School of Economic Science - A Cult?


The School of Economic Science goes by a variety of names, including School of Philosophy. Local to me, they are known as the Midlands School of Philosophy. In the USA, they're The School of Practical Philosophy %EXT%.

If you are thinking of attending the courses run by one of the many schools across the world, I suggest that you do some of your own research first, and remember that you may be doing something much more akin to joining a religion than taking a course on general philosophy. Certainly, that is the view presented in this article in The Philosopher's Magazine %EXT%.

Clara Salaman wrote an article in the Guardian about her experiences growing up in the School of Philosophy %EXT% (July 2009), and has published a book Shame on You inspired by them. You might also read comments on the book by former members.

The 'School of Philosophy' A Religious Organisation? %EXT% has well presented information on the Australian and US Branches and some nice links. You can also read a little about the Guru %EXT% (and here %EXT%), or search Google for Vasudevananda & the SES %EXT%.

Why do I maintain this webpage?

I have a dislike of organisations who mislead people about their true intentions. I saw adverts for the "West Midlands School of Philosophy", and if I hadn't had some exposure at university to real philosophy might have thought that they ran courses in philosophy, rather than being a pseudo-religious organisation. As I'm interested in understanding the world, I could easily have attended, and (who knows) been taken in by the cult techniques they use. I don't believe that all (or the vast majority) of the people involved are purposefully manipulative, but it's clear from reports of "escapees" that many people who leave feel exploited and manipulated.

What happens on the courses (and later on)?

For those in the UK, here's a description of the Oxford course from a participant (Jan 2008) %EXT%. Chris Street has a good description of the SES from the inside %EXT% with some interesting comments.

If you want to know more about what it's like to attend, you can also read some recent positive and negative comments by people who attend or have attended courses %EXT%. There's also this older, but undated an account of attending lessons at the SES %EXT%.

From the information I've seen, the philosophy seems to mainly that of Later on (after 2 to 4 years) many people who've taken the course report being given a new name, a manta and taking part in a ceremony in front of a picture of the guru.

Here's an account of growing up in the Boston school %EXT% - complete with rather odd attitudes to women and arranged marriages! These personal reports on "women's servitude" %EXT% are a mix of the funny, the poignant and the down-right horrific.

There have been a number of books which discuss the SES %EXT% in more detail, if you're really interested!

Wikipedia Edits on SES

There is currently (March 2008) an interesting "debate" on the Wikipedia Talk page about the SES %EXT%. You can see critical materials being removed and requests being made to delete the page.

Materials removed (see for example Wikipedia History %EXT%) include references to the St James Schools Scandal and links to critical websites such as:

School of Economic Science - Critical Background Information

The School of Economic Science in London %EXT% have approached me by phone and asked me to remove many of the criticisms below. I've had a carefull review, made sure that each of them is substantiated and referenced.

"Known in Britain as the School of Economic Science (SES), the London-based organisation was in 1984 the subject of Secret Cult, a book-length expose by two Evening Standard journalists. They accused SES of deceptive recruiting, causing broken marriages and having an adverse effect on members' health."[5]

Names: Names vary across countries and cities. These organisations are not necessarily affiliated, or acting in the same way: Practical Philosophy Foundation, School of Economy and Philosophy, School of Economic Science (SES), School of Philosophy, Society of Practical Philosophy, London School of Meditation, School voor Filosofie.

UK Branches: The London school provides a list of branches in the UK %EXT%

Leader: Leon Mac Laren

Founded: London, England, 1930's by Andrew Mac Laren

Influences: Gurdjieff, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Hinduism.

Recruitment: Often recruits by portraying itself as an provider of general courses on philosophy. However, these courses are from a very particular religious background.

Progression (from [1][3]):

  • 1st Year - Lessons on Hindu inspired philosophy, with any probing questioning suppressed. Guided meditation (similar to hypnosis)
  • 2nd Year - Students given mantra. Guided mediation. Initiation ceremony including symbolic donation of one weeks wages.
  • 3rd & 4th Years - Increasing amounts of time taken by the group, including spending weekends cleaning the group premises.
  • 5th Year - Specific courses for women emphasising their subservience to men.

Alleged Problems: Loss of interest in family, divorces, suicides, nervous breakdowns. [1][2] *These allegations were made by the authors of the 1997 Belgian Parliament report [1] and the authors of the book Secret Cult [2] published in 1984 and refer to particular organisations going by the name School of Economic Science

Financial Pressures: No reports of "fleecing". Finance is provided by donations from wealthy supporters.[1]


Wendy got involved with the SOS when she responded to a newspaper ad offering courses in philosophy and self-awareness. Her first impression of the school was good. Says Wendy:
"There was a fantastic atmosphere within the group, which included twelve people. I liked the tutor (an SOS teacher. These are people who have themselves completed the course) I immediately felt at ease."
The lessons Wendy got at the Herman Colleniusstreet in Groningen were standard, and little was said about the school's true purposes. Each lesson started with a round robin. Each person was asked whether in the past week he or she had experienced anything related to the lessons learned. Later it became known that the school was keeping a file on each student."

"For nearly forty years this establishment, in keeping with its academic image, has offered to the general public nightschool courses in philosophy and economics. Many thousands of people from all walks of life have been through its doors, including barristers, housewives, policemen, students, journalists and labourers. Even a present British High Court judge was a student for many years. But despite its apparent respectability, in recent years the SES has found itself under attack, not just in Great Britain but in a number of other countries where offshoot branches have been started. Former members have claimed that the 'School' practises subtle brainwashing techniques to ensure absolute obedience. Its disciples put in many hours of unpaid work each week looking after the movement's large property and holdings, and taking part in group activities. They are encouraged to isolate themselves from influences outside the movement, they are discouraged from discussing the School's activities with non-members, and if they leave the movement they become pariahs to those that remain. The demands placed on members are so strong, it is claimed, that marriages fail, families split up, and some students develop serious mental problems." - Secret Cult, 1984 [2]

Information Sources:

[1] Extracts from 1997 Belgian Parliament report on cults

[2] Secret Cult, 1984, Peter Hounam and Andrew Hogg, Lion Publishing plc (England), ISBN 0 85648 837 2 Introduction to _Secret Cult_ Chapter 1 of Secret Cult - "Training the Perfect Woman"

[3] Interview with former member Wendy Diekstra.

[4] Critical information about the School of Economic Science aka Practical Philosophy Foundation aka School voor Filosofie

[5] Pick 'n Mix Spirituality - Practical Philosophy Foundation / School of Economic Science

[6] SIMPOS: Netherlands foundation for information on social problems and occult tendencies: SES

St James School Inquiry

In 2006 Channel 4 News ran an article on allegations of abuse at St James school between 1975 to 1985 %EXT% which (according to Channel 4) was founded by and linked to the SES. From the Channel 4 report, this "abuse" seems mainly to consist of excessive or violent corporal punishment. The Parents and Pupils Inquiry Action Group has further information on the independent report by James Townsend QC %EXT%. They also provide a large number of links to information on SES %EXT%.
Topic revision: r16 - 11 Oct 2009, andyp
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