Presentation Title

The Psychological Religion of Jonestown

Type of Presentation



Religion can have an immense effect on its followers. This result can positively or negatively affect others. This project centers on how religion and psychological concepts can lead a group of people into their untimely demise. Jonestown was created and destroyed in the year of 1978. The leader, Jim Jones, gave the order that gave over 900 follower’s permission to kill not only themselves, but their children as well. J.Z Smith’s article “From Babylon to Jonestown” was used to explain how the events that occurred at Jonestown have been seen before by describing the Bacchae, which revolves around a new religion later becoming a cult. He also describes how a cult in Espirito Santo wished for total annihilation of living things surrounding their settlement. Social psychology concepts like the five social motives, conformity, and cognitive dissonance will be discussed to describe how and why Jones’ followers stayed at the settlement even after things started to become violent. After several observations the possible reason Jones chose an underprivileged group of people as his followers is because they are more susceptible to manipulation. Jonestown was a tragedy and history is bound to repeat itself because those same social pressures are still prevalent. For developed societies these social pressures could change in order to prevent similar events such as Jonestown.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Faculty Mentor

Daniel Pioske

Department of Primary Presenter's Major

Department of Literature

Symposium Year


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Jan 1st, 12:00 AM Jan 1st, 12:00 AM

The Psychological Religion of Jonestown