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He began his professional teaching career at the University of Virginia, where he taught from 1968 to 1974. He then taught at the University of Texas at Austin (1976-1980), and University of Hartford (1980-1983). Since 1983 he has held his professorial post at the University of Virginia and also at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Regarding the definition of new religious movements, Bromley distinguishes them from other religious groups based on the concept of "alignment" with both dominant social institutions and dominant cultural patterns in a given society. While dominant religious groups are aligned with both, sectarian religious groups reject the dominant social institutions but at the same time accept at least some of the dominant cultural patterns. New religious movements reject both dominant social institutions and cultural patterns, and are in turn rejected by mainline institutions and cultural agencies as cults. For instance, according to Bromley the Amish are a sectarian religious group rather than a new religious movement because they operate outside the dominant institutions of modern society, yet accept key elements of the dominant Christian cultural pattern.
Bromley has written about the rise of an anti-cult movement in the 1970s and 1980s, and the accompanying controversies involving allegations of brainwashing and deprogramming. He defined the anti-cult movement in 1981 as the amalgam of groups who embrace the brainwashing theory.
Bromley has also written about apostasy, cults and religions. His theory of apostasy is based on the notion of allegiance. In its dealings with the larger society, Bromley argues, religious groups can be either allegiant, contestant, or subversive of mainline values and institutions. Those who leave allegiant groups are "defectors", and the allegiant groups, protected by their popularity, may dismiss them as "problem individuals". Groups perceived by the society as "subversive" have "apostates", who claim that the movements they have left are dangerous or criminal, and are taken seriously by mainline institutions and media. Somewhere in the middle are "whistleblowers", who expose negative features not previously well-known of contestant (and sometimes also of allegiant) religious groups.
Within the academic study of new religious movements, Bromley has been described as somewhat sympathetic of groups labeled as cults, such as by Canadian sociologist Stephen A. Kent, who objected to Bromley's definition of ex-members of cults as "apostates" as leading to disregarding the value of the information they can supply. According to Kent ex-members sometimes provide better information about these movements than the NRM Studies scholars.
Bromley has expressed opposition to the claims of brainwashing and the practice of deprogramming. Bromley compared these social conflicts to witch-hunts of the late Middle Ages, and has claimed that civil liberties guaranteeing religious freedom were threatened. He has criticized the tactics of anti-cultists and their claims over brainwashing in several books and articles coauthored with Anson Shupe, such as Strange Gods, Moonies in America, and The New Vigilantes.
^Thomas Robbins and Phillip Charles Lucas (2007), "From 'Cults' to New Religious Movements: Coherence, Definition, and Conceptual Framing in the Study of New Religious Movements", in James A. Beckford and N. Jay Demerath III, editors, The SAGE Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, SAGE Publications, Newburyport Park, CA, ISBN978-1412911955, pages 227-247 (Bromley's alignment theory is discussed at pages 228-229).
^Bromley and Anson Shupe, Strange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare. Boston: Beacon Press, 1981
^Bromley (editor) The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998.
^Steve Bruce (1999), review of The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements, edited by David G. Bromley, Contemporary Sociology, vol. 28, pp. 444-445.
^Stephen A. Kent and Kayla Swanson (2017), "The History of Credibility Attacks Against Former Cult Members," International Journal of Cultic Studies, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 1-35.