Religious indoctrination, the original sense of indoctrination, refers to a process of imparting doctrine in an authoritative way, as in catechism. Most religious groups among the revealed religions instruct new members in the principles of the religion; this is now not usually referred to as indoctrination by the religions themselves, in part because of the negative connotations the word has acquired. Mystery religions require a period of indoctrination before granting access to esoteric knowledge. (cf. Information security)
As a pejorative term, indoctrination implies forcibly or coercively causing people to act and think on the basis of a certain ideology. Some secular critics believe that all religions indoctrinate their adherents, as children, and the accusation is made in the case of religious extremism. Sects such as Scientology use personality tests and peer pressures to indoctrinate new members. Some religions have commitment ceremonies for children 13 years and younger, such as Bar Mitzvah, Confirmation, and Shichi-Go-San. In Buddhism, temple boys are encouraged to follow the faith while young. Critics of religion, such as Richard Dawkins, maintain that the children of religious parents are often unfairly indoctrinated.
However, indoctrination can occur, and often does occur with great frequency, in non-religious contexts. For example, in the 20th century, the former People's Socialist Republic of Albania and the former USSR instituted programs of government-sponsored atheistic indoctrination in order to promote state atheism, specifically Marxist–Leninist atheism, within their citizenry. Sabrina P. Ramet, a professor of political science, documented that "from kindergarten onward children [were] indoctrinated with an aggressive form of atheism" and "to denounce parents who follow religious practices at home." However, after the death of Albania's leader, Enver Hoxha in 1985, his successor, Ramiz Alia, adopted a relatively tolerant stance toward religious practice, referring to it as "a personal and family matter." Émigré clergymen were permitted to reenter the country in 1988 and officiate at religious services. Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian, visited Tirana in 1989, where she was received by the foreign minister and by Hoxha's widow. In December 1990, the ban on religious observance was officially lifted, in time to allow thousands of Christians to attend Christmas services (see Freedom of religion in Albania).
Similarly, in the former Soviet Union, "science education [in] Soviet schools [was] used as a vehicle for atheistic indoctrination", with teachers being instructed to prepare their course "so as to conduct anti-religious educations at all times," in order to comport with state-sanctioned Marxist–Leninist values. However, in 1997, several years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian government passed a law recognizing religion as being important to Russian history with Orthodox Christianity (Russian: Православие Pravoslaviye), Russia's traditional and largest religion, declared a part of Russia's "historical heritage."