The Guardian

The C-word: what are we saying when we talk about cults?

All kinds of violent deeds have been perpetrated in the name of religion, from wars to witch-burnings to child sex abuse cover-ups. Why don’t we use the word cult more widely?
Reverend Jim Jones and his wife, Marceline, taken from a pink photo album left behind in the village of the dead in Jonestown, Guyana. Jones led more than 900 members of his cult to a painful death Photograph: Bettmann Archive

Cults are hot right now, or so it would seem. One of the bestselling literary debuts of recent years, Emma Cline’s The Girls, tells of a teenage girl’s flirtation with a Manson-like cult in the summer of 1969. American Horror Story’s seventh season, subtitled Cult, delivers a political horror story that references the Manson family and Jonestown alongside Trump and creepy clowns. Netflix viewers binged on the 2018 documentary series Wild Wild Country, with its deliriously cool soundtrack and archival footage of the Rajneeshees – followers of controversial guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

The trend shows signs of continuing, with Quentin Tarantino’s scheduled for release in the summer of 2019 (50 years after the crimes took place), and Breaking Badcreator Vince Gilligan rumoured to be

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