From Violence to Salvation: Toward a Method of Cult Study With the Branch Davidians and Aum Shinrikyo
Since the People's Temple massacre in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978 that resulted in at least 900 dead by either suicide or murder, cults have occupied a ominous position in the consciousness of popular culture and academic study, ranging from accusations of brainwashing by psychopathic leaders to stereotypical communes comprised of the dysfunctional dregs of society to simple dismissal by academics concerned with the serious study of religion. Cults in contemporary popular culture are a distinctly ''unpopular" phenomena, to borrow David Bromley's word. Certainly, the word cult itself would seem to conjure up notions of mass suicide and brainwashing. Yet how accurate is such a generalization and how do such generalizations temper the study of cults? I would suggest that cults study is biased by this unpopularity such that the development of a new methodology is imperative to understanding cults and ensuring that further tragedies can be prevented.