Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson, Shoko Asahara, Marshall Applewhite, Jim
Jones, and David Koresh were all leaders of extremely violent cults, which have led to the deaths of many innocent people, as cult followers remain loyal to their leaders even unto death. The power of the cult leader to control the lives of cult members is inherent in the cult’s hierarchy.
That hierarchy, moreover, usually results in the victimization of women within the cult, as they occupy the lowest rungs of power within the cult. There have been many studies analyzing the role of women’s victimization in cults and while the analysis of victimization is a common feature of academic analysis, there has been no attempt to conceptualize or anticipate the role of women as leaders of violent cults. Moreover, some would argue that the lack of academic literature regarding female cult leadership, results from the fact that no woman has risen to such levels of infamy as her male counterparts.
Within the sciences, for example, there is a clear distinction between reactionary medicine, on the one hand, and preventative healthcare, on the other. Based on patient symptomatology, a healthcare provider is able to anticipate what diseases may affect the patient’s health and educate the patient about the necessary precautions to prevent illness. Reactionary medicine, then, should be a last resort. Thus, preventative medicine supports increased longevity and a better standard of living if patients are proactive in the healthcare.
Unlike the health sciences, many within the humanities have failed to adopt an anticipatory model. Rather than offering an investigation into the requisite condition for the onset of a female cult leader, researchers describe women’s victimization in cults. Nevertheless, philosophers should conceptualize the necessary conditions for female cult leadership. Such an anticipatory analysis will allow both philosophers and law enforcement officials to identify social and cultural circumstances that may lead to female cult leadership.
Granted, I am not suggesting that female cult leaders have a potential to pose a greater threat than their mail counterparts since this article is not a comparative analysis. Rather, since there are no prominent contemporary female cult leaders, we should not wait for tragedy to strike. In anticipating the onset of the female cult leader, we should have some sense of what such a leadership position would entail.
This article, then, is an attempt to describe the characteristics of cult leadership and the possible role of a female cult leader. It would be careless to assume homogeneity among women, or presuppose a set of circumstances that would speak to the totality of women’s experiences. To do so would homogenize women’s experience, and this is not my intention. Thus, I will offer some insights that may speak to a portion of the population, rather than the entire population as such.