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When one life sprouts inside another

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — some ugly comparisons, you have been warned — but it is only the exaggerated ugliness that drives my point home ]

The first DoubleQuote of three I’m posting here shows two views of sacred sites taken over by conquering religions.

SPEC DQ cordoba istanbul

You may have seen this DoubleQuote before — the upper panel shows the Mezqita or Grand Mosque of Cordoba, an extraordinarily beautiful building in the middle of which Spanish Catholics grafted a baroque cathedral, an act of which King Carlos V of Spain said:

You have built here what you or anyone might have built anywhere else, but you have destroyed what was unique in the world

The lower panel shows the Hagia Sophia or Basilica of the Holy Spirit in Istanbul, which was turned into a mosque by Muslim conquerors, and subsequently made into a museum


The question this sort of transformation of sacred places — from one faith to another, often by conquest but also on occasion by commercial transfer or simple generosity — leaves me wondering what it must feel like for those who lose their place of worship, especially in case of conquest. And I should make it clear that my question applies as much to Jews unable to pray on Temple Mount as it does to Christians in Istanbul or Muslims in Cordoba.

By its visual nature, the Cordoban example sticks in my mind, however — the relatively new cathedral sprouting quiute visibly from the ancient mosque.

And so it is that my mind, habituated to seeking visual analogues, stumbled on the disgusting — if brilliant — birth of the alien in Ridley Scott‘s The Alien:

SPEC DQ alien chestbuster birth

I know: Giger‘s aliens in the movie — and even more so, in the now canonical “chestburster” scene — are hideous, as Ridley Scott himself said, “in the unique manner in which they convey both horror and beauty.”


Granted, these comparisons from “fiction” (above) and “nature” (below) to what is now one of the world’s more interesting architectural oddities seem obscene — we are used to the church-in-a-mosque as a tourist attraction, and in its own way a minjor miracle —

SPEC Mezquita and Ant

— my interest here, hiowever, is in looking at it, not through Muslim eyes, but through the eyes of those Muslims for whom building a church inside what was not only a mosque but one of the most beautiful mosques in the world feels like a grievous insult.

For them, the cathedral in the Mezquita is a blasphemy — the insertion of a polluted form of worship in a place once dedicated to God’s own preferential service. And this is important not so that we can understand the ideation of those who wish to return the cathedal to a mosque and more generally Spain to al-Andalus, but so that we can comprehend the depth and intensity of the associated emotion.

The passion.

Which some Christians must surely also feel whewn they enter the museum of Hagia Sophia, once so proud a place of Christian worship and history — or some Jews with respect to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the movement to permit Jewish worship, at present forbidden, is gaining momentum.

The passion behind (sacred) revanchism.

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

    A song of the narco-miraculous

    Friday, May 15th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — on dark spirituality, magic and apocalyptic ]

    I’ve received a review copy of Tony Kail’s Narco-Cults, and by chance when I first opened it, my eye fell on a miracle story.


    Here, in a clip from a narcocorrido video, is an officer of the US Border Patrol vanishing into thin air as the result of a Santeria invocation:

    narco miracle

    Here’s the book’s narrative description of that event:

    Consider the following story. A Cuban Santería priest speaks into a twoway radio as three Hispanic men cross over the border into Arizona. One of the men, who is transporting drugs under his clothes, wears several multicolored Santería necklaces (elekes). The man responds to the priest on the radio as a U.S. Border Patrol agent begins to follow him. As the “coyotes” begin to run from the agent, the agent draws his weapon and aims it at the smugglers. As the priest whispers an incantation into the radio, the agent mysteriously disappears into thin air. The men jump into the agent’s truck and drive away as the priest kneels before the image of Elegua, a Santería deity who is believed to be the owner of fate and the crossroads. mages of drug smugglers bowing in front of statues of saints and figures like Santa Muerte are seen as music begins to play away in the background.

    This is a scene from a popular narco music video called La Clika Del Elegua from Mexican musician El Pelon Avile. The video is a perfect depiction of how spiritual traditions are used by modern-day drug smugglers for protection in the drug war.

    Here’s the video of the narcocorrido in which the miracle is depicted:


    Turning the page, we find:

    The heavy scent of spirituality among the cartels is so prevalent that some members of law enforcement have sought shelter in magical religions for protection. Members of the Mexican police have been documented in the media as undergoing various rituals for protection from the cartels. Some officers have even had tattoos of sacred religious symbols placed on their bodies to give them magical protection. One officer in Tijuana shared that his tattoos gave him protection from bullets that killed his comrades during a gunfight.

    How far is that from, say, this:

    Christian group brushes aside death threat from kidnappers

    Death threats against 13 Christian preachers from their Muslim extremist captors are not a concern as the evangelists are confident God will protect them, a member of the Christian ministry said Thursday.

    The kidnapped head of the Jesus Miracle Crusade, fiery televangelist Wilde Almeda, particularly has special powers that will protect him from bullets, said Robert Chua, a member of the group.

    Or for that matter:

    The Second Battle Of Adobe Walls

    A charismatic medicine man, named Ish-Ta-Ma, claimed he could make the warriors bullet proof and that his bowel movements would provide rifle cartridges. ..

    Emboldened by Ish-Ta-Ma’s prophesies, the combined tribes of Southern Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowa, near one thousand strong, advanced towards Adobe Walls before daylight in what should have been an easy route. Fate was not in their favor.


    Thomas Muentzer

    When the final showdown comes in 1525, the peasants are arrayed against the German princes and their army, and Thomas Muentzer continues to assure them, even at the last moment, that Christ will intervene on their side. This is the apocalyptic moment foretold in the Revelation. They’re singing hymns. They literally are awaiting a glorious triumph. Muentzer assures them that he will catch the cannonballs in his shirthsleeves. Of course, it turned into a slaughter. Five thousand ill-equipped peasants were slaughtered. The Peasants’ Revolt was utterly destroyed. It was one of those incredible explosions of apocalypticism that arise in history.

    McCarthy at the border?

    Saturday, May 9th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — questions that come too close for comfort ]

    As usual, I’m about the business of comparing and contrasting — this time comparing a question asked of visitors to the US at the Canadian border with the key question asked in the McCarthy era.

    SPEC DQ McCarthy & border

    The similarity is close enough to serve as food for thought, no?

    Buddha, Shiva, and the elements

    Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Buddha against the earthquake, Shiva against the floods ]

    SPEC DQ buddha quake shiva floods

    Images are from Nepal (upper panel) and India (lower panel).

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