Department or Program



This interdisciplinary thesis aims to trace the roots of the Heaven’s Gate movement, placing the group within its broader religious, cultural, and political context. Founded in 1974 by Bonnie Lu Nettles and Marshall Applewhite, the movement attracted seekers from all walks of life—drawn to the group’s extraterrestrially-infused theology. Individuals part of the movement believed themselves to be extraterrestrials in human bodies, requiring a metaphysical (or in some cases, a literal) transformation to reach the divine level, known as the “Level Above Human”. To achieve this metamorphosis, members engaged in a largely ascetic communal lifestyle, attempting to eliminate all their human desires. In 1997, the remaining thirty-nine members took their own lives, viewing suicide as the final step in their bodily and spiritual metamorphosis. Following the mass suicide—and throughout the movement’s entire existence—Heaven’s Gate received a significant amount of media attention, targeted by allegations of cult abuse and brainwashing. This thesis aims to challenge those assumptions, utilizing archival reconstruction and historical contextualization to examine the larger social trends and political influences that shaped the group’s belief system.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Shrout, Anelise

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Open Access

Available to all.