The Waco Siege’s Unanswered Questions, Twenty-Five Years Later

This April 19th is the 25th anniversary of the final assault that ended the FBI’s standoff with the Branch Davidians, an apocalyptic religious group led by Vernon Howell, better known as David Koresh. The standoff lasted for 51 days and by the time it was over 4 federal agents and more than 80 Branch Davidians were dead—many of the latter killed in a fire that broke out on April 19th as the FBI sought to end the stand-off. The Waco siege would have reverberations throughout the 1990s. Timothy McVeigh, one of the domestic terrorists responsible for the Oklahoma bombing in 1995 that killed 168 people, chose April 19th as the date of the bombing in an effort to cast the attack as retaliation for Waco. Within the FBI, the siege precipitated self-reflection and reform, prompting changes in how the Bureau responded to hostage crises.

The siege is the subject of a fresh investigation in The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security before and after 9/11, a book that traces the FBI’s interactions with various religious communities over the course of its history. In a chapter devoted to the Waco siege, Catherine Wessinger, a leading scholar of new religious movements, offers a new description of what happened in light of evidence not considered in an official report commissioned by Attorney General Janet Reno in 1999—evidence which Wessinger describes in the excerpt below. A quarter century later, the Waco siege still provokes debate and conspiracy theories. The memory of what happened there fuels a sense of grievance amongst certain far right groups to this day, and misunderstanding of the event has been compounded by a recent television productions. The evidence presented by Wessinger shows that there is still aspects of this event that have yet to be fully understood and questions yet to be fully answered.

—Steve Weitzman, co-editor of The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security before and after 9/11 


The FBI’s “Cult War” against the Branch Davidians
By Catherine Wessinger

Despite the publication in 2000 of special counsel John C. Danforth’s final report, which claims to settle the matter by putting all the blame for the fire on the Branch Davidians, the question of what happened at Mount Carmel is far from clearly determined.

The various analyses, strategies, and goals of different groups of FBI agents can be discerned in internal FBI documents found in the archival collection of Lee Hancock, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, at Texas State University in San Marcos. These documents indicate that FBI agents had gathered relevant “intelligence” about the Branch Davidians and their beliefs, and therefore that FBI officials were well informed about the Branch Davidians’ apocalyptic theology of martyrdom when they made decisions to implement “stress escalation” against the Branch Davidians.11 What amounted to psychological warfare, along with increasing physically destructive actions carried out by agents on the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), undermined FBI negotiators’ strategies, which were succeeding in persuading Branch Davidian adults to come out and to send their children out. FBI agents in Waco were constantly reporting to FBI officials in the Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC) in the Hoover Building in Washington, D.C. The FBI’s internal documents in the Lee Hancock Collection prompt the question of why FBI officials and commanders made decisions about handling the Branch Davidians that contradicted well-known FBI and law enforcement protocols to obtain the safe exit of barricaded subjects.

As a reporter with the Dallas Morning News, Lee Hancock covered the 1993 conflict between the Branch Davidians and federal agents. Hancock’s investigative reporting on the Branch Davidian case also covered the criminal trial in 1994, congressional hearings in 1995, the wrongful death civil trial in 2000, and the investigation by special counsel John C. Danforth. Someone in the FBI provided Hancock with internal FBI memos, reports, and logs. She used many of them in her important news stories, but she did not utilize all of the information available in these documents. I contacted Hancock for an interview in 2003, which turned out to be when she decided her research on the Branch Davidian case had concluded. She sent boxes of documents to me, and they were placed in the Loyola University New Orleans archive. In 2009 these materials were relocated to the archive of Texas State University, where they are now available to the public.

The internal FBI documents in the Lee Hancock Collection provide a wealth of information on the ways that FBI agents investigated David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, analyzed them for the possibility of mass suicide, and persuaded Attorney General Janet Reno to approve an assault by the FBI’s HRT that endangered all the residents of the building, especially the children. These documents indicate that the FBI decision makers were well aware of the apocalyptic theology of martyrdom taught by David Koresh. Consideration of these FBI documents in conjunction with the Branch Davidians’ conversations recorded by surveillance devices (“bugs”) inside the building prompt the following questions: Given that FBI decision makers were cognizant of the Branch Davidians’ apocalyptic martyrdom theology, why was the tank and CS gas assault carried out on April 19, 1993? Since there was a strong likelihood of fire erupting as a result of tanks driving through and dismantling the building—even if the Branch Davidians had not held a theology of martyrdom—why was this particular form of assault carried out? Why did FBI agents fail to inform Attorney General Reno that on April 14 David Koresh had proposed and was implementing an exit plan according to which he would be able to maintain his commitment to God’s word and also come out? Why was Reno not informed of the analysis of the FBI’s own behavioral scientists indicating the likely violent outcome of an assault carried out by the FBI? Materials held in the Lee Hancock Collection shed new light on these questions.

The collection contains a number of documents of interest in this chapter: (1) two documents summarizing the results of investigations into the probability of the Branch Davidians committing mass suicide, (2) two documents summarizing the results of investigations into the importance that the Branch Davidians attached to Passover, (3) a series of memos written by FBI behavioral scientists (“profilers”), the WACMUR Major Event Log and the WACMUR April 19, 1993, log, and (5) the Reno Briefing File. This chapter reviews this new information in order to show that FBI agents were evaluating the Branch Davidians for the possibility of group suicide up to the day before the FBI’s tank and CS gas assault on April 19, and that the information given to Attorney General Reno by FBI officials was slanted to prompt her to approve the ill-conceived assault. The massive fire on April 19 would not have been a surprise to the FBI officials who had seen these reports and the related FBI memos or to those who had either heard or seen the reports of surveillance device monitors regarding Branch Davidians’ conversations about prophecies being fulfilled by an assault. Whatever lessons are to be learned from the FBI’s conflict with the Branch Davidians must be based on an accurate understanding of what actually happened; what follows, drawing on this new information, is an effort to contribute to that understanding. Learn more.


Connecting with the Community: Attend Khaled Beydoun’s Upcoming Events on American Islamophobia

Khaled Beydoun, author of American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear is committed to sharing his passion, dedication, and energy in supporting and enriching communities. He says:

I spent much of 2015, 2016, and early 2017 on the road, speaking to undergraduates and graduate students, faculties, and community members, educating them about the meaning, parameters, and  threat of Islamophobia, and in the process, hearing their personal stories, building friendships, and expanding my community during a time of national crisis and concern.

I have interwoven several of these stories in American Islamophobia, which presented an opportunity to memorialize the rich tapestry of experiences, memories, and people with whom I crossed paths. But most importantly, this book presented a lasting opportunity to extend my mission to educate people about Islam, Muslim Americans, and the deeply rooted and rising system—Islamophobia—that distorts, demonizes, and drives state and private violence against the faith and its adherents.

Event Schedule

Meet Khaled and learn more about his work on law, racial justice, and Islamophobia. He’ll also share ways in which people can serve as activists and supporters within their community.

April

May 

  • May 2, 6:00pm, Seminary Co-op Bookstore, in Conversation with Ifrah Magan. Chicago, IL
  • May 9, 7:00pm, The Carter Center, Atlanta, GA
  • May 20, Brooklyn Museum, NY City Book Launch,  Brooklyn, NY
  • May 22, Arab American Association of New York, Brooklyn, NY
  • May 24, Islamic Center of NYU Annual Fundraiser, NYC, NY
  • May 25-26, Muslim Community Link, Worchester, MA

June

  • June 1, CAIR-AZ, Phoenix, AZ
  • June 2, Changing Hands Bookstore, Phoenix, AZ
  • June 4, The Summit, Seattle, WA
  • June 7, Busboys & Poets (14th and U), Washington, D.C.

Stay tuned for updates and additional dates. And read more about Khaled’s thought on rethinking Islamophobia, the FBI’s crackdown on “Black identity extremists“, and Islamophobia close to home.


The Conflict between Federal Agents and the Branch Davidians: A Special Virtual Issue from Nova Religio

Twenty-five years ago, between 28 February 1993 and 19 April 1993, a conflict on property named Mount Carmel outside Waco, Texas between American federal agents and members of the Branch Davidian community resulted in the largest loss of life in law enforcement actions in the United States. Subsequent to the Mount Carmel conflict, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions became the journal of record on Branch Davidian history and the events in 1993.

READ THE VIRTUAL ISSUE

This virtual issue of Nova Religio contains eight articles about the case that FBI agents named WACMUR (Waco Murder) after they took charge of the Mount Carmel property on 1 March 1993. The day before, on 28 February 1993, a shootout had occurred between Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) agents and Branch Davidians as the agents attempted a “no-knock,” “dynamic entry” into the residence to serve warrants, resulting in the deaths of four BATF agents and six Branch Davidians. FBI agents presided over what became a fifty-one-day siege, with agents carrying out a tank and CS gas assault on 19 April 1993 that culminated in a massive fire in which seventy-six Branch Davidians of all ages died.

What was the cause and who bears responsibility for this deadly conflict? How do new sources and revelations uncovered in the last twenty-five years help us understand the situation? What kinds of narratives have been constructed around these events, including, most recently, the Paramount Network fictionalized mini-series titled Waco?

This special virtual issue from Nova Religio investigates the Mount Carmel conflict via eight peer-reviewed articles that are freely available from February 28 – April 30, 2018.

Inside the virtual issue

Editor’s Note
Catherine Wessinger

Revisiting the Branch Davidian Mass Suicide Debate
Stuart A. Wright (Vol. 13 No. 2, November 2009)

Deaths in the Fire at the Branch Davidians’ Mount Carmel: Who Bears Responsibility?
Catherine Wessinger (Vol. 13 No. 2, November 2009)

“A Baptism by Fire”: The Branch Davidians and Apocalyptic Self-Destruction
Kenneth G. C. Newport (Vol. 13 No. 2, November 2009)

““Showtime”” in Texas: Social Production of the Branch Davidian Trials
James T. Richardson (Vol. 5 No. 1, October 2001)

The Use of the Military at Waco: The Danforth Report in Context
Jean E. Rosenfeld (Vol. 5 No. 1, October 2001)

A Decade after Waco: Reassessing Crisis Negotiations at Mount Carmel in Light of New Government Disclosures
Stuart A. Wright ( Vol. 7 No. 2, November 2003)

Traces of the Mount Carmel Community: Documentation and Access
Matthew D. Wittmer (Vol. 13 No. 2, November 2009)

Why Waco Has Not Gone Away: Critical Incidents and Cultural Trauma
Jayne Seminare Docherty (


UNLOCK ACCESS TO ALL NOVA RELIGIO CONTENT: When you subscribe to Nova Religio, you get access to all current and archival content dating back to 1997. Click here to subscribe or recommend the journal to your institutional library.


UC Press titles awarded CHOICE’s Outstanding Academic Title for 2017

We are pleased to announce that five of our titles have been awarded Outstanding Academic Title for 2017 by CHOICE!

This selective list, announced in every year’s January issue, consists of only about ten percent of the 6,000 works reviewed by CHOICE during the previous calendar year. It is a reflection of the best scholarly titles reviewed by CHOICE, chosen based upon the following criteria:

  • overall excellence in presentation and scholarship
  • importance relative to other literature in the field
  • distinction as a first treatment of a given subject in book or electronic form
  • originality or uniqueness of treatment
  • value to undergraduate students
  • importance in building undergraduate library collections

We’re proudly displaying these winning titles in our Oakland offices. Check out our CHOICE shelf, and each individual title, below.

 

Hymns for the Fallen:
Combat Movie Music and Sound after Vietnam
by Todd Decker

“Marked on every page by clear logic, sensitive perception, and emotional commitment, this is a welcome and original study.”
CHOICE

 

 

 

 

Islamic Civilization in Thirty Lives:
The First 1,000 Years
by Chase F. Robinson

“Robinson delivers a fascinating snapshot of Islamic history through 30 brief biographies. By including a mixture of the usual suspects (Muhammad, Ali, Saladin) and the unexpected (Ibn Hazm, Ibn Muqla, Abu al-Qasim), the author offers readers a rich variety of lives in pre-Islamic history.”
CHOICE

 

 

The Curious Humanist:
Siegfried Kracauer in America

by Johannes Von Moltke

“Clearly written, accessible to a wide readership, and including a comprehensive bibliography, this book provides an excellent overview of Kracauer’s thought and contributions to the development of humanistic inquiry.”
CHOICE

 

 

 

The Real School Safety Problem:
The Long-Term Consequences of Harsh School Punishment

by Aaron Kupchik

A must-read book that focuses on the real problem in school safety–the over-reliance on punishment, and the under-reliance on problem-solving and caring.”
—Russell J. Skiba, Director, Equity Project, Indiana University Center for Evaluation and Education Policy

 

 

 

The Uses of Photography:
Art, Politics, and the Reinvention of a Medium
Edited by Jill Dawsey 

“This is a valuable introduction to the work of these individuals and, beyond that, a reasoned assessment of the nature and qualities of this aspect of an important art movement. . . Summing Up: Highly recommended.”
CHOICE

 


Congratulations to the 2017 National Jewish Book Award Finalists

We are pleased to announce that Who Will Lead Us?: The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America by Samuel C. Heilman and Unorthodox Kin: Portuguese Marranos and the Global Search for Belonging by Naomi Leite were both selected as finalists for the 2017 National Jewish Book Award, awarded by the Jewish Book Council.

Dating back to 1925, the Jewish Book Council is one of the oldest organizations providing continual service to the American Jewish community. Additionally, the National Jewish Book Awards, which began in 1950, is the longest running awards program of its kind in the field of Jewish literature and is recognized as the most prestigious, giving recognition to outstanding books.

Who Will Lead Us?finalist for the award in American Jewish Studies, is the fascinating story of five contemporary Hasidic dynasties and their handling of the delicate issue of leadership and succession. In their review, the Jewish Book Council says:

“Diagnosing how modernity has forever changed Hasidism, and following the twisting narratives of its unique cast of characters is what makes these succession narratives so interesting. . . . Who Will Lead Us? is an academic study but an accessible read. Anyone interested in Jewish history mixed with a bit of palace intrigue will enjoy this book.”

Read the full review here.

 

Unorthodox Kin, finalist for the Modern Jewish Thought and Experience award, is a groundbreaking exploration ofidentity, relatedness, and belonging in a global era. In urban Portugal today, hundreds of individuals trace their ancestry to 15th century Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism, and many now seek to rejoin the Jewish people as a whole. The Jewish Book Council says:

“This acclaimed book will appeal to a wide audience interested in anthropology, sociology, and religious studies. Its accessible, narrative-driven style makes it especially well-suited for introductory and advanced courses in general cultural anthropology, ethnography, theories of identity and social categorization, and the study of globalization, kinship, tourism, and religion.”

Read the full review here and learn more about the awards and the full results here. Many congratulations to Samuel and Naomi and the rest of this year’s NJBA finalists and winners!


The Enduring Power of Technicians of the Sacred, Fifty Years Later

Jerome Rothenberg at UC Press, seated beside his collections: “Technicians of the Sacred” and “Symposium of the Whole.”

Jerome Rothenberg changed the course of poetics with the opening statement to his landmark anthology, Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries From Africa, America, Asia, Europe & Oceania: “Primitive means complex.”

Fifty years later, Technicians of the Sacred endures, inspiring and educating readers with its ability to expand the possibilities of poetry throughout the world. In the preface to the new 50th Anniversary Edition, Rothenberg situates the book in the present and affirms poetry’s power in making sense of our shared humanity in especially fraught times:

We have witnessed an upsurge of new nationalisms & racisms, directed most often against the diversity of mind & spirit of which the earlier Technicians was so clearly a part. To confront this implicit, sometimes rampant ethnic cleansing, even genocide, there is the need for a kind of omnipoetics that tests the range of our threatened humanities wherever found & looks toward an ever greater assemblage of words & thoughts as a singular buttress against those forces that would divide & diminish us.

Jerome Rothenberg with Nick Cave.

Many readers—among them, notable poets, musicians, and artists—have been profoundly influenced by Technicians of the Sacred, including the musician Nick Cave, who says, “No one taught me more about poetry than Jerome Rothenberg. Technicians of the Sacred is the greatest anthology of poetry ever created, ‘primitive’ or otherwise.” While the poet Anne Waldman says: “Technicians of the Sacred is a seminal world wisdom text, a vibrating compendium of poetry and exegesis that reanimates poetry’s efficacy in the world. More radically timely than ever in a tormented era of xenophobia, racism, post-truth, and psychic crisis when words are abased. This is a spiritual book; a book to survive with.” Poet and environmentalist Homero Aridjis says it is “a unique, groundbreaking and essential guide to humankind’s spiritual relationship with Earth and the divine,” while Michael McClure says it as only Michael McClure can: “Jerome Rothenberg is a DNA spaceman exploring the mammal caves of Now.”

Eddie Vedder with the 50th anniversary edition of “Technicians of the Sacred.”

Other artists who have found inspiration in the book include Eddie Vedder (pictured here with a zydeco washboard vest that Rothenberg gave him) and the late singer and bibliophile Warren Zevon. Zevon’s extensive library rests in the care of his ex-wife, Crystal Zevon, who says: “When Warren moved in with me in 1971, Technicians of the Sacred was the only book he brought with him. Our early relationship is indelibly marked by Warren reading to me from that book, and it continued as a favorite pastime in years that followed.”

UC Press staff were lucky to have Rothenberg (along with wife and co-editor of the 2016 collection Symposium of the Whole, Diane) visit our offices recently for a fascinating presentation on his background, his coining of “ethnopoetics,” and the publishing history of Technicians of the Sacred. He followed with a wonderful reading of a few selections from the 50th anniversary edition, including “Essie Parrish in New York.” The poem appears in a new section called “Survivals and Revivals” in which Rothenberg explores the resurgence of indigenous poetry. Rothenberg explained that Essie Parrish was a healer from the Kashaya Pomo tribe, and as she spoke in 1972 at the New School in New York, poet George Quasha transcribed her narrative of a dream-vision. Watch the video below:

Celebrate the 50th anniversary edition with 30% off. Enter promo code 17M6662 at checkout.

 


Expanding the Environmental Imagination

By Dan McKanan, author of Eco-Alchemy: Anthroposophy and the History and Future of Environmentalism

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. #AARSBL17


The time is ripe for environmentalists to expand our imaginations. By withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and threatening to exploit Bears Ears and other national monuments, President Trump has sent us a clear message. We must be the ones who will protect and heal the world that we love. When political leaders refuse to lead, cities, towns, neighborhoods, schools, and religious communities must step forward. Together, we can cultivate a truly ecological response to global warming, mass extinction, declining soil fertility, and the resulting devastation of poor communities. An ecological response eschews top-down and one-size-fits-all solutions. Instead, it builds a resilient network of organic farmers and university scientists, bankers and spiritual leaders, preschool teachers and practitioners of civil disobedience. Like the ferns and fungi, predators and herbivores of a forest ecology, each group has a special contribution to make.

As a Divinity School professor, I am fascinated by the ways spiritual traditions fill distinct ecological niches within the environmental movement. I am especially fascinated by anthroposophy, an offshoot of theosophy that has been interwoven with environmental activism for the past century. If you have ever purchased a share in a community supported farm, sipped a glass of biodynamic wine, or read Silent Spring, you have felt the influence of anthroposophy and its founder, Rudolf Steiner. Students of Steiner created the first system of organic certification, initiated the campaign to ban the spraying of DDT, invented community supported agriculture, and founded the world’s largest “green banks.” Increasingly, they work in symbiotic partnership with Buddhists, Sufis, seekers of the New Age, and even Roman Catholic religious orders. My new book, Eco-Alchemy, tells these stories and invites environmentalists of all stripes to learn from the distinct approach of anthroposophy.

I was inspired to write Eco-Alchemy not because I was personally committed to anthroposophy, but because it puzzled me. Anthroposophy is a small spiritual movement. It has unusual ideas about reincarnation, the evolution of humanity on multiple planets, and the presence of Christ in the soil. In developing the “biodynamic” approach to agriculture, Steiner blended experimental science with homeopathy, astrology, and alchemy. As I learned more, I realized that anthroposophy’s commitment to the alchemical principle of balance has great potential to stretch the imagination of environmentalism. Students of Steiner work creatively with the polarities of human and nature, matter and spirit, macrocosm and microcosm. This has allowed them to pair farming with care for persons with developmental disabilities, green banking with artistic creation, and scientific research with meditative practice. While many environmentalists assume that they must choose either modern science or antimodern magic, East or West, or the political left or right, anthroposophy challenges us to work creatively with both sides of each polarity. As one part of an ever-expanding movement, it invites us all to broaden our vision and escape ideological monocultures.


Dan McKanan is the Emerson Senior Lecturer at Harvard Divinity School and the author of several books on religion and social transformation, among them Touching the World: Christian Communities Transforming Society and Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition.


Cosmic Narratives, Ecology, and Religion

By Lisa H. Sideris, author of Consecrating Science: Wonder, Knowledge, and the Natural World

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. #AARSBL17


A lively discussion on Edge.org asks prominent thinkers to address the question, “What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?” The answers provide a handy resource for anyone wanting to brush up on epigenetics or confirmation bias or case-based reasoning. The term that caught my eye is the “noosphere.” Its advocate is David Christian, the leading proponent of “Big History,” a science-based approach to history that melds the human and cosmic story into one grand narrative. Big History is exciting, TED-talk-ready stuff, and Christian obligingly narrates the whole shebang—14 billion years ago to the present—in under 20 minutes. It is presented as a modern origin story for all people, a vehicle for restoring meaning in the way that institutional religions did in the past.”

In resuscitating the noosphere, Christian claims it had a brief efflorescence “and then vanished.” It has not vanished, I assure you. You just need to know where to look.

My research on cosmic narratives like Big History and its (overtly) religious counterpart, the Universe Story, has led me down the noosphere rabbit hole. The noosphere designates a planetary sphere of mind, a thinking layer of the planet, that evolves and unfolds much like the biosphere (animate matter) or the geosphere (inanimate matter). It originated with the Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky (1863–1945) and the French Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), among others.

A version of the noosphere concept is alive and well in scholarship on religion and ecology today, and in contemporary discourse about the Anthropocene. Some see the noosphere as a precursor concept to the Anthropocene because both signal a geological stage in which humans have become the dominant—and directing—force on Earth systems. In the words of Julian Huxley, “Whether he likes it or not [man] is responsible for the whole future evolution of our planet.”

So, how do we like it? I, for one, am uneasy. Others, not so much. Christian sees scientists’ recent announcement that the Anthropocene began in the mid-twentieth century as vindication of Vernadsky’s ideas. Why that date? Many researchers mark the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945 as the official start of the Anthropocene epoch. Of course, this is hardly an auspicious beginning to our career as planetary managers! Nevertheless, this was the moment, Christian argues, when “the sphere of mind joined the pantheon of planet-shaping spheres [namely] cosmos, earth and life.”

Pantheon. Mind you, we are talking about a geological epoch that began with world-destroying weapons and is proceeding apace with catastrophic climate change.

I worry that cosmic perspectives on human planetary dominance may frame it as a natural, even inevitable, evolutionary stage. My concerns were not allayed when researchers proposed recently that the Anthropocene seems a “predictable planetary transition” from the standpoint of astrobiology. Elsewhere that study’s lead author opines that our environmental crises are “simply another thing the Earth has done in its long history.” Better yet: the Anthropocene marks our “coming of age as a true planetary species.”

Such observations are both unscientific and irresponsible. If asked what scientific concept ought to be relegated to the dustbin of history, I would vote for the noosphere.


Lisa H. Sideris is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University, where her research focuses on religion, science, and environmentalism. She is the author of Environmental Ethics, Ecological Theology, and Natural Selection.


Spirituality, Morality, and Eco-Activism

By Sarah M. Pike, author of For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. #AARSBL17


For the Wild came about because I wanted to understand the lives and motivations behind “ecoterrorist” stereotypes that were current in the news media during the 1990s. During interviews I discovered that memories and emotions may play an important role in shaping activists’ commitments. Love for other-than-human species, compassion for their suffering, anger about the impact of contemporary human lifestyles on the lives of nonhumans, grief over the degradation of ecosystems and the suffering of other animals: these emotions are expressed through and emerge out of what I describe in the book as protest rites.

My book is also concerned with fundamental questions about human identity construction in relation to others, human and nonhuman, expressed through and at the same time created by ritualized actions. I argue that these activists are the radical wing of a broader cultural shift in understanding humans’ place in a multispecies world and a planet in peril. Their actions express trends in contemporary American spiritual expression and moral duties to the nonhuman at the turn of the millennium. Their beliefs and practices reflect a way of being in the world that decenters the human and calls for rethinking our appropriate place in the world. Their stories further our understanding of how younger Americans, in particular, situate the needs of human beings within a world of other species that they see themselves as closely related to and responsible for. The following excerpt is from the introduction:

In July 2000, federal agents raided an environmental action camp in Mt. Hood National Forest that was established to protect old-growth forests and their inhabitants, including endangered species, from logging. High above the forest floor, activists had constructed a platform made of rope and plywood where several of them swung from hammocks. Seventeen-year-old Emma Murphy-Ellis held off law enforcement teams for almost eight hours by placing a noose around her neck and threatening to hang herself if they came too close. Murphy-Ellis, going by her forest name Usnea, explained her motivation in the following way: “I state without fear—but with the hope of rallying our collective courage—that I support radical actions. I support tools like industrial sabotage, monkey-wrenching machinery and strategic arson. The Earth’s situation is dire. If other methods are not enough, we must not allow concerns about property rights to stop us from protecting the land, sea and air.” Murphy-Ellis speaks for most radical activists who are ready to put their bodies on the line to defend trees or animals, other lives that they value as much as their own.

For the Wild is a study of radical environmental and animal rights activism in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century America. I set out to explore how teenagers like Murphy-Ellis become committed to forests and animals as worthy of protection and personal sacrifice. I wanted to find out how nature becomes sacred to them, how animals, trees, and mountains come to be what is important and worth sacrificing for. This work is about the paths young activists find themselves following, in tree-sits and road blockades to protect old-growth forests and endangered bird species, or breaking into fur farms at night to release hundreds of mink from cages. These young people join loosely organized, leaderless groups like Earth First! and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), coming to protests from contexts as different as significant childhood experiences in nature and the hardcore punk rock music scene. Various other experiences also spark their commitments, such as viewing a documentary about baby seal hunts or witnessing a grove of woods they loved being turned into a parking lot. What their paths to activism have in common is the growing recognition of a world shared with other, equally valuable beings, and a determined certainty that they have a duty to these others.


Sarah M. Pike is Professor of Comparative Religion at California State University, Chico, and, in addition to For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism, is the author of Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community and New Age and Neopagan Religions in America.


Must-Read Issues for the 2017 AAR & SBL Annual Meetings

This week, the joint meetings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) are convening in Boston, MA from November 18-21. Whether or not you are attending #AARSBL17, we invite you read the following free sample issues from two of our journals in these disciplines, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions and Studies in Late Antiquity

Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions
Special Issue: New Religions in Eastern Europe
Vol. 20, No. 3

READ THE FULL ISSUE

Introduction: New Religions in Eastern Europe: New Forms, Recent Developments
Milda Ališauskienė
Baltic Paganis

Baltic Paganism in Lithuanian Neoshamanic Communities: Neoshamanic Interpretations of a Local Indo-European Religious Tradition
Eglė Aleknaitė

A Catholic Pyramid? Locating the Pyramid of Merkinė within the Religious Landscape of Lithuania
Milda Ališauskienė

Survival Strategies of New Religions in a Secular Consumer Society: A Case Study from Estonia
Ringo Ringvee

“What if it is actually true?” Vissarion’s Followers from Eastern Europe and their Path to the Last Testament Church Community in Siberia
Joanna Urbańczyk

Hit Gyülekezete: A Sectarian State Megachurch in Hungary
Holly Folk


Studies in Late Antiquity
Vol. 1, No. 1

READ THE FULL ISSUE

Why Does the World Need a New Journal on Late Antiquity?
The Editor and Associate Editors

Community Matters
Elizabeth DePalma Digeser

Late Antiquity and World History: Challenging Conventional Narratives and Analyses
Chengpang Lee, Ling Han

How Perilous was it to Write Political History in Late Antiquity?
Anthony Kaldellis

From a Classical to a Christian City: Civic Evergetism and Charity in Fifth Century Rome
Michele Salzman