Over the nearly 40 years since the events in the Northwestern District of Guyana led to the deaths of the inhabitants of Jonestown, many different perspectives on Jones, the people of the Temple, and their utopian project in Guyana have developed. Some blame Jim Jones entirely, others see a vast government conspiracy, a sudden deterioration of Jones’ mental state, and still others generate complex conspiracy theories of CIA plots or government tests involving mind control.
- We are committed to respecting, recognizing and celebrating the diversity of the Peoples Temple.
With almost 1,000 people in Guyana and even more committed followers in San Francisco and California, the Peoples Temple still represents one of the most diverse racially integrated organizations in American religious history. It was also ideologically and religiously diverse. Some people followed Jones because of his healing services, others because they believed him to be a god, some reveled in watching him undermine traditional religious beliefs and values, while still others because of his vision of racial and economic equality and integration. And for some, Jones himself was relatively irrelevant; it was about the community of like-minded settlers building a utopian society of equality, prosperity and justice.
- We are committed to employing the complexity of the history of the Peoples Temple to avoid simplistic and untextured interpretations.
The story of Jonestown has a straightforward plot with well-understood moments that have been highlighted many times by historians and writers. But it is also a very complex story of many lives intersecting to form a movement that flourished within the revolutionary context of the 60s in the San Francisco Bay area and struggled through the transitions into a more radical and fractured context in the 1970s. The many different leaders, politicians, community activists, and common people that came together in the Peoples Temple were confronted with a changing environment in which some believed the church with its radical commitments and activities should be investigated. Jones and his inner circle of leadership also believed in the importance of bureaucracy – they kept elaborate records, maintained catalogues of taped sermons, and left an enormous paper trail. All of these factors result in a highly complex task of interpretation.
- We are committed to seeking a complex and academic understanding of the Peoples Temple and the events of Jonestown
People have many reactions to this material. Many settle on a particular interpretation of the events and their causes. But understanding the history and beliefs of Jones and his community involve a complex and academic approach to the many types of material available on the life and times of the Peoples Temple. Understanding the various motivations, fears, and obstacles faced by the individuals and the group will aid in the search for a more holistic interpretation of the Peoples Temple and Jonestown.