It is by no means clear what comprises a cult or a sect. The definition of a cult or a sect is in the eye of the beholder (and that eye, when it belongs to a 'normal' modern person, often designates in advance a sect as a frightening, absurd and dangerous group, which is almost certainly a prejudice). When we define a sect as a religious, high demanding group, in which by authoritarian leadership a strict and 'strange' doctrine is taught, the number of that kind of groups in Western Europe is not high. Neither is the number of adherents. Even if one thinks of 'new religious movements' and if one includes self-development groups and small congregations in mainstream religion, the total number for e.g. Great Britain does not exceed the 1000. Recent figures on the membership of sects in Germany, for instance, are (2004): 350 devotees for ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 500 for the Divine Light Mission, 600 for the Unification Church, 20 for the Family. Even the 5000 'members' of the Church of Scientology do not form an impressive number.
The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential is a collaboration between UIA and Mankind 2000, started in 1972. It is the result of an ambitious effort to collect and present information on the problems with which humanity is confronted, as well as the challenges such problems pose to concept formation, values and development strategies. Problems included are those identified in international periodicals but especially in the documents of some 60,000 international non-profit organizations, profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations.
The Encyclopedia includes problems which such groups choose to perceive and act upon, whether or not their existence is denied by others claiming greater expertise. Indeed such claims and counter-claims figure in many of the problem descriptions in order to reflect the often paralyzing dynamics of international debate. In the light of the interdependence demonstrated among world problems in every sector, emphasis is placed on the need for approaches which are sufficiently complex to encompass the factions, conflicts and rival worldviews that undermine collective initiative towards a promising future.
Non-profit, apolitical, independent, and non-governmental in nature, the UIA has been a pioneer in the research, monitoring and provision of information on international organizations, international associations and their global challenges since 1907.