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Jim Jones and Jonestown Cult Massacre


The tragedy of Jonestown, which took place in 1978 and left more than nine hundred people dead, immediately attracted attention of many sociologists, psychologists, because to a certain degree, this event reflected the tendencies in American mainstream culture (Chidester, p 11). Thus, it is of the crucial importance for us to discuss its origins and apply various social theories to Jim Jones religion; in particular, we need to focus on symbolic interactionism, functionalism and the theory of conflict.

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This will probably enable us to get a better understanding of destructive religious cults and major preconditions for them. At this point, it should be pointed out that the victims of this sect belonged to diverse ethnic, cultural, and economic backgrounds, and it is hardly permissible for us to focus only on one specific group, as all these people had some common feature in common, and it was the feeling of frustration. This partially explains why all of them decided to become the followers of Jim Jones and his preaching.


At first, we may discuss this cult from the point of view of symbolic interactionism. According to this approach, an individuals behavior and attitudes towards the reality are primarily based on the meaning that these things mean for him or her. Most importantly, these meanings can be modified by communication with other people or by external influence (Blumer 2). In other words, our perception of the world can be easily shaped by other people often against our will. In this respect, we should say that Jim Jones imposed the belief that Peoples Temple was the Kingdom of Heaven, the Promised Land or some earthly paradise, and people were firmly convinced in his rectitude.

They regarded that small village in Guayana as the place, where they could find peace and freedom from the society, which was allegedly sunk in vice. Nevertheless, the most prominent example of symbolism was the act of suicide, because in part, it represented for them an escape from the forces of evil, and many of them willingly accepted death. These people shared the belief that this was the true salvation.

Peoples Temple can be also be analyzed in terms of functionalism. This theory compares society to a living organism and according to it, various governmental and non-governmental institutions act like parts of the body (Stinchcombe, p 143). Judging from this perspective, Jonestown was an attempt to build a new society or new state, though a very primitive and despotic one (Chidester, p 132). In point of fact, it can be characterized as an autocratic society, under the command of Jim Jones and his supporters. Apart from that, we may remember the so-called communalism and abolition of private property.

Under such conditions community becomes the major and single structural body of the society. Probably, peoples desire to leave in this place was motivated by high competitiveness and consumerism of American society. Finally, we need to employ the theory of conflict to this doomsday cult. To some extent, this tragedy is a form of religious conflict. Apostolic socialism was an adversary of Christianity, the dominant religion in the United States. These victims regarded the sect as a path to salvation mostly because of such factors as personal difficulties, the disappointment, family problems. In his turn, Jones took full advantage of this chance hoping to posit the newly-created cult against Christianity.


To conclude, the tragedy of Jonestown can be viewed from various standpoints. First, it was a search of the Promised Land or earthly paradise especially in contrast with the then American society, which was regarded by the sect members as the Babylon. Secondly, Peoples Temple was an attempt to build a new state, based on the principles of socialism and absence of private possessions. Finally, these people opposed themselves to mainstream Christianity, as they thought that their leader was the true prophet.

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Chidester. D. Salvation and suicide: Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown. Indiana University Press, 2003.

Blumer. “Symbolic interactionism: perspective and method”. University of California Press, 1986.

Stinchcombe A. “Constructing social theories”. University of Chicago Press, 1987.

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