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Controversial New Religions$
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James R. Lewis and Jesper Aagaard Petersen

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195156829

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2006

DOI: 10.1093/019515682X.001.0001

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Reconstructing Reality

Reconstructing Reality

Conspiracy Theories about Jonestown

(p.61) 3 Reconstructing Reality
Controversial New Religions

Rebecca Moore (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This essay examines the conspiracy theories that have emerged to explain the mass murder-suicides of People’s Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana, in November 1978. These theories fall into three main categories: those produced by professional conspiracists who tend to see conspiracies everywhere; a subgroup of the professionals, which comprises Internet conspiracy sites; and theories developed by nonprofessionals that concentrate primarily on Jonestown. These theories show that in the absence of a credible narrative, that is, a believable reconstruction of what happened in Jonestown and why, alternative explanations arise. The conspiracy theories attempt to make sense of what appears ultimately senseless: that parents willingly killed their children and their elders, and that they willingly chose a rather painful death. Instead of accepting this possibility, the conspiracy theories provide alternatives that blame conspirators for the deaths.

Keywords:   conspiracy theories, People’s Temple, Jonestown, Guyana, Jim Jones, mass suicide

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