Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate offers to sociologists of religion an example of the origin, rise, decline, rebirth, burgeoning, and the demise of a new religious movement over a relatively compact 20-year period. Founded by Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles in 1975, the group met its end in 1997 with the mass suicides of all 39 active members. Along the way, the group expanded to several hundred members during the mid-1970s, before contracting, then growing again.

The movement experienced several radical changes, most notably a shift from loose social bonds and nearly acephalous leadership in its first year to a coherent and closed group by the late 1970s. Cofounder Nettles died in 1985, leading to several changes. The group’s fundamental beliefs and practices also shifted over time, ...

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