Cultish Book Summary - Cultish Book explained in key points
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Cultish summary

Amanda Montell

The Language of Fanaticism

4 (139 ratings)
19 mins
Table of Contents

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    How words and surroundings shape belief

    Have you ever considered how language can shape our beliefs? Let's look at this intriguing idea through the eyes of Tasha Samar and Alyssa Clarke.

    Tasha, a first-generation Russian American Jew, found solace in the Healthy Happy Holy Organization (3HO) at thirteen. This Sikh-derived group, founded in the 1970s, offered more than just Kundalini yoga classes; it promised a compelling community with strict teachings. However, 3HO’s darker parts, such as psychological and sexual abuse, hinged on manipulative language, such as dubbing members who showed weakness “lizard brain.” Yogi Bhajan was skilled at transforming positive terminology into threatening concepts​. People who tried to leave the group were threatened with violence, and there was even an unsolved murder.

    Now, consider Alyssa Clarke’s experience. Moving to Los Angeles, she found herself immersed in the CrossFit culture. The attraction? A strong community vibe, complete with its own lingo and lifestyle. For Alyssa, CrossFit’s unique language and Paleo-diet culture create a near-religious devotion. CrossFit’s unique language fosters unity. Members train in a “box,” while instructors are called “coaches.” The goal is to shape members both inside and outside the gym, urging mantras like “Beast mode!” and “Everything is everything” (EIE). Sounds good, right?

    Well, not always. One drawback to CrossFit is the risk of injury from the high-intensity workouts. It can also lead to overtraining and burnout. As with any fitness community or subculture, some people may get so obsessed with CrossFit that it takes over their lives; this is comparable to a cult. Both Tasha and Alyssa's accounts show that language, combined with community dynamics, is a formidable force. It can create solidarity, sure. However, it can also shape a polarizing mindset, steering behaviors in subtle yet profound ways.

    Is CrossFit really a cult? It has similar characteristics. To determine whether something is a cult, we should define what the term “cult” means. It’s an emotive word that reflects our attitudes toward spirituality and certain types of communities. It may refer to a new religion, an online group, or even a beauty brand. A cult is typically defined as involving a strong devotion to a person, idea, or thing, as well as unorthodox beliefs or practices. While the term’s meaning varies, some cultish features can be detected in everyday situations. One thing is certain: language matters. Words have the power to alter our views, hide the truth, and affect our well-being. The force of cultish words goes beyond spiritual and fitness groups. It exists in both business and politics because all charismatic leaders use such language to instill common beliefs in, and exert control over, their followers.

    Next, we will look at how this force manifests in notorious “suicide cults,” such as Jonestown.

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    What is Cultish about?

    Forget mind control. In Cultish (2021), Amanda Montell exposes the verbal tricks that bind groups, from Heaven’s Gate to your Peloton Group. A fascinating look at how words shape beliefs and persuade us. Decode the language of domination and reclaim your power.

    Cultish Review

    Cultish (2021) explores the captivating world of language, social dynamics, and mind control within cults, making it a fascinating read. Here's why you should pick it up:

    • Packed with fascinating stories and psychological insights, it sheds light on how language and manipulation can draw people into cults and extremist groups.
    • Backed by extensive research, the book offers a thorough examination of cultish tactics, providing readers with a deeper understanding of group dynamics and the human psyche.
    • Through its thought-provoking analysis, Cultish challenges readers to question their own beliefs and susceptibility to manipulation, making it an eye-opening and thought-provoking read.

    Who should read Cultish?

    • Word wizards
    • Cult detectives 
    • True crime fans

    About the Author

    Amanda Montell is an accomplished writer, linguist, and podcast host residing in Los Angeles. With three critically hailed nonfiction books under her belt, including Wordslut, her insightful commentary has received wide acclaim. She continues to engage readers and listeners alike through her work and the hit podcast Sounds Like A Cult.

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    Cultish FAQs 

    What is the main message of Cultish?

    Cultish explores the allure of cults and the psychological mechanisms behind their hold on people.

    How long does it take to read Cultish?

    Reading Cultish will take several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Cultish a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Cultish is a compelling read, offering insights into the power and appeal of cults. Worth reading for its thought-provoking content.

    Who is the author of Cultish?

    The author of Cultish is Amanda Montell.

    How many chapters are in Cultish?

    Cultish has 10 chapters.

    1. Chapter 1: Cult Classic
    2. Chapter 2: Sorority of Secrets
    3. Chapter 3: Programs and Pioneers
    4. Chapter 4: Morphology: The Devil in the Details
    5. Chapter 5: Speech as Sacrament
    6. Chapter 6: Brand as Mission
    7. Chapter 7: Shilling for a Shiver: The Underbelly of Influence
    8. Chapter 8: The DNA of Collaboration
    9. Chapter 9: Art of the Exit
    10. Chapter 10: Reborn in Flames: The Phoenix of Influence

    How many pages are in Cultish?

    Cultish contains approx. 320 pages.

    When was Cultish published?

    Cultish was published in 2021.

    What to read after Cultish?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Cultish, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Determined by Robert M. Sapolsky
    • Move by Move by Maurice Ashley
    • No More Mr. Nice Guy! by Robert A. Glover
    • Don't Overthink It by Anne Bogel
    • Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
    • How to Think Like a Woman by Regan Penaluna
    • Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by George Orwell
    • The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane