History 12 Reading Guide

From Utopia To Dystopia:  People's Temple [Jonestown, Guyana, November 1978];  Branch Davidians [Waco, Texas, April 1993];  Heaven's Gate [San Diego, California, March 1997]

  • Gairdner B. Moment, "From Utopia to Dystopia: The Jonestown Tragedy," in Moment and Kraushaar, Utopias: the American experience (1980), 215-228.  (e-reserve)
  • John R. Hall, "Jonestown and Bishop Hill:  Continuities and Disjunctures in Religious Conflict," Communal Societies 8 (1988), 77-89.  (e-reserve)
  • For the Branch Davidians and/or Heaven's Gate, search newspapers, magazines (Reader's Guide to Periodic Literature), and/or the internet for information (use Fitzgerald's journalistic model of investigation/inquiry).

Further reading:

  • Doyle Paul Johnson, "Dilemmas of Charismatic Leadership:  The Case of the People's Temple," Sociological Analysis 40.4 (1979), 315-323.

Questions:

  • Compare and contrast the People's Temple, the Branch Davidians and Heaven's Gate as both utopian and dystopian communities.
  • Who was drawn to each of these communities, and why?  What did each community—and its charismatic leader—offer?
  • What kind of warning about the dangers of community does Moment offer in his study of Jonestown as a dystopia?
  • What kind of warning about American society's misunderstanding of commitment to and faith in a "utopian" community and vision should we learn from these dystopias (especially Jonestown and the Branch Davidians, but even the paranoia of Heaven's Gate)?