Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism
June 14, 2021
The author of the widely praised Wordslut analyzes the social science of cult influence: how cultish groups from Jonestown and Scientology to SoulCycle and social media gurus use language as the ultimate form of power.
What makes “cults” so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we’re looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join—and more importantly, stay in—extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Amanda Montell’s argument is that, on some level, it already has …
Our culture tends to provide pretty lame answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing.” But the true answer has nothing to do with freaky mind-control wizardry or Kool-Aid. In Cultish, Montell argues that the key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive ways and shadowy ones, cultish language is something we hear—and are influenced by—every single day.
Through juicy storytelling and cutting original research, Montell exposes the verbal elements that make a wide spectrum of communities “cultish,” revealing how they affect followers of groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate, but also how they pervade our modern start-ups, Peloton leaderboards, and Instagram feeds. Incisive and darkly funny, this enrapturing take on the curious social science of power and belief will make you hear the fanatical language of “cultish” everywhere.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Montell is a writer and language scholar from Baltimore. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language, which she is currently developing for television with Pamela Adlon at FX, serving as creator, writer, and executive producer. As a reporter and essayist, Amanda's writing has been featured in Marie Claire, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Bustle, The Rumpus, and Byrdie, where she formerly served as the Features & Beauty Editor. Amanda holds a degree in linguistics from New York University and lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys learning impractical languages and volunteering as a crisis counselor for LGBTQ youth.
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