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Join Amanda Montell and Owin Pierson in conversation about cults, language, social media, and identity.
Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism (Harper Wave)
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 flimsy 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.
Amanda Montell is a writer and language scholar from Baltimore, Maryland. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language, which she is developing for television with FX. Her writing has appeared in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Glamour, The Rumpus, Byrdie, and Who What Wear, where she formerly served as the Features & Beauty editor. Amanda holds a degree in linguistics from NYU and lives in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighborhood with her partner, plants, and pets.
Owin Pierson is a 29-year-old full-time influencer and advocate for the LGBTQIA+, mental health, and AAPI communities. He’s recently come out as someone born and raised in a cult—the Unification Movement. Owin hopes to shed light on his own personal experience in the cult and in doing so educating and healing the definition of “cult” as well as the members still in or out of it. You can find him on all social media channels @owinpierson. Owin has a BA in Psychology from George Mason university. Owin was also one of the main youth pastors in the unification movement, with 6+ years of experience working with kids and young adults in camps, workshops & various educational and character development programs. He also has 4+ years of experience working with kids and young adults on the Autism spectrum. Owin also currently works and has volunteered with various lgbtqia+ orgs and nonprofits, including The human rights campaign, the Trevor project, it gets better project, glaad and is the creative director for the nonprofit: Be Free Stories, which is all about being a safe person to come out to! (Ig: @befreestories). He is currently working on his book which is an autobiography.