Dozens of documentaries about cults are currently available on Netflix, Hulu, and Max, along with countless podcasts on Spotify, Apple, and other platforms. What's driving this trend? What's behind our collective fascination with communities and spiritualities that offer total belonging and total enthrallment?
Poulomi Saha — who is Associate Professor of English & co-Director of the Program in Critical Theory — teaches a wildly popular course on cults and popular culture. In a lecture given on Friday, October 6 as part of the 2023 Homecoming and Parents Weekend, Saha traced this topic from the founding of the United States through the tumultuous 1960s to the present day.
"Part of what's happening in this moment in which we are obsessed with cults," Saha explained, "is that we're being asked to consider what it is we long for and how we find it in private consumption of culture instead of in congregation, in temple, or in church."
The lecture offers an enticing glimpse into Saha's current book project, Fascination: America's "Indian" Cults, which argues that our current cultural investments in yoga and mindfulness have a deep-seated history going all the way back to the early republic, and that our conception of "Indian" spirituality is in fact a very long experiment in American self-invention.
Audio of this lecture is available as a podcast through the campus podcast series Berkeley Talks.