One of the great characteristics of the University of Toronto is its vibrant religious and cultural diversity. While at U of T, you may want to explore your own faith, belief, or philosophy by joining a religious group or club. Most students have positive experiences with faith-based groups recognized by the University of Toronto. However, you should be aware that high-pressure, aggressive groups do exist, and you may be approached by a member of one of these groups. You should be especially wary of off-campus groups. 

Such groups may be overly zealous in their attempts to get you to join them. These aggressive groups don't respect the pursuit of learning in a free and open environment and may try to isolate you from your family and friends. They often insist on complete obedience to their leaders and religious principles. They’re extremely persistent and their invitations are often very hard to refuse without feeling guilty or shamed.

Contents

Recognize How to recognize an aggressive group
Know the signs You are most vulnerable to high pressure groups when…
Supportive group How to choose a supportive group
Get help How to get help if you need it

Recognize an aggressive group

So how do you know whether a group is right for you? Ask yourself some of the following questions:

  1. Does the group seem too perfect? Do people agree and accept all orders cheerfully?
  2. In the group, do you find yourself without enough private time? Enough nourishment? Enough sleep?
  3. Does the group say that your parents and friends cannot understand or help you with religious matters?
  4. Is it unacceptable to have doubts about what the group teaches or does?
  5. Does the group view all aspects of your former life as bad? Is the group reluctant to accept you as you are? Do you feel pressure to change?
  6. Is it proper to deceive people for the sake of the group?
  7. Are you uncomfortable with the group’s attitude towards women or a particular racial or ethnic group?
  8. Does the group encourage you to put their meetings before all other commitments, including studying?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, you should seriously consider not getting involved.

Know the signs

You are most vulnerable to high pressure groups when…

You're lonely:

  • You're new to Toronto or Canada and you're homesick for familiar friends and places

You're hurting:

  • You've had a disagreement with your family or close friend

  • You've suffered a loss

  • You're experiencing stress

  • You're having a “faith crisis”

You're having a difficult time socially:

  • You haven't made any good friends in Toronto

  • You don't know how to become part of the university community

  • You're stuck in a dull routine of class, dinner, homework, bed, repeat

You aren't doing well academically: 

  • You're under pressure to do well

  • You feel like a failure because your grades are lower than what you expected

Choose a supportive group

When choosing a group, make sure you find one that meets the following criteria:

  • Encourages and respects relationships with family and friends outside the group

  • Helps you through some of life's inevitable crises

  • Invites open and thoughtful investigation of beliefs and welcomes a critical approach to faith 

  • Encourages you to be a responsible and contributing member of society

Get help

If you’ve been in contact with an aggressive religious or other high pressure group, or if you just want some help, here’s what you can do:

 

1. Contact the Multi-Faith Centre

The purpose of the Multi-Faith Centre is to support the spiritual well-being of students, staff, and faculty and to increase our understanding of and respect for religious beliefs and practices. 

Contact Richard Chambers, Director, at richard.chambers@utoronto.ca or 416-946-3119. 

 

2. Get in touch with a chaplain

Any of the university's chaplains can help you determine whether a group is being aggressive. They can also help you connect with your own or another faith community.