In modern popular parlance, the word "cult" has come to refer to a new religious organization, usually small and tightly-knit, whose beliefs and religious practices operate outside the mainstream. Often religious cults are associated, perhaps simplistically, with groups such as the People's Temple, the group led by Jim Jones that committed mass suicide at his behest in Guyana in 1978, or the Branch Davidians, followers of David Koresh who set fire to their own compound near Waco, Texas under assault by state and federal law enforcement officials. Both of these organizations were led by highly charismatic, controlling men, and subscribed to particularly radical variants of Christianity. Because of their actions, and those of other groups such as Heaven's Gate, Aum Shunrikyo, and others, cults have become associated with mind control, strict discipline, and extreme group mentality.
Many sociologists have observed, however, that cult membership is often more closely related to family or close friendship ties with other cult members than to "brainwashing" by a group leader. Additionally, some scholars argue that the negative connotations assigned to the word "cult" stem from the desire of "mainstream" religious practitioners to marginalize members of new religious groups that they find objectionable. Perhaps the most high-profile of these organizations described as "cults" is Scientology, along with many other "new-age" religious movements that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. A less pejorative term used to describe these organizations is "new religious movements."