Cults grab our attention and hold on tight. They’re intriguing, beguiling, and — all too often — deadly. They’re endlessly fascinating while highlighting our desires for something more: Greater meaning, richer lives, closer community, more personal freedoms, and maybe even enlightenment. Also, the occasional chance for weird sex stuff (looking at you, The Source Family).
More often than not, it all falls apart, often at the hands of a megalomaniacal leader run amok. Sometimes it ends with everyone walking away and a few of the higher-ups in prison. Sometimes it ends up with everybody dead. Other times, the cult simply rebrands and carries on (looking at you, Osho).
Podcasts are a great entry point to the world of cults (without actually having to join one). The mix of storytelling, journalism, and academia offers a perfect gateway to exploring the very human phenomenon of people banding together in tightly knit microcommunities. To be fair, a lot of the coverage about cults is through a fairly negative lens. After all, a heavy majority end pretty messily. Still, there’s a lot to be gleaned about how society operates from learning about cults –especially for those interested in when rational thought is abandoned in favor of groupthink.
So where to start your cult podcast journey? We’ve compiled a list of ten of our favorite podcasts about cults below. Each podcast touches on a different cult, a moment in history, or the overall idea of how cults function. These are ten podcasts that’ll enlighten you while entertaining you at the same time. Let us know your favorite podcasts about cults in the comments and we’ll give them a listen!
PROPHETS OF DOOM, DAN CARLIN’S HARDCORE HISTORY
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is arguably the best history podcast out there. Carlin’s layperson mentality and journalistic integrity make him the perfect avatar for the audience. “Prophets of Doom” is a stand-alone about the Protestant Reformation. Bluntly, it’s about everything that happens after Martin Luther goes tap-tap-tapping on the church’s door. The proceeding events blow your goddamned mind.
The episode’s synopsis, in Carlin’s own words, is enrapturing: “Murderous millennial preachers and prophets take over the German city of Munster after Martin Luther unleashes a Pandora’s Box of religious anarchy with the Protestant Reformation.” This is probably the best historical examination of cult behavior taking over society, thus providing amazing context for all cults. In short, start here.
Suggested Listening: This is a stand-alone episode and costs $1.99.