It’s no surprise that seats in Poulomi Saha’s course, Cults in Popular Culture, fill up fast. Cults have long fascinated Americans, who had no shortage of docu-series about them to binge-watch while isolated during the pandemic. Popular ones include “Wild Wild Country,” on the Rajneeshpuram community in Wasco County, Oregon; “The Vow,” about the Nxivm “self-improvement” group, and “Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults.”
Like the previous fall semester, Saha’s current students are “coming in with real personal investments — podcasts and documentary series that are someone’s favorite, someone’s obsession,” says Saha, a UC Berkeley associate professor of English.
But her goal isn’t to deepen students’ familiarity with the dark and dramatic doings of the Manson Family, the Branch Davidians, Synanon and Heaven’s Gate, or to explore cults as part of the true crime genre, which includes serial murders, organized crime, bank heists, drug scandals and long-buried secrets.