Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple
by Rebecca Moore
July 2018, 179pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Paperback: 978-1-4408-6479-7
$22, £17, 19€, A30
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-6480-3
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

This volume provides an objective overview of the religious group Peoples Temple, which saw its violent end at Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978.

This in-depth investigation of Peoples Temple and its tragic end at Jonestown corrects sensationalized misunderstandings of the group and places its individual members within the broader context of religion in America.

Most people understand Peoples Temple through its violent disbanding following events in Jonestown, Guyana, where more than 900 Americans committed murder and suicide in a jungle commune. Media coverage of the event sensationalized the group and obscured the background of those who died. The view that emerged thirty years ago continues to dominate understanding of Jonestown today, despite the dozens of books, articles, and documentaries that have appeared.

This book provides a fresh perspective on Peoples Temple, locating the group within the context of religion in America and offering a contemporary history that corrects the inaccuracies often associated with the group and its demise. Although Peoples Temple had some of the characteristics many associate with cults, it also shared many characteristics of black religion in America. Moreover, it is crucial to understand how the organization fits into the social and political movements of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s: race, class, colonialism, gender, and other issues dominated the times and so dominated the consciousness of the members of Peoples Temple. Here, Rebecca Moore, who lost three family members in the events in Guyana, offers a framework for U.S. social, cultural, and political history that helps readers to better understand Peoples Temple and its members.


  • Demonstrates meticulous research by the author, a scholar who has a personal connection to the subject
  • Provides a comprehensive and balanced view of the entire history of Peoples Temple, with insight from families and the members themselves
  • Includes a new preface that updates our understanding of events on the 40th anniversary of Jonestown
  • Shows how Peoples Temple fits into the broader history of black religion in America
Rebecca Moore is professor emerita of religious studies at San Diego State University. She is reviews editor of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions. She has published extensively on Peoples Temple and co-manages the digital archive Alternative Considerations of Peoples Temple. Her interest stems, in part, from the loss of three family members in the mass deaths in Jonestown, Guyana, in November 1978. Her most recent book is Beyond Brainwashing: Theories of Cult Violence.


"No one understands better, or explains more completely, the complexities of Jonestown and Peoples Temple than Rebecca Moore. This book is one reason why I consider her to be the best source and author on these subjects.”—Jeff Guinn, Author of The Road to Jonestown

"Rebecca Moore’s study is a comprehensive and accessible treatment based on forty years of research and reflection on the dynamics that caused the tragic deaths in Jonestown on November 18, 1978 and the event’s impact on American culture. Drawing on an array of primary sources, Moore provides an astute and honest account of Peoples Temple and Jonestown, while simultaneously depicting the humanity of the individual members. This book will inform specialists, students, and general readers. I highly recommend it."—Catherine Wessinger, Rev. H. James Yamauchi, S.J. Professor of the History of Religions, Loyola University New Orleans, and editor of The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism
Share on email
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin