Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple

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Most people understand Peoples Temple through its violent end in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978, where more than 900 Americans committed murder and suicide in a jungle commune. Media coverage of the event sensationalized the group and obscured the background of those who died. The view that emerged thirty years ago continues to dominate understanding of Jonestown today, despite dozens of books, articles, and documentaries that have appeared. This book provides a fresh perspective on Peoples Temple and Jonestown, locating the group within the context of religion in America and offering a contemporary history that corrects the inaccuracies often associated with the group and its demise.

Although Peoples Temple has some of the characteristics many associate with cults, it also shares many characteristics of Black Religion in America. Moreover, it is crucial to understand the organization within the social and political movements of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Race, class, colonialism, gender, and other issues dominated the times, and so dominated the consciousness of the members of Peoples Temple. Here, Moore, who lost three family members in the events in Guyana, offers a framework of U.S. social, cultural, and political history that helps readers better understand Peoples Temple and its members.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Moore provides a superbly balanced, informed, and accessible introduction to understanding many dimensions of the Peoples Temple story. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers."



"Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple will be of use for courses in advanced sociology or social psychology that specialize their focus on phenomena such as religious cults. It also will be a worthy read for professionals in those disciplines, as well as students and scholars of religion who are interested in the intersection of theology and social behavior."



"Part reportage and part critical historiography, Moore's account moves expertly through thickets of evidence, from newspapers and government reports to Jonestown recordings and first-person accounts. … Through Moore's judicious rendering, the story of Peoples Temple is no longer mere madness. Instead, it appears as a utopian journey whose catastrophic millennialism belies its Midwestern origins, as wells as its optimistic advertisements of progress, communal labor, and real equality."


Indiana Magazine of History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780313352515
  • Publisher: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/30/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 179
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

REBECCA MOORE is chair of the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University. She is co-editor of Nova Religio: The Journal of New and Emergent Religions, and served on the Steering Committee of the New Religious Movements Group of the American Academy of Religion for six years. She has published extensively on Peoples Temple, her interest stemming, in part, from the loss of three family members in the mass deaths in Jonestown, Guyana, in November 1978. Her most recent book on Peoples Temple is as co-editor of a volume titled Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America (2004).

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Table of Contents



Authors Note


Chapter 1. Beyond White Trash

Chapter 2. California Dreamin

Chapter 3. The Promised Land

Chapter 4. Fighting Monsters

Chapter 5. The Abyss

Chapter 6. Preserving the Ultimate Concern

Chapter 7. Dehumanizing the Dead

Chapter 8. Jonestown Re-Enters American Culture

Chapter 9. Making Meaning After Jonestown



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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 29, 2012


    I have been doing reasurch on Jonestown for over a year and found this to be useful. Also a great book to read if you are looking for a non-fiction read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 16, 2014

    I really enjoyed this book and have already read several other b

    I really enjoyed this book and have already read several other books on The Peoples Temple, including the most comprehensive book, RAVEN, also SEDUCTIVE POISON, A THOUSAND LIVES and DEAR PEOPLE:REMEMBERING JONESTOWN. The author, Rebecca Moore gives the most up to date account of Jonestown (2009) with many references for further readings while the other books are very dated. One thing to note, the title of this book has the words "understanding Jonestown" but it could have instead been titled, "An Empathetic account of The Peoples Temple". Rebecca Moore at times tries to justify why this ended in tragedy. She takes backhanded stabs at White People, The Media, authors of other books, Capitalism, Racism, the US government, various government agencies and yet gives everyone in Jonestown a pass. They did this because others are too blame..... On page 101, Rebecca Moore wrote, "They perished rather than abandon their commitment. For them the choice was clear: they chose death over betrayal, and loyalty over survival". Too bad Rebecca Moore fails to mention, that 304 children were murdered, they did not commit suicide. I suppose murder is justified if you are Rebecca Moore. If you can tolerate many of her social justice excuses, it is still a worthwhile book to read. Note, other than the cover, there are no photos inside this book.

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    Posted April 13, 2011

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    Posted May 30, 2009

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    Posted February 2, 2010

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    Posted May 20, 2010

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