Every summer, thousands gather from around the world in the blistering heat of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for the seven-day celebration of art, community, and fire known as Burning Man. Culminating in the spectacular incineration of a wooden effigy, this festival is grand-scale theater for self-expression, personal transformation, eclectic spirituality, communal bonding, and cultural renewal. In this engrossing ethnography of the Burning Man phenomenon, Lee Gilmore explores why “burners” come in vast numbers to transform a temporary gathering of strangers into an enduring community. Accompanied by a DVD, which provides panoramic views of events, individuals, artworks, and, of course, the climactic final night, the book delves into the varieties of spirituality, ritual, and performance conducted within the festival space.
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Chapter 1. Into the Zone
Chapter 2. “Spiritual, but Not Religious”?
Chapter 3. Ritual without Dogma
Chapter 4. Desert Pilgrimage
Chapter 5. Media Mecca
Chapter 6. Burn-a-lujah!
Appendix 1. Demography: The Face of the Festival
Appendix 2. On-Line Survey Design
Appendix 3. Burning Man Organization Mission Statement
Lee Gilmore is a Lecturer in Religious Studies and Anthropology at California State University, Northridge. She is coeditor of After-Burn: Reflections on the Burning Man Festival.
"Gilmore's study brings new voices and experiences to current debates about religion versus spirituality through her richly textured descriptions of the characters, events, and spaces that make up the seemingly strange but culturally significant Burning Man festival. Readers will discover that Burning Man is a wonderful illustration of the dialectic between self and community at the heart of much of American religion today. Gilmore persuades us that those who trivialize this event by seeing it as a huge party, miss the ways in which Burning Man provides an unusual snapshot of diverse forms of American spiritual-seeking."—Sarah Pike, author of Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community
"At the generative core of research in ritual studies is a balancing act: on the one hand, involved; on the other, distanced. On the one hand, committed; on the other, critical. On the one hand, attentively rooted in ethnographic details; on the other, broadly theorized. Theater in a Crowded Fire walks that tightrope with remarkable agility."—Ronald L. Grimes, author of Deeply into the Bone
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