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Millenarian movements #3: comments and additional book suggestions

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — concluding post in 3-part biblio series ]

I wanted to complete my series of posts, begun before the Boston conference, providing readings of use in understanding new religious movements, and “end times” movements in particular.

  • A dozen or more books on NRMs, apocalyptic, and violence
  • A dozen or so books on Islamic apocalyptic
  • This, the third and last post in that series, contains additions to the first of the two posts above, as recommended by scholars on a relevant mailing list I subscribe to.


    Here are the comments made by three scholars of new religious movements in response to my request:

    Gordon Melton:

    I feel some need to call attention to the vast literature on millennialisms that have no violence connected with them. I have been working for the past few years, for example, on Pentecostalism, an intensely millennial movement that spread globally in its first generation with no hint of violence. In fact the great majority of millennial groups have had no violence connected with them, while the majority of violent nrms have had no particular millennial orientation. In asking why a few millennial groups turned violent, and others had violence inflicted upon them, we must always deal with the issue of why so many, from the Millerites to the modern Catholic Marian groups, have no hint of violent tendencies in spite of vibrant millennial expectations.

    John Hall:

    I want to emphasize again that religious violence is not restricted to apocalyptic/millenarian groups, a point I developed at length in ‘Religion and violence from a sociological perspective,’ [in Jerryson, Juergensmeyer, and Kitts’s 2013 Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence] which is not focused on religious movements per se, and thus, may have been missed by list members.

    Jean Rosenfeld:

    In How the Millennium Comes Violently, Cathy Wessinger has a chapter on the instructive case of Chen Tao, which I have used in class to demonstrate that even when the authorities are excited by the possibility of a group suicide, informed individuals from the group and outside can reassure everyone that nothing will happen. Even in the case of a very violent apocalyptic group, CSA, the collaboration of an insider (Noble) with the besieging authority (FBI HRT director Coulsen) averted a bloody denouement. In contrast, arguably peaceful groups, the Waco Davidians and the Rua Kenana group in North Island, NZ, were violently confronted by misguided (and frightened) authorities.


    Further readings suggested by a variety of scholars:

    Bromley & Melton, eds, Cults, Religion, and Violence
    John Hall, Gone from the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History
    Benjamin Zeller, Heaven’s Gate: America’s UFO Religion
    James Lewis, ed, The Order of the Solar Temple: The Temple of Death
    Eileen Barker, forthcoming, The Making is a Moonie: Brainwashing or Choice?

    And some titles with brief comments:

    Peter Webster, Rua and the Maori Millennium
    — incredible early study by anthropologist Webster of an Antipodean “Koresh”
    Paul Clark, Hauhau: the Pai Marire Search for Maori Identity
    — how the wars that founded New Zealand began in response to N.Z.’s most influential prophet movement
    GW Trompf, ed., Cargo Cults and Millenarian Movements: Transoceanic Comparisons of New Religious Movements
    — relevant today, oddly enough, and insightful)
    Jean Rosenfeld, The Island Broken in Two Halves: Land and Renewal Movements Among the Maori of New Zealand
    — 4-5 major nativist millennial/apoc. movements and Land Wars; NZ has some of the richest, most copious data on these subjects
    Sylvia Thrupp. ed., Millennial Dreams in Action: Studies in Revolutionary Religious Movements
    — includes chapters on early N.A. Indian movements, lest we forget

    Michael Cook Books — two for digestion and future review

    Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — my mind is enriched by the mere possession of these two works ]

    There are other books on my desk which I should read before either of these, books I am committed to reviewing or simply wish to review, but I can’t help casting the odd sneaky glance at these two books by Michael Cook — works of vast and impressive scholarship, each of them:

    m cook


  • Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective. 568 pages.
    From the blurb:

    Michael Cook takes an in-depth, comparative look at political identity, social values, attitudes to warfare, views about the role of religion in various cultural domains, and conceptions of the polity. In all these fields he finds that the Islamic heritage offers richer resources for those engaged in current politics than either the Hindu or the Christian heritages. He uses this finding to explain the fact that, despite the existence of Hindu and Christian counterparts to some aspects of Islamism, the phenomenon as a whole is unique in the world today. The book also shows that fundamentalism–in the sense of a determination to return to the original sources of the religion–is politically more adaptive for Muslims than it is for Hindus or Christians.

    From Martin Marty‘s review:

    This is a work of enormous erudition and considerable subtlety. Cook’s learning is vast, his insight profound, his treatment of sources fair. Ancient Religions, Modern Politics is a most impressive achievement.

  • **

  • Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought. 724 pages.
    From the blurb:

    What kind of duty do we have to try to stop others doing wrong? The question is intelligible in almost any culture, but few seek to answer it in a rigorous fashion. The most striking exception is found in the Islamic tradition where ‘commanding right and forbidding wrong’ is a central moral tenet. Michael Cook’s comprehensive and compelling analysis represents the first sustained attempt to map the history of Islamic reflection on this obligation and to explain its relevance for politics and ideology in the contemporary Islamic world.

    From Robert Irwin‘s review:

    [Cook’s] account of how injustice and immorality have been confronted by Muslim thinkers provides an unusual and fascinating perspective on the social history of Islam. It also furnishes an essential basis for understanding the roots of modern Islamic rigorism. This is one of the most important scholarly works dealing with Islam to have been produced in the western world in the last one hundred years.

    At 200 pages, Cook’s Forbidding Wrong in Islam: An Introduction is the “short” version

  • Heads up: two keepers on terrorism for later review

    Sunday, May 31st, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — for global perspective ]

    Hoffman Ganor 602


    Hoffman and ReinaresThe Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat: From 9/11 to Osama bin Laden’s Death offers 700 pages of densely-packed information about global, ans they do mean global, terrorism since 9-11. Contributors include Peter Neumann, Paul Cruickshank, J-P Filiu, Seth Jones, Rohan Gunaranta, Ami Pedahzur, Thomas Hegghammer, C Christine Fair.

    Ganor BoazGlobal Alert, which I just received, appears to offer its own definition of the topic, then take a refreshingly clean, unsentimental look at the field.

    Both are recommended.

    A Very Short, but Sweet Recommended Reading

    Friday, May 29th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    I’m still alive. Work and other commitments have been overwhelming the past month or so, but Charles Cameron has ably been holding down the fort.

    A trio of highly recommended posts:


    Last fall I wrote a popular series of posts outlining the history of the eight decade war waged between the ChineseHan Dynasty and the Xiongnu (old style: Hsiung-nu) nomadic empire. My posts were a response to a prominent American strategic theorist who misunderstood the history of the Han-Xiongnu relations in his search for enduring patterns in China’s military and diplomatic history relevant to China’s foreign relations today. Unfortunately, this experience was not a singular event. It seems that every month some new book or article is published pushing a misleading version of Chinese history or a strained interpretation of classical Chinese political thought to shore up a new theory of what makes China tick. I could devote this blog solely to refuting these poorly sourced theories and never run out of things to write about. Despite these errors, I have a great deal of sympathy for those who pen them. They face a nearly insurmountable problem: many of the thinkers, strategists, and conflicts most important to the Chinese strategic tradition have next to nothing in English written about them. Critical works have yet to be translated, translated works have yet to be analyzed, histories of important wars and figures have yet to be written, and what has been written is often scattered in obscure books and journals accessible only to experienced Sinologists. English speakers simply do not have access to the information they need to study the Chinese strategic tradition.

    This needs to change. It needs to change both for the sake of strategic theory as a discipline, which has essentially ignored the insights and observations gleaned from 3,000 years of study and experience, and for understanding the intentions of our rivals and allies in East Asia, who draw upon this tradition to decide their own political and strategic priorities. But in order to make these necessary changes we need a clear picture of where we are now. This essay attempts to provide this picture. It is not a bibliographic essay per say, for I will freely admit that I have not read all of the books and research articles I will mention below. Some titles I have only read in part; others I have not read at all. However, the goal of this post is not to review the results and conclusions of all these works, but to outline where research has been done and where more research is needed. For this purpose awareness suffices when more intimate knowledge is lacking.

    Mastering 3,000 years of intellectual and military history is a gargantuan task. But in order to find the answers to some of the questions inherent in the study the Chinese strategic tradition, it must be done. I make no such claim of mastery. My expertise is uneven; I am most familiar with both the strategic thought and the actual events of the China’s classical period (Warring States through the Three Kingdoms era, c. 475 BC-280 AD), and am probably weakest when discussing the first two decades of the 20th century, a time critical to the development of the tradition but difficult to master because of the number of political actors involved, the complexity of their relations, and the great intellectual variety of the era. Despite these weaknesses I know enough to chart out the broad outlines of current scholarship, a charge most specialists in strategic theory cannot attempt and most Sinologists would not desire. These biases and proclivities have kept the two disciplines far apart; there is an urgent need for these two scholarly bodies to draw together. If this essay–which is addressed primarily to the first group but should be accessible to second–helps in some small way to bring this to pass I shall consider it a grand success.  [….]

    Our wars since WWII

    The local fighter is therefore often an accidental guerrilla — fighting us because we are in his space, not because he wishes to invade ours. He follows folk-ways of tribal warfare that are mediated by traditional cultural norms, values, and perceptual lenses; he is engaged (from his point of view) in “resistance” rather than “insurgency” and fights principally to be left alone.

    — David Kilcullen in The Accidental Guerrilla (2011).

    Most of the West’s wars since WWII have been fight insurgencies in foreign lands. Although an ancient form of conflict, the odds shifted when Mao brought non-trinitarian (aka 4th generation) warfare to maturity. Not until the late 1950’s did many realize that war had evolved again.

    It took more decades more for the West to understand what they faced. Only after the failure of our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq did the essential aspect of this new era become known, as described in Chapter 6.2 of Martin van Creveld’s The Changing Face of War (2006).

    What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Eritrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

    Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed. […]

    Octavian Manea – The Need to Understand and Conduct UW ( SWJ Interview with Colonel David Maxwell)

    Interview with retired US Army Special Forces Colonel David S. Maxwell.

    David S. Maxwell is the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.  He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and served as a member of the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College.  He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University.

    SWJ: Insurgency, counterinsurgency, foreign internal defense, terrorism, counterterrorism – does this spectrum of possibilities fall within the larger framework of Unconventional Warfare (UW)?

    David Maxwell: Terminology is important. But since 9/11 we have embarked on an effort to rename wars, rename conflicts and come up with new doctrinal terms trying to explain old things in new ways. As Clausewitz said before you embark on a war you first must understand the war. But in America there is this tendency to first must name the war and in order to understand the war we have to name the doctrinal terms that we are going to use. We spend more time on naming than on understanding. When it comes to counterinsurgency, counter-terrorism I subscribe to Collin Gray who said that the strategist needs to understand his subject, which is not COIN, not CT, but strategy for its particular challenge in COIN or CT. I think we spend more time on arguing about COIN and CT than we really do trying to devise effective strategies to protect our national interests some of which includes either defending against terrorism through CT or helping others to conduct counterinsurgency which I still think is a very necessary capability that our military needs. Although the way we have conducted counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan must be thoroughly examined, whether this is the right or wrong way.

    At the same time, seeing everything through only the lens of terrorism really misses the point. Looking at everything as a terrorism problem has hurt our strategic thinking. 9-11 was a tragic event and there are people out there that are conducting terrorist acts, trying to harm the West, the US, and western interests. But terrorism is not the only problem. Naming Al Qaeda a terrorist organization is correct from a legal point of view, but what they are really conducting is more of a form of unconventional warfare. UW is a form of warfare that has been conducted for generations and for millennia. It is part of the nature of war. The phenomena we are really facing emanates from a fundamental aspect political-military operations and that is revolution, resistance, and insurgency.  Clausewitz described the paradoxical trinity and UW falls within it. But we have this tendency trying to put everything into a box – terrorism, insurgency, hybrid conflict, conventional war, nuclear war – when we really need to look at and understand the strategies of the organizations and nation-states conducting warfare. I fear that we don’t spend enough time understanding strategy. Do we understand the strategy of ISIL, of Boko Haram? We have to do a better job of thinking strategically. And one weakness is our inability to observe and understand the strategies of our opponents. [….]

    Hopefully, I will be returning to a more normal blogging schedule in a couple of weeks. I have several book reviews and other posts waiting on the backburner to either finish or write as soon as time permits

    Browsing in bin Laden’s library II

    Thursday, May 21st, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — following up on Browsing in bin Laden’s library ]

    Marcy Wheeler at Salon reports of the ODNI’s Bin Laden’s Bookshelf (expanded form, .pdf) that “the categorization imposed by ODNI” consists “largely of overlapping categories of English-language materials worthy of a Jorge Luis Borges short story.

    Categories include:


    The Borges “short story” referenced here isn’t in fact a short story but an essay, The Analytical Language of John Wilkins, which includes a classification system “which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled ‘Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge'”. Borges’ spurious taxonomy divides the animal kingdom into the following categories:

    (a) belonging to the emperor,
    (b) embalmed,
    (c) tame,
    (d) sucking pigs,
    (e) sirens,
    (f) fabulous,
    (g) stray dogs,
    (h) included in the present classification,
    (i) frenzied,
    (j) innumerable,
    (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
    (l) et cetera,
    (m) having just broken the water pitcher,
    (n) that from a long way off look like flies.

    Nicely observed, Marcy.


    Of particular personal note considering my interest in games:

    Under the heading “Documents Probably Used by Other Compound Residents” we find listed:

  • Delta Force Extreme 2 Videogame Guide
  • Game Spot Videogame Guide
  • One wonders (idly) whether ODNI cannot believe OBL would play such games, or whether that classification was arrived at on the basis of the location in the compound where these materials were found.

    And given my interest in religion:

    Under the heading “Think Tank & Other Studies”:

  • Program for the Study of International Organizations (PSIO), “Hizb ut-Tahrir: The Next Al-Qaeda, Really?” by Jean-Francois Mayer (2004)
  • And under the heading “Other religious documents”:

    a treatise on Christianity by one Monqith Ben Mahmoud Assaqar PhD, titled Was Jesus crucified for our atonement? — which opens with the following (presumably post-doctoral) statement of scholarship-to-date:

    Praise to Allah (S.W) , the cherisher and sustainer of the worlds, and may peace and blessings be upon all of His messengers. In our previous parts of this series “True guidance and light series”, we have concluded and confirmed a plain truth, which is that the Holy Bible, as we have seen, is man work, and not the word of Allah (S.W) in any way. Thus, Christians cannot present it as evidence for any of their creeds or events, including the crucifixion and the Atonement.

    FWIW, reading this treatise will likely not have helped OBL in his quest for interfaith understanding.

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