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Feet of Clay: Study of Gurus [Paperback]

Anthony Storr
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 April 1997
There are many reports of strange cults which enthral their followers and cut themselves off from the world. Invariably led by gurus, or "spiritual leaders", the fruit of these cults are mass suicides in the South American jungle or the self-immolation of hundreds in besieged fortresses. This study provides an examination of these men and women and of those who follow them. It takes as example some of those considered to be modern gurus - James Jones, David Koresh, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Gurdjieff and others - and establishes what each of them has in common. It then examines what they share with other gurus whose teachings are accepted or at least respected - Jung, Freud, Ignatius Loyola, Jesus himself - and finds some startling continuities.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; New Ed edition (7 April 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006384234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006384236
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 128,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Back Cover

There are said to be at least six hundred New Religious Movements in Britain, and many more in other parts of the world. They range from benign, charitable organisations to corrupt, dangerous cults which may end in murder or mass suicide. Since cults have a special appeal to the young, anxious parents have prompted a good deal of research into who joins cults and why. Less has been written about the gurus who institute and lead such movements.

Gurus are extraordinary individuals who cast doubt upon current psychiatric distinctions between sanity and madness. A guru convinces others that he knows – a persuasive capacity which can bring illumination but which may also and in disaster.

Anthony Storr’s new book is a study of some of the best-known gurus, ranging from monsters such as Jim Jones or David Koresh, to saints such as Ignatius of Loyola. It includes both Freud and Jung because, as Storr demonstrates, what ostensibly began as a scientific investigation became, in each case, a secular path to salvation.

'Feet of Clay' is one of Anthony Storr’s most original and illuminating books. It demonstrates that most of us harbour irrational beliefs, and discusses how the human wish for certainty in an insecure world leads to confusing delusion with truth. No-one knows, in the sense that gurus claim that they know. Maturity requires us to be able to tolerate doubt. The book ends with reflections upon why human beings need gurus at all, and indicates how those in need of guidance can distinguish the false and dangerous from the genuine and good.

About the Author

The editor, Anthony Storr, is a doctor, psychiatrist and analyst (trained in the school of C.G.) and author of ‘Jung’ (a Fontana Modern Master,1973) amongst many others.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-referenced & disturbing 26 Oct 2011
Fascinating and at times a disturbing insight into the characteristics of the minds of those who others consider gurus. The first few chapters focus on the worst kind of gurus who are basically megalomaniacs and who control their followers e.g. the paranoid Jim Jones and David Koresh. Then Storr moves into the realm of the highly imaginative minds of Gurdjieff and Steiner who invent their own compelling universes. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh is featured showing how initially he seemed to be innocuous and how his system gradually went out of control.

I read with interest about Jung and Freud and their systems and how their own upbringing appeared to make them into the men they were and how others held them up as gurus.

Many of the individuals featured seemed to have had a period of mental anguish and it is Storr's thesis that this period of mental anguish is often relieved by the individual emerging with some revelatory insight. This is particularly illustrated in the case of Ignatius of Loyola.

Storr is not, I believe, trying to undermine the thought of all the people featured in the book however, what he is trying to do is show similaritites in the minds of those who become gurus whether they turn out as saints, sinners or madmen. There is something in the human mind that concentrates thought to such an extent - often a period of crisis - that the individual has to create a new arena for him/herself to operate in and this is taken up with such passion and focus that others cannot help themselves but be enthralled and give them the status of guru.

I wouldn't say this is the whole picture - it is Storr's take on an interesting phenomenon and it is a fascinating study.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating but limited.... 27 Oct 1998
By A Customer
Storr provides an interesting review of common attitudes and characteristics of historical figures that have had uncommon personal influence over other people. What he misses, however, is how they attain their power. Storr focuses on their absolute certainty, and indicates that other people believe and follow them because their certainty fills some need. He completely misses the role and techniques of brainwashing that are commonly employed to achieve control over other people's thinking processes.... even over the educated and intelligent. Missing that, he focuses on differentiating between "good" and "bad" gurus, using their propensity to abuse their power as his measure. Those of us who don't believe that the end justifies the means will also wish to reject this accessment: the deliberate effort to confuse other people's thinking and induce compliance through deceit can never be acceptable. This book fills a need, but don't miss Margaret Singer and Janja Lalich's book, Cult's in our Midst, for an understanding of the mechanisms by which gurus acquire and wield power.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a wise, humane book 2 Sep 2004
A good overview of charismatic cult founders that is as good at identifying the similarities between them as the differences, and at distinguishing those who, like Rudolf Steiner and Jung, have generally made positive contributions to humanity, from the David Koresh-like deadly gurus.
What strikes me is how vastly intelligent people can hold so many downright dotty ideas so strongly for so long.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Avoid the NKT and read this book! 27 Jan 2014
Having lived in a Buddhist centre that slowly revealed itself to be a cult I think book is invaluable - in the NKT (New Kadampa Tradition) one learns that the most important thing in the world is to promote the organisation and that dissent or questioning is to be silenced - I, for one, was placed 'on coventry' and other residents (previous friends) instructed not to speak to me or face censure themselves. In the States someone was killed for simply belonging to another order. One can see the shadow side of Buddhism operating now in Burma where a predominant Buddhist school has a penchant for clearing Muslims out of certain areas - involving the burning of their property, routine murder and the dissemination of posters akin to those in nazi Germany comparing non Buddhists as akin to rats (don't take my word for it - it's all over the net and there was feature recently on C4 news). The Dalai Lama seems a relatively benign Buddhist leader and I wonder to what extent his having very limited power has contributed to his benign myth - if he still was ensconced in Tibet he would be the head of a feudal kingdom with absolute power and more prey to the seductions of veneration. What is fascinating is that like worker ants the members of the NKT (who previous had popped in for a bit of meditation and sympathy) run around working for the organisation for nothing, paying exorbitant fees for various 'transmissions' and residential teachings. A few seem to benefit financially - like the venerable monk at the spiritual apex of the Brighton centre who had his hand in the till and had run up 5k on his own Bodhisattva credit card with 300 night stays in Amsterdam before running off with the nun he'd been knocking up. The higher despots are placed the greater their ability to s*** on us from a great height.
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