Oh boy. If that wasn't frustrating enough the vast majority of the book reduces to a boring record of the stupidity within. Since all names were changed to protect the not-so-innocent, basically the book embodies a mind numbing catalogue of Peggy Sue got this dumb revelation, John Smith showed up and said this, and so on and so on and so forth.
Without the real names, and places, and dates within we just get a series of highly generic records of dumb people believing in dumb shit. Which isn't much too different from the average day but for some reason this book has some super-duper status in the religious studies departments. Perhaps most damning of all is the methodological contamination within.
Since the researchers planted their grad-student-pretend-believers into the mix the experiment became unflinchingly distorted from the get go. Ruining the experiment at best and partaking in academic fraud at worst, everything is pretty much wrong here. Low on analysis and high on stupid details, this tale of a UFO cult gone wrong was damned from the beginning. View all 4 comments. Feb 25, Chad Kettner rated it really liked it Shelves: religion , science. In Leon Festinger, an experimental social psychologist, invented and tested the theory of cognitive dissonance.
In Festinger's original study, "When Prophecy Fails", he discusses a cult who denies the continued failures o In Leon Festinger, an experimental social psychologist, invented and tested the theory of cognitive dissonance. In Festinger's original study, "When Prophecy Fails", he discusses a cult who denies the continued failures of their prophecies that Jesus would return to earth on a flying saucer. The study is quite clinical in nature, and therefore a bit slow throughout - but when it comes to driving home the point of cognitive dissonance it does an excellent job.
The daily meetings of the deluded group were infiltrated by research students assigned by Festinger. The book records the students' observations - the prophecies that were made and the responses to the failures. The refusal to acknowledge the disappointment at Jesus' non-arrival even in the midst of specific dates being passed by and the world's continued existence gave rise to the term 'cognitive dissonance'. Festinger points out the parallels with the Millerites from the s, a much larger group whose End Times prophecy failed - but instead of acknowledging they were wrong, the prophecies were simply explained away and gave rise to the Seventh-day Adventist church.
Festinger's core argument is that when nearly everything is invested in the hopes of a prophecy - even a blatant failure gives rise to new hopes and new interpretations - and larger cases of cognitive dissonance. As one character from the cult described in the book said during the study: "I've had to go a long way.
I've given up just about everything.
When Prophecy Fails
I've cut every tie: I've burned every bridge. I've turned my back on the world.
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I can't afford to doubt. I have to believe. And there isn't any other truth" pg. It's important to point out that Festinger doesn't mock or make fun of the study group in any way - even though their beliefs are beyond laughable Jesus was going to come on a space ship! Instead, Festinger uses it as a touching account of what can happen to ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances, and clearly empathizes with the struggles the group endured for their failed beliefs. Feb 19, Jonathan rated it really liked it.
They were either madmen, liars or telling the truth. Each of the former possibilities is then addressed with what might not be terrible arguments and, thus discounted, the third branch of the argument is arrived at as being true. I have never heard the previous two possibilities adequately dismissed, but the real issue with the argument, its real flaccidness, is that it is a false trichotomy. Humans are not either mad, liars or truth tellers - they slide effortlessly between the three states often within the span of single sentence, act or feeling.
But most importantly, the argument fails to address the most complicating of factors: madness, lies and truth may manifest in a social group without any single person being obviously responsible for any of them. It is this phenomenon which makes "When Prophecy Fails" most interesting, since it describes the rise and counter-intuitive climax after a prophesied global flood fails to occur of a real UFO Cult in the Great Lakes area around the s.
The purpose of the work was originally scholarly - the authors wished to study whether disconfirmation - a shocking, undeniable reality which invalidates the beliefs of a group of people, can actually increase the fervor with which the believers prosylatize others into their belief system, as seems to be the case from several historical examples sited in the introduction most notably the Millerites. Whether the observations of the authors, who infiltrated the cult by posing as believers, bear out this conclusion is of secondary importance although the argument is good that they do, so far as these things can be born out.
The real meat of this book is the fascinating insight it gives into group madness.
We see the cult develop from a band of mystics and Scientologist housewives into a coherent, self deluding movement. I recommend the hell out of this book. View 1 comment. Mar 11, Isidore rated it it was ok Shelves: weird-non-fiction. As a glimpse into the largely unknown world of Eisenhower era mysticism, the book is fascinating. As an exemplification of cognitive dissonance, it is pretty much a failure. Festinger heavily infiltrated and manipulated the cult.
At one key moment, of the fourteen participants, no less than five were his secret "observers". Naturally, as even Festinger admits, the advent of so many "c As a glimpse into the largely unknown world of Eisenhower era mysticism, the book is fascinating. Naturally, as even Festinger admits, the advent of so many "converts" into such a tiny group would have the distorting effect of greatly increasingly the commitment of the true believers.
The observers were instructed to badger "Mrs. Keach", the leader of the cult, into firming up her very vague prophecies into an unequivocal prediction, so that Festinger could study the consequences of prophetic failure at one point he alludes to the "awful possibility" that she might never make a sufficiently clear prophecy as to permit "disconfirmation".
In other words, he manipulated the cult leader into taking a position she would likely never have otherwise assumed. The fact that careers were ruined, that people were threatened with legal action and institutionalization, or forced to leave their homes to get away from the resultant public scandal does not appear to have raised any ethical qualms in Festinger and his associates. Festinger went into this project with a preconceived theory about what would happen. A vital part of his theory demands that the disillusioned cultists enter into active proselytizing as a means of averting the stress of cognitive dissonance.
In this case they never did, and usually went out of their way NOT to proselytize.
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For the most part Festinger ignores this little problem. Toward the end, he concedes the expected proselytizing never occurred, but argues that the cult's decision to inform the media about their "message" following the failure of "Mrs.
Keach"'s prophecy would fulfill his theory's requirements. The trouble is, the cult's recruitment of the media was atypical, measured, and brief in duration——scarcely the all-important emotional buttress his theory demands. On the whole, "Mrs. Keach" and her friends come across as likable, well-meaning oddballs, Festinger and his agents as cold-blooded and unscrupulous, treating human beings as if they were lab rats, and not terribly scientific into the bargain. As for cognitive dissonance, it's an interesting and useful theory, but this book does not make a convincing case for it.
Apr 25, Tom rated it liked it. A fascinating and ambitious study but I can't really accept its conclusions because the method of study was so invasive. I mean let's work this out, we've got a cult of maybe a dozen people, six or seven of which are true believers which is actually on the high side if you get right down to it. These people are horrible at recruiting new converts and aren't really interested in doing so. So you infiltrate this group with FOUR observers and sit back and watch. At least one of the observers relates a fictitious dream that echoes some of the groups fundamental beliefs in order to gain entry, and SURPRISE the group begins to gain confidence in some of its more outlandish beliefs due to outside confirmations Are we seeing a trend here?
The involvement of the authors tipped the scales in these people's kooky belief system, and very well could've been the catalyst for the sensational prophecies that soon followed. Obviously the only moral way to do a study of this kind is to have direct involvement, but I believe that the zeal of the researchers ultimately corrupted any kind of organic development this "cult" could of been capable of. This is especially true of the fifth mole who tried to join after the prophecy failed in order to gauge the resiliency of these people's beliefs.
They treated this late stage addition attempter as if he possessed the answers to why their prediction failed. If that doesn't prove that outside involvement heavily influenced these people than what could?
Full text of "Festinger-Riecken-Schachter-When-Prophecy-Failspdf (PDFy mirror)"
How about including a story about a prank caller telling the cult to come to his house because there is a cataclysmic "flood" starting in his bathroom, and then relating how the cult fell for this story and actually tried to visit the fake address this person left because they were so gullible and confused. Oh wait, that actually happened in this book. So clearly the researchers responsible for this book are at least partly to blame for some of the members of the cult selling of all their earthly possessions, being made a mockery of in the press, and ultimately being mind screwed, because no matter how you slice it they influenced this group of people.
Again, I liked the idea behind this book and thought it was an interesting effort, but ultimately I kept reading because the whole thing turned into a bit of a train wreck. Also the middle aged lady who spoke with the voice of the "creator" and who was completely believed by the group made me crack up. You're a good person, right?
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Of course you are, I never doubted it for a moment. We all like to think were good people - fair, honest, generous, all that. Very few people, if asked, would say, "Well, I'm a right bastard and I don't care who knows it! Genuinely bad. You cheat on your spouse. You lie to a friend. You steal from your boss. You commit an act which, if someone else did it, you would roundly condemn them, forcing them into public You're a good person, right? You commit an act which, if someone else did it, you would roundly condemn them, forcing them into public shame and ignominy.
What kind of heel, what kind of cad, what kind of a bastard would do such a thing? Well, you, as it turns out. Now you have a problem. The vision of you that you carry in your head - the good, honest, kind, humble let's not forget humble person - directly conflicts with the nasty, dishonest thing that you have just done.
They're grossly dissonant views, and there is no room for both of them in your head. So what do you do?