Book

Bounded Choice

Janja Lalich

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780520231948
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520937512 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520231948.001.0001
Bounded Choice

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Heaven's Gate, a secretive group of celibate “monks” awaiting pickup by a UFO, captured intense public attention in 1997 when its members committed collective suicide. As a way of understanding such perplexing events, many have seen those who join cults as needy, lost souls, unable to think for themselves. This book, which looks at the cult phenomenon, dispels such simple formulations by explaining how normal, intelligent people can give up years of their lives—and sometimes their very lives—to groups and beliefs that appear bizarre and irrational. Looking closely at Heaven's Gate and at the Democratic Workers Party, a radical political group of the 1970s and 1980s, the author gives an insider's look at these two cults and advances a new theoretical framework of those who join such groups. She includes in-depth interviews with cult devotees as well as reflections gained from her own experience as a high-ranking member of the Democratic Workers Party. Incorporating classical sociological concepts such as “charisma” and “commitment” with more recent work on the social psychology of influence and control, the author develops a new approach for understanding how charismatic cult leaders are able to dominate their devotees. She shows how members are led into a state of “bounded choice,” in which they make seemingly irrational decisions within a context that makes perfect sense to them and is, in fact, consistent with their highest aspirations. The book also addresses the mentality of those true believers who take extreme or violent measures in the name of a cause.

Keywords: Heaven's Gate; collective suicide; cults; Democratic Workers Party; devotees; charisma; commitment; bounded choice

Book.  353 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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Table of Contents

Introduction in Bounded Choice

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Denouement in Bounded Choice

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