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Delusion or Dark Persuasion: The Saga of Heaven’s Gate

Professor Joel Dimsdale

In 1997, 39 men and women killed themselves in Rancho Santa Fe so that they could leave their earthly bodies and catch a hidden spaceship trailing the Hale-Bopp comet. They had led quiet lives as web designers and left behind meticulous records of their beliefs and the activities in their religious commune. How do we understand their suicides? Did their beliefs constitute delusions or something else? Using extensive archival records and videos, this presentation will describe the development of this religious movement and put it in context with other instances of dark persuasion in the twentieth century.

Instructor: Dr. Joel Dimsdale is Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor in the department of psychiatry at UC San Diego. He is a former career awardee of the American Heart Association and is past-president of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, the American Psychosomatic Society, and the Society of Behavioral Medicine. He has been a consultant to the President’s Commission on Mental Health, the Institute of Medicine, the National Academies of Science, NASA, and NIH. Dimsdale is the author of more than 500 publications, including his most recent book, Anatomy of Malice: The Enigma of the Nazi War Criminals (Yale University Press, 2016).

Coordinator: Mavis Porter

Course Number: OSHR-70141   Credit: 0 units


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