How will these resources help you?

There has been a growing concern from many educators in recent years about toxic masculinity and how some men, such as Andrew Tate, have utilised social media to propagate their patriarchal worldview. Recent books and media coverage have explored how these 'menfluencers' have co-opted religion in various ways to influence their predominantly young and male followers around the world. These resources provide information for teachers of religion and worldviews to further their understanding of the relationship between religion, cults and male power in the modern world.

Cult or Religion?

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

by Amanda Montell, published by HarperCollins, (2021), 9780062993151

Montell’s first book Wordslut was a bestseller which explored how language is used to demonise and denigrate women in ways that are both overt and subtle. Her second book deals with the social science of cult influence: how notorious cults like Jonestown and Heavens Gate used language as the ultimate form of power; how charismatic leaders used religious ideas to exert dominance and control to the point where followers were led to their tragic deaths. But Montell’s book excels at showing how cultish language is something we hear – and are influenced by – every single day, and particularly online. This is a brilliantly written, accessible, and darkly funny introduction to issues of power and influence in the modern world.

God made man in his own image…

Beyond Belief: ‘Menfluencers’

published by BBC Radio 4, (2023)

This episode from the long running religious series explores the question of whether there is a crisis of masculinity in the modern world. Presenter and BBC Religion Editor Aleem Maqbool hears from a young couple whose view of Christianity and their relationship was influenced through exposure online to the work and ideas of Canadian psychologist and author Jordan Peterson. The panel consists of a former professional footballer turned Christian minister, a Christian academic, and a journalist from Cosmopolitan magazine. The episode would make an excellent resource for A-Level students as part of their work on the topics of religion and gender, feminist theology and religious language.

Jesus is the ultimate man

Boys will be Boys, and Other Myths: Unravelling Biblical Masculinities

by Will Moore, published by SCM Press, (2022), 9780334063001

Will Moore is currently an ordinand at Westcott House in Cambridge with a particular research interest in the relationship between masculinity and religion. In this highly engaging book, Moore argues that there are authentic and positive male role models to be found in the pages of the Bible but they are hidden beneath layers of patriarchal tradition – a tradition that has led to a distorted view of masculinity within the Church and wider society.

A way out

Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope

by Megan Phelps-Roper, published by RiverRun, (2020), 9781787478015

Megan Phelps-Roper grew up a member of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Interest in the small Kansas church grew when it was featured in a series of documentaries presented by Louis Theroux. In this book the author goes on a cathartic journey charting the domineering presence in her life of her grandfather, church leader Fred Phelps. In November 2012, at the age of 26, she escaped the church, leaving her family and all she had known behind. The book shows how people born into high control religious movements see criticism and attacks from the outside as a justification and validation of their message. This raises an interesting question to be discussed with your students about how to engage with and help those taken in by toxic and damaging forms of religion online. 

Further materials

Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson, published by Picador, (2019), 9781447275466 Find this book
God as man, man as God: no wonder many Christian men today are having a masculinity crisis by William Loader, published by The Conversation, (2019) Read this blog
Neil McKain is a Head of Religious Studies with over fifteen years teaching experience across both the state and independent sectors. He graduated in Theology and RS from the University of Leeds and holds an MA in Philosophy and Religion from the University of London. Neil has served on the executive board of the National Association for Teachers of RE (NATRE) for the last nine years and is a published author of student textbooks as well as articles on RE more generally. He is currently the vice chair of Humanists UK.

Text © Neil McKain, 2023.