EP 138: Cultish – The Language of Fanaticism with Amanda Montell

In this episode, Kimberly and Amanda discuss language, cultism, and community. Amanda explains aspects of her book “Cultish” to describe how religious principles still permeate much of our secular culture, how groups such as fitness brands and start-ups use language similar to cults, and how we can give ourselves and each other more flexibility in how we use language, identify with groups, and hold disagreements. Ultimately, they discuss how language is based on context, evolves over time, and requires a genuine understanding as we use it to communicate with each other.



Amanda Montell is a writer, language scholar, and podcast host from Baltimore. She is the author of two critically acclaimed books: Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, an indie bestseller about the language of “cults” from Scientology to SoulCycle and Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language. Amanda’s books have earned praise from The New York Times, The Washington Post,The Atlantic, Time Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and Kirkus Reviews, among others, and Amanda is currently developing Wordslut for television with FX Studios, serving as creator, writer, and executive producer. Amanda is also the creator and co-host of the comedy-cult podcast, Sounds Like A Cult. As a reporter and essayist, Amanda’s writing has been featured in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, DAME Magazine, The Rumpus, and Who What Wear, where she formerly served as the Features & Beauty Editor. She holds a degree in linguistics from NYU and lives in Los Angeles with her partner, plants, and pets.


What She Shares:

–How religious principles still exist in secular culture

–Aspects of cults that can be harmless and harmful

–How social media is cultish

–Finding space in the grey areas


What You’ll Hea:r

–American protestant principles infiltrates culture through finding meaning, community, transformation

–Fitness brands like SoulCycle and CrossFit act as religions in a secular society

–Cult definitions vary despite sensationalized media portrayals

–Most cults have not been linked to criminal activity

–Everyone is susceptible to cultish influence

–Language clues us to cultish groups or communities

–Protestant ethic deeply embedded in ideas of meritocracy and cleansing self of badness found in culture

–Many cults of 60s and 70s use Evangelical concepts appropriated with Eastern religious language

–Obsession with word art is similar to Protestant shift from images to text

–Buzz words from psychology, feminist politics, etc. used as codes in various communities

–”Thought terminating cliches” as expressions that are easily remembered and shut down any questioning

–Semantic stop-signs in conspiritualist circles

–Intuition vs. facts

–Admitting when we’re wrong and overwhelmed by information

–No spaces culturally exist for grey areas of life

–Evolving language and incredibly challenging time of reckoning what language feels inclusive and accurate

–Cults aren’t always necessarily as extreme as Jonestown but can be exploitative, abusive, and trauma-inducing

–Mainstream groups that function as certain dangers and exploitation

–”Cult” definition is varied and nuanced

–Language is dependent on context

–Social media cultivating cultism in ourselves, our interests, our beliefs, etc.

–Being able to recognize our full humanity outside of groups and communities



Website: http://amandamontell.com/

IG: @amanda_montell