reflective essay


Your response should contain references to lecture material from at least TWO of the last four lectures. You are under no obligation to agree with the lecture points or the views of the films. This assignment, other than instructions about length, should be treated in the same way, with the same advice, as the first assignment.

The lectures you must choose from are: The Peoples Temple

The Branch Davidians

Jesus Camp

Conspiratorial Thinking and the Future of Cults

You are also allowed to refer to other materials utilized from previous class lectures or course readings/films but these would be used in addition to the requirements named above. There are to be no other secondary sources used. There is no length restriction.

Questions (Choose One)

1. We live in a society where ideas and ideologies are presented to us through the lens of media. We have 24-hour news channels, social media feeds, and documentaries endlessly streaming on several platforms. It seems fair to suggest that much of what we “know” about the outside world, and the strangers within it, is presented to us by the media. How might institutions of education differ, if they do, in the presentation of education and ideas? How do you think that your education has influenced your understanding of religious groups or “cults”? Do you think that your education is neutral, or does it have a vested interest in privileging certain ways of thinking? Are we being indoctrinated or are we learning something? How does a person think for themselves; how does one remain immune from the cult of mainstream society?

2. What is the difference between being indoctrinated by a cult and being receptive to the message of a missionary, or, more often the case, to your own ideas of spirituality? Is what you believe about truth, love, and life entirely borne from your own head or are you predominantly a result of dominant influences (or rebellions against those influences)? Do you have knowledge of who you are, or do you think of yourself as a mystery? Are you righteous in what you believe about what is important in a human life? Would I be well served to follow and listen to you? If

not, how do you distinguish a good influence from a bad one and how tied is your distinction to that which you have been influenced to believe?

3. Groups in society that have been labeled cults often criticize our mainstream values and ways of living. They tell us that we are living wrongly and that we are becoming monstrous people as a result. Do you think that there is something to this criticism or do you think that the fact that these groups also may perform terrible and preposterous things, in our view, makes their critique suspicious? What makes cults such targets in our society? What does this targeting say about our society? What does it say about how you think about cults and why you took a

course about them? Why might you care about this question?

4. Is there a possibility of separation, in at least two groups we have considered in the last third of the course, between the congregations of these groups and their leadership? What is the relationship, in your chosen groups, between authority and acceptance of that authority? Does the behavior of the leader implicate the group in terms of complicity and support? Is the idea of leadership in a religious setting antithetical to religion if religion is understood as a personal relationship to the divine or do some people possess wisdom? Should religions and religious leaders inform us about what it is to live or criticize certain values? What should religions and religious leaders do to confront negative influences, if there are such things, in the world?

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