Yet as common as Turner’s theories on ritual and communitas may be in the analysis of Burning Man they are not without their difficulties, as has been recognized, for example, by Graham St. John in his analysis of Australia’s ConFest. In addition to these difficulties and shortcomings, other perspectives might be considered by the academic community that would shed additional light on our understanding of the Burning Man phenomenon. This thesis represents an exploration of two such possibilities that provide alternative analytical perspectives. The first is the “homeless mind” thesis developed in 1974 by Peter Berger, Brigitte Berger, and Hansfield Kellner, and its modification in 2002 by Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead. Berger et al.’s thesis explored the lack of confidence of the Sixties counterculture in mainstream institutions that ceased to provide an adequate psychological home for the self. Without these moorings these “homeless minds” turned within to their own “subjectivities” and then looked to the “secondary institutions” of alternative spirituality and psychology as a way of guiding the deinstitutionalized self. The homeless mind thesis has been revisited by Heelas and Woodhead and revised in light of the intervening decades since the 1960s. They suggest that the homeless mind thesis is sound and of continuing value to an understanding of the contemporary West, but that the countercultural turn to the self has broadened to include “relational, humanitarian, ecological or cosmic” dimensions, and that with this has come the development of new secondary institutions that navigate a “’middle way’ between primary institutions and the fragile resources of the homeless self drawing upon itself.”
The results of the application of the insights from the preceding chapters result in a shift to ecclesiological reflexivity in Chapter Three. Given the existence of Burning Man as a post-Christendom secondary institution and middle-way I will consider what lessons the church might learn in critical self-reflection from the appeal of secondary institutions such as Burning Man and alternative spiritualities that arise, in part, as a result of the loss of confidence in traditional religious institutions. I will also consider insights from counterculture studies, utopian studies, festivals and festivity, and play theology, and how the Western church’s reflection and experimentation in these areas might aid in its own revitalization with the corresponding perceptions of its credibility among those involved in alternative cultural events. I will conclude with how this might shape our understanding of the form of the church in engagement with twenty-first century alternative cultural events and communities.