilst up until now very little has been known about the group except by direct conversations with former believers, its members go to government schools, attend public universities, and work in everyday jobs. They could be your neighbour, your colleague, or even a friend, and you’d have no idea what’s really going on in their private lives.CORRECTION: There is a mention of the Book of David in this episode – this was a slip of the tongue, it should be the Book of John. Special Guest: Laura Sullivan.
In October of 2013, the British organisation Freedom Charity received a call on their hotline. The woman on the other end said that her housemate had been held captive in South London for 30 years. At the time of this call, Katy Morgan-Davies was 30 years old, and the period of her imprisonment was her entire life. She, and the women she lived with, believed that an invisible machine called JACKIE could control household appliances, read their thoughts, and would incinerate them if they tried to escape the man they called ‘Comrade Bala’ – who was the covert leader of the world, and, in fact, God himself.



Synanon began as an addiction support group that gathered in a grimy Californian flat in the late 1950s. It would grow to become a well-funded utopian society throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s, before declaring itself a religion in 1974. This organisation would attract Hollywood stars like Leonard Nimoy and Jane Fonda to participate in its so-called “Game”, and eventually break up married couples, force men to have vasectomies and women to have abortions, amass assets worth tens of millions of dollars, and become entangled in a web of violence.Synanon’s leader Charles Dederich is often credited with coining the phrase “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
Comments (3)

Christine L

maybe it's just coincidental , but seems like the cult is targeting immigrants, an already vulnerable group.

Jun 11th

Sid Pierce

I have an experience I would like to talk to Sarah about. How do I contact you?

Mar 7th

Brian Sandford

Truly excellent -- both the stories and the amount of work and research. One of my favorites.

Jan 6th
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