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CULTISH by Amanda Montell


The Language of Fanaticism

by Amanda Montell

Pub Date: June 15th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-06-299315-1
Publisher: Harper Wave

A scrutiny of the social science behind cult communication.

With the same verve demonstrated in her debut on feminism and language, Wordslut (2019), Montell explores how language can manipulate masses of people in detrimental ways. Using accessible prose, the author discusses the varied definitions of the word cult, the dangers of universally demonizing its terminology, and its murky history as society’s relationship with spirituality has evolved. Montell has always been intrigued by her father’s involvement in the Synanon movement in the 1970s, and she explores a wide range of “fanatical fringe groups with extreme ideologies.” The author compares their initial appeal to scanning the scene of an accident: The brain must assess the personal threat level and activate its “fight or flight” reaction. There is also the organic human need for communal intimacy, purpose, belonging, and organizational order. Montell intensively explores how the misleading euphemisms, politicized buzzwords, mantras, and subconsciously suggestive phrasing of “cult language” can be channeled and weaponized to mercilessly exploit participants of such “organizations” as QAnon or the notorious sex-trafficking group NXIVM. The author is an engaging storyteller, sharing tales of bizarre cult behavior found in a vast spectrum of memberships and organizations, including her own hard-sell encounter with Hollywood Scientologists. She also explores the mechanics of complex, multilevel marketing schemes like Amway. She chronicles her often shocking interviews with people who have been seduced by shadowy New Age groups like the 3HO Foundation as well as survivors of suicide cults like the Jonestown People’s Temple and the doomsayers of the Heaven’s Gate group. Of course, any discussion of cultlike language would be incomplete without hard-core fitness programs, and Montell diligently examines CrossFit, Peloton, and SoulCycle. With a provocative combination of interviews, anecdotes, and scientific and psychological research, Montell educates and empowers readers to become more aware of “the varying dialects of Cultish that imbue our daily lives.”

A fascinating, enthusiastic narrative on the loaded language of cults.