Thursday, October 28, 2010

Burning Man "Hot Academic Topic"


My friend Scott Eggert recently let me know about a new academic group through Google which focuses on Burning Man Festival research. After I joined the group I noticed in one of the posted messages that there was a recent article in the Los Angeles Times titled "Burning Man becomes a hot academic topic." The byline of the story by Catherine Saillant reads "A growing number of sociologists, business professors and theologians view the event's mix of hipsters, artisans, zany theme camps and outdoor art gallery as more than a party. They see fertile ground for research."

Regular readers of this blog may recall that I wrote my MA thesis on Burning Man in 2007. The abstract:

Burning Man Festival is an intentional community and alternative cultural event involving nearly 40,000 people that meet annually in the desert of Nevada. Scholarly analysis of the festival tends to interpret it through Victor Turner’s framework of liminality and ritual. While this perspective sheds valuable light on understanding the event, other theoretical frameworks are helpful, including the “homeless mind” and secondary institutions thesis of Peter Berger, Brigitte Berger, and Hansfried Kellner used to explain the 1960s counterculture. This thesis has been updated by Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead to include the turn to the self now involving life-enhancing secondary institutions. Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone also presents promising interpretive options for understanding this event. From these perspectives, Burning Man may be understood as an alternative cultural event that functions as a secondary institution and new spiritual outlet in rejection of mainstream institutions and traditional religion. The same dynamic can be seen in the historic contrast of Burning Man with other alternative cultures, such as the Rainbow Family of Living Light. Critical reflection on this phenomenon by Christians engaged in ecclesiological reflexivity provides a means for a better understanding of alternative cultural events, and possibly the revitalization and renewed credibility of Christianity in the post-Christendom West.

1 comment:

Daniel Swain said...

Interesting discussions. I was just doing some general searching on Burning Man and Christianity. I was interested in what was being said about that intersection out there. I was raised Christian and, at one time and for many years, was a devout believer. I no longer consider myself a believer, let alone a devout one, and my experiences with the Burning Man community have been a key element in that ongoing transformation. I am intrigued by the idea of a Temporary Autonomous Zone and the Burn is a place outside of the norms of life where expression in whatever form is embraced and celebrated. But it only has real power, real impact, when that experience positively impacts how we live day to day as it has me and many others that I know. It is perhaps true, that it is the church that is the secondary institution, and communities and events like Burning Man are actually closer to the truth than any established institution.