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Spring 2022 ︎︎︎ SUNY Purchase ︎︎︎ (DES4100) Community Design

What is Community?


First off, everyone in class stated they are cool with talking about this content, but I am still placing a content warning here as some of this content is indeed pretty heavy.

My goal here is not (necessarily) to talk about how is school or this class like a cult. I find these kinds of groups interesting because they speak to how a group that might appear initially to be beneficial to certain people could become toxic or dangerous which is kind of a macrocosm for group dynamics; that is to say, an unhealthy group dynamic is not necessarily a “cult” nor does trending towards one mean you are “in a cult.”

I’m also interested in the cultural forces that influence the growth of cults. Is a given cult perceived as more “legitimate” because it has the signifiers of a religion? How have notions of “truth” changed in the 20th century such that people might question their assumptions and beliefs enough to seek out a group similar to the ones below? 

Required Viewings

Japan's Strange and Deadly Insurrectionist Cult (1995)︎ Aum Shinrikyo is a super interesting cult in that they were able to attract engineers and that, before they gained some of their notoriety they were more embedded into Japanese culture, even having computer games and animes produced about them. I’m not totally clear on their relationship to Japanese culture in a way that I could vividly recreate it for you, but still of note.

Rajneeshpuram | Down the Rabbit Hole (2018)︎ I quite like Down the Rabbit Hole, particularly his older work covering strange internet characters which I think he’s trying to get away from. That being said, be warned if you watch his channels as he covers some intense stuff. You’re welcome to watch Wild, Wild, Country if you want, but this is freely available and a little bit more compact.

Heaven's Gate | Full UFO Cult Documentary︎
Not sure what year this is from. I quite like these generic History Channel-type videos but your mileage may vary. This also contains a segment on another UFO-related group called the Unarians; which you are welcome to watch but we don’t need to focus on. There is a docuseries on HBO Max about Heaven’s gate, but again, requires a bit more of a time investment.

Contextualizing Materials

Here are some more generic, non-required contextualizing videos that may help you frame your thoughts for our discussions. 

Questions to think about

    • How are the above cults featured in each video different and how are they the same?
    • How did the groups start as aspirational or positive in some way?
    • Did the groups “target” a group of people who might be susceptible to being in a cult?
    • How did the cult regulate people’s behavior? How did they keep people from leaving, if at all?
    • What other cultural factors might have been at play to make the cults “succesful” in their aims?

Relevant Dates

    • 02/22/2022 ︎︎︎ Introduction 

    • 03/08/2022︎︎︎ Video Discussions

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