Plate Publishes Essay in Religious Dispatches

S. Brent Plate
S. Brent Plate

In a Religious Dispatches essay, “‘Cult’ Cinema Comes of Age,” Visiting Associate Professor of Religious Studies S. Brent Plate examined recent films that focus on cults including The Master, the latest in the group. In the Oct. 7 article, Plate described The Master as “emblematic of a new, more nuanced treatment of cults in the movies,” and “more or less … the story of L. Ron Hubbard and the birth of Scientology.”

Questioning why there have been so many cult films in the last few years, Plate asked, “Is it due to the publicity surrounding Scientologists John Travolta and Tom Cruise? Or is it that a member of the LDS Church has a chance of being President? Or that, with Romney in the limelight, the people of the United States have become (however dimly) enlightened about that “strange” tradition called Mormonism? Evangelicals, who overwhelmingly support the G.O.P., have had to make bedfellows with what many still believe to be in a cult.”

Identifying commonalities among the films, Plate wrote, “If there is one thing that the four recent films hold in common, it’s that each charismatic leader plays and preys on the personal histories of the individual followers. Each leader downplays institutions, rigorous creeds, and clear-cut ethics. In their place, the single individual becomes the arbiter of sacred history, the ultimate authority.”

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