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Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults Paperback – September 15, 2004


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Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults + Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 353 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (September 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520240189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520240186
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #521,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"An impressive and even revolutionary look at cultic groups. Lalich challenges fundamental assumptions on all sides of the debate about cults. She spent years as a member of the Democratic Workers Party and provides her readers with a revealing insider’s view. To this, the author adds a much-needed comparative focus with her treatment of the Heaven’s Gate suicides. The result is a theoretical breakthrough in the study of high commitment groups. Lalich’s theory of 'bounded choice' is likely to reshape scholarly thinking for years to come about the dynamics of cult involvement and how and why people may act against their own self-interest in pursuit of higher causes."—E. Burke Rochford, Jr., author of Hare Krishna in America

"Janja Lalich combines unusual empathy for true believers with broad and balanced scholarship and incisive interpretations of overall cultic behavior. Her work illuminates much that goes on not only in charismatic cults but in larger, destructive movements and extremist governments in our troubled world."—Robert Jay Lifton, author of Superpower Syndrome: America’s Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World

"At a time when politicized religion is rocking the world in often violent ways, this arresting study of totalizing ideological movements offers a new perspective. It revives the terms 'cult' and 'brainwashing,' often discarded by social scientists, and gives them new meaning as descriptions of cultures of 'bounded choice.' This intriguing notion is applied to two quite different movements: the suicidal Heaven's Gate group and a radical American organization of young Marxists. This book is timely and certain to be widely discussed. But it cannot be easily dismissed-for its author is not only a sensitive social scientist but also a former member of one of the groups. Hence this book speaks with a voice of both thoughtful reason and gripping experience."—Mark Juergensmeyer, author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

From the Back Cover

"An impressive and even revolutionary look at cultic groups. Lalich challenges fundamental assumptions on all sides of the debate about cults. She spent years as a member of the Democratic Workers Party and provides her readers with a revealing insider's view. To this, the author adds a much-needed comparative focus with her treatment of the Heaven's Gate suicides. The result is a theoretical break through in the study of high commitment groups. Lalich's theory of 'bounded choice' is likely to reshape scholarly thinking for years to come about the dynamics of cult involvement and how and why people may act against their own self-interest in pursuit of higher causes."-E. Burke Rochford, Jr., author of Hare Krishna in America --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Davis on February 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent and important book. The concept of 'bounded choice' is a valuable one and can be applied to many situations outside of cults. The majority of the book is taken up with an examination of two contemporary cults -Heaven's Gate and the Democratic Worker's Party (DWP). The Heaven's Gate members, of course, gained great fame when the majority of the cult committed a mass, ritualistic suicide in 1997 in response to the appearance of the spectacular Hale-Bopp comet. The cult had been in existence since 1975 and had been quietly percolating underground for more than 20 years. I can remember when they were first mentioned in the papers in 1975 and had assumed that they had disbanded after the failure of the predicted spaceships to come and take them away. I had not heard of the DWP but was aware of the cult-like aspects of the Marxist-Leninist belief system. Lalich shows how both of these cults, though different in significant ways, operated within an effective and extremely confining framework consisting of charismatic authority, a transcendent belief system, systems of control and systems of influence. By the end of the book, it is much easier to understand how difficult a member would find it to question participation in such an extreme group and come to the reasonable decision that it would be much better to leave.

The author deserves a lot of credit for having the courage and academic rigor to write compellingly about a phenomenon that affected her personally in so powerful a way. As she clearly states, more needs to be done. This is an area important to the very future of mankind.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Daniel H. Bigelow VINE VOICE on July 23, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Janja Lalich combines academic rigor with her own deeply felt attempts to make sense of her personal experiences in the cultlike Democratic Worker's Party in the book Bounded Choice. The gist of it is that otherwise reasonable people find their options narrowing after they make a commitment to a cult, and soon those options can dwindle to simple obedience. Thus, "bounded choice." She explains the mechanisms behind bounded choice with reference to the DWP and the Heaven's Gate cult and she draws parallels between their command structures.

Lalich's sketches of the cults are interesting but cursory and marred by frequent use of conclusory language to gloss over details (for instance, she refers often to the Heaven's Gate cult's tendency to go on "bizarre diets" without ever describing them, and she accuses DWP head Marlene Dixon of writing increasingly incomprehensible communiques without quoting from them). But there is enough basic information for Lalich to get her thesis across, which is, after all, the point.

I am not sure she convinces me of her thesis, though. It seems awfully general to me in its broadest strokes. Sure, choices narrow once one commits -- that's true of everyone, all the time. And the basic mechanisms she cites -- charismatic leadership, transcendent ideology, and implicit and explicit social controls -- are equally general, especially in her interpretations. "Charisma" has to be defined very broadly to encompass both the magnetic leaders of the Heaven's Gate cult and the drunken and abrasive leader of the DWP, and, eqally, "transcendent ideology" can mean anything if both Heaven's Gate's apocalyptic supernatural beliefs and the DWP's attempt to form a political cadre to hasten Marx's communist revolution count.
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If you are looking to understand cult mind control, you will want to read this book. Janja Lalich, a professor of sociology, is herself a mind control cult survivor. She was in a political cult called the Democratic Workers Party, a radical leftist group. She writes with great insight into the dynamics in high demand groups. I found it hard to put the book down because I was engrossed in the story line and at the same time learning so much. (The book also covers the Heavens Gate cult.) Compared to other books on the same topic: this book is more academic in tone than some others that I have read on the topic and provides a thorough history of the two cults I have mentioned. I think the book is used as a text book for sociology classes. Great depth of research. This isn't a book on how to get a loved one out of a cult, but it gives you so much insight into the group dynamics! Well worth reading!
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The author presents similarities between the cult she was a member of and Heaven's Gate. Not only is this information helpful, but it is the first I have read to introduce the concept of the interrelatedness of individual to group. A very common theme among cult members that one will hear is "I make my own decisions" a/o "no one tells me what to do". The "brainwashing" phenomenon is as much an internal process as it is external.

This book is well written and worth the price.
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