Cover image for Violence and Religious Commitment: Implications of Jim Jones's People's Temple Movement By Kenneth  J. Levi

Violence and Religious Commitment

Implications of Jim Jones's People's Temple Movement

Kenneth J. Levi

232 pages
6" × 9"
1982

Violence and Religious Commitment

Implications of Jim Jones's People's Temple Movement

Kenneth J. Levi

Was the tragedy at Jonestown "an isolated case," or was it "an example of extremist cult behavior that emerges in times of great social upheaval?" The answer to this question, according to the contributors to this book, is important to all Americans as a basis for evaluating social and educational policy. Part I considers the general topic of sect violence, offering three positions. Chapter 1 contends that societal disruptions of the 1970's spawned distortions of alienation and devotion, resulting in "both extremely hostile and extremely selfless behavior. " Chapter 2 denies that the People's Temple resembled other new religious groups in significant ways, maintaining that the Jonestown massacre was a secular rather than a religious event. Chapter 3 takes an in-between position, holding that the People's Temple shared apocalyptic and communitarian views with other modern cults, but differed in respect to its leader's radicalism and paranoia.

 

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Was the tragedy at Jonestown "an isolated case," or was it "an example of extremist cult behavior that emerges in times of great social upheaval?" The answer to this question, according to the contributors to this book, is important to all Americans as a basis for evaluating social and educational policy. Part I considers the general topic of sect violence, offering three positions. Chapter 1 contends that societal disruptions of the 1970's spawned distortions of alienation and devotion, resulting in "both extremely hostile and extremely selfless behavior. " Chapter 2 denies that the People's Temple resembled other new religious groups in significant ways, maintaining that the Jonestown massacre was a secular rather than a religious event. Chapter 3 takes an in-between position, holding that the People's Temple shared apocalyptic and communitarian views with other modern cults, but differed in respect to its leader's radicalism and paranoia.

Part II presents three conceptual models for analyzing the People's Temple. Part III deals with reactions to Jonestown and other cult behavior, especially overreactions. Part IV, Chapter 11, is a first-hand account by a disillusioned former member who was murdered, reportedly by a People's Temple "hit squad," in February 1980, just after completing this chapter.

Ken Levi teaches sociology at the University of Texas at San Antonio and is the author of numerous articles of violence and crime. An honors graduate of Tufts, he received his PhD, also with honors, from the University of Michigan.

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