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The Boston IS and Apocalyptic Conference

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — I was (unexpectedly) almost totally deaf at the time, so the videos of the conference allowed me a second go-around, for which I’m profoundly grateful ]
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CMS Landes 602
Richard Landes, opening the Boston conference

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With what I hope will turn out to be the wisdom of a fool, I am going to propose the importance of (a) Richard Landes‘ now defunct Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, and (b) its recent resurgence as a single and singular conference on Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad.

Bear with me, I’m an enthusiast.

**

Gregory Bateson died thirty-five years ago July 4th, the day I started writing this post — a fact I only know because I’m inclined to associate the Boston Conference as one of the great cross-disciplinary and initially underestimated conferences alongside the early Macy conferences on Cybernetics, in which Gregory Bateson was so significant a partner — or the seminal Eranos Conferences attended by the friends of CG Jung.

The Macy conferences ushered in the computer age, the Eranos conferences celebrated the highest level of cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary exchanges between psychologists, philosophers, religious scholars and physicists — while the Millennial Studies conferences focused on a studiously ignored area of knowledge that has swung into heightened significance via the arrival on scene of Al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

**

Participants, Macy and Eranos:

The Macy Cybernetics Conferences included such participants as William Ross Ashby, William Grey Walter, Kurt Lewin, J. C. R. Licklider, Warren S. McCulloch, Margaret Mead, Oskar Morgenstern, F. S. C. Northrop, Walter Pitts, I. A. Richards, Claude Shannon, Heinz von Foerster, John von Neumann, and Norbert Wiener.

The Eranos Conferences included presentations by Carl Gustav Jung, Rudolf Otto, Mircea Eliade, Wolfgang Pauli, Karl Kerényi, Erich Neumann, Henry Corbin, G van der Leeuw, Louis Massignon, Gilles Quispel, Hellmut Wilhelm, Hugo Rahner, Erwin Schrödinger, Gershom Scholem, Heinrich Zimmer and Martin Buber.

In each case, the ideation was intensely and deliberately cross-disciplinary, and the importance of the series of conferences only widely apparent at a later date.

**

Participants, Center for Millennial Studies:

In the case of the Boston conference on Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad, the series in whicb it partakes is that of the new defunct Center for Millennial Studies, an extraordinary organization which studied millennial movements from the Dead Sea Scrolls via the Taiping Rebellion (20-30 million dead), and the Siege of Mecca (1979 CE), to Aum Shinrikyo, Waco and Y2K — with implications for future events at least as far as the 2000th anniversary of the crucifixion in the 2030s and the start of the next Islamic century in the 2070s.

Among the attendees at this year’s conference were Richard Landes, William McCants, Graeme Wood, Timothy Furnish, Cole Bunzel, Jeffrey M. Bale, myself, David Cook, JM Berger, Itamar Marcus, David Redles, Paul Berman, Charles Strozier, Brenda Brasher, Mia Bloom and Charles Jacobs. Husain Haqqani was expected to attend and intended to speak about the Ghazwa e-Hind but couldn’t make it, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali cancelled her appearance for security reasons as a result of the Garland, TX, shooting the day before.

Speakers at previous CMS conferences included, in additiopn to some of the above, Steven O’Leary, Michael Barkun, Albert Baumgarten, Chip Berlet, Bruce Lincoln, Moshe Idel, Michael Tolkin, Gershom Gorenberg, Damian Thompson and Robert Jay Lifton.

**

You can see the entire series of CMS 2015 Conference videos

  • here
  • In particular and given my own special interests, I recommend the talks by

  • Will McCants (on IS eschatology)
  • Cole Bunzel (on the 1979 Mahdist assault on Mecca), and
  • David Cook (on Islamic apocalyptic and Boko Haram)
  • You can follow those up with such friends and worthies as Tim Furnish, JM Berger, and (on Palestinian messaging) Itamar Marcus — Itamar’s brilliant presentation shifted my thinking on the Israeli-Palestinian question by about ten degrees.

    My own contribution is

  • here
  • **

    My recent discombobulations (see previous post) and an over-busy writing schedule have prevented me from posting separately on each of the talks at the conference, which I had hoped to do — but McCant’s forthcoming book will soon be with us, and this brief introduction (and my three reading lists) will hopefully provide background while we await it.

    The book I brought with me, for (heh!) light reading, was A. Azfar Moin‘s The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam. Path-breaking, scholarly, intelligent, unfailingly curious, written with grace — a true delight!

    Millenarian movements #3: comments and additional book suggestions

    Thursday, July 16th, 2015

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

    Gaming the Islamic State three ways from Sunday

    Thursday, July 16th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — what hipbone thinking / gaming could and should bring to the natsec table ]
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    I have just been browsing the Institute for the Study of War‘s report on its ISIS wargame, and thought I’d wargame ISIS a bit myself, using my DoubleQuotes game.

    **

    The ISW report, in its 32 pages, barely mentions religious drivers, features one use of the word “apocalyptic” in a pretty non-specific sentence that implies nothing about what that word implies in terms of religious instensity — “ISIS intends to expand its Caliphate and eventually incite a global apocalyptic war” — and generally focuses on everything but “knowing” the enemy..

    If they’d invited me and added a round or three of DoubleQuotes during a coffee break, I’d have been grateful for the coffee and the visit to DC, and very quickly played these two double-moves:

    For wide context:

    SPEC DQ Taiping IS

    Upper panel: the Taiping Rebellion, an apocalyptic (in the true sense) movement in China, 1850 to 1864, with between 20 million and 30 million dead — as a reminder that apocalyptic movements can have, ahem, far-reaching consequences.

    Lower panel: Refugees fleeing the Islamic State, a movement whose apocalyptic (in the true sense) strategy includes a focus on great end-times battle to be fought at Dabiq in Syria, Dabiq being the name of their English lnaguage magazine.

    Read into the record in support of these two visuals:

  • Jonathan Spence, God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan
  • William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State
  • And with narrower focus:

    here, on the brutality levels permitted in two rival jihadist groups in Syria:

    SPEC DQ IS vs Jabhat

    Upper panel: the Islamic State brutally executes British aid worker Alan Hemming

    Lower panel: AQ affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra points out that he was under an offer of protection binding on all Muslims.

    There would be background reading to explore and expand that DoubleQuote too. But the main point is: the contest of ideas, not simply that of troop movements and materiel, would have been part of the picture.

    **

    The Atlantic Council has also held two wargaming sessions on IS [1, 2], but again the insights to be gained into the Islamic State’s end-times motivations and their implications are almost nonexistent:

    ISIS carries the seeds of its own destruction primarily because it has an extremely small constituency within Islamist populations around the world, an apocalyptic vision, an unsustainable strategy of us-against-theworld, and a failed governance project.

    And that’s about it.

    **

    McCants’ presentation at the Boston conference, and his forthcoming book (above), both make it clear that the apocalyptic stress of today’s “caliphate” has morphed significantly from the more immediate apocaypticism in IS’ Zarqawi-era predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq.

    And for a nuanced understanding of time-urgency in apocalyptic rhetoric, Stephen O’Leary‘s Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric is the definitive work.

    So when do we start introducing ideational war (and/or peace) games alongside our games of brute force?

    And how do you factor esprit, morale, and “angels, rank on rank” (Quran 8.9, 89.22) into troop movements and so forth?

    Hint: they’re force-multipliers.

    Reverse psychology, sort of — with an apocalyptic vengeance

    Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — negative hope in light of an eventual (hoped for) positive outcome ]
    .

    **

    The particulars here have to do with the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage, but what interests me is the combination of eschatological expectation and the wish for the world to “slide from bad to worse” morally speaking..

    Baptist pastor Clint Arthur:

    It isn’t easy for Christians to identify a silver lining to Friday’s ruling that is worth celebration; unless you’re a premillennialist.

    Whereas postmillennialism believes that Christ will return to earth when the gospel has triumphed over unbelief and conquered the globe, premillennialists aren’t holding their breath. Premills teach that the world will slide from bad to worse until it is so irrecoverably bad that only Jesus can fix it. That will be his cue to return and establish a rule of peace, righteousness, and sanity in the courts.

    So, it is on days like this that I read with relish passages that others may dismiss as pessimistic. I prefer to see regress in society as a welcome sign that the Bible is accurate, and that Jesus is coming soon.

    From both “rhetorical pattern” and “eschatological studies” points of view, that’s quite something to ponder.

    Hipbone update & request for your vote!

    Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — 3 Quarks Daily, Boston Apocalyptic conference, LapidoMedia, World Religions and Spirituality Project, Bellingcat, Loopcast, Pragati, Sembl ]
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    First, please vote!

    .
    [ Note added: voting is now closed: my story received the fifth highest tally of votes out of 45 entries, and is now up for consideration by the 3QD editors in the next round — many, many thanks! ]

    My story, War in Heaven, is in the running for the 3 Quarks Daily Arts & Literature Prize. 3 Quarks Daily is a great aggregator site, I’m honored to have made the cut so far, and would love to make it to the next level. My entry is #33 in the alphabetical list here, and votes can be cast at the bottom of the page. Networking for votes is all part of the game, so I’m hoping you’ll vote — & encourage your friends to go to that page & vote my entry up.

    If you haven’t read it, here’s my story. It was a finalist in the Atlantic Council‘s Scowcroft Center Art of Future Warfare Project‘s space war challenge, in association with War on the Rocks.

    There’s even a Google Hangout video in which Atlantic Council Non-Resident Senior Fellow August Cole, who directs the Art of Future Warfare project, interviews the contest’s winner and finalists, myself included. August’s book, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, is in the running for next great Tom Clancy like techno-thriller.

    You’ll find plenty of other good entries at the 3QD contest page, and daily at 3QD as well — as I say, it’s excellent in its own right, and one of the richest contributors of varied and interesting posts on my RSS feed.

    **

    Then, in no particular order — check ’em all out —

    The Boston conference on Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad:

    To my way of thinking, the critical thing to know about the Islamic State is its “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision” as Martin Dempsey put it — and the implications of that statement, both in terms of strategy and of recruitment & morale. That’s what the Boston conference focused on, and that’s why I think it was no less significant for being sparsely attended. In a series of future blogs I hope to go over the videos of the various presentations and spell some of their implications out — Will McCants‘ book, The ISIS Apocalypse, is due out in September, and I’d like to have filled in some background by then.

    Here, though, as I’m giving an update on my own doings, is my presentation — an attempt both to tie together some of the strands of the panel I was commenting on (but could barely hear, but that’s a tale or another day), and to express my sense of the importance of apoclyptic thinking, not merely as an intellectual exercise but as an emotional and indeed visceral relaity for those swept up in it:

    The other speakers were Richard Landes, WIlliam McCants, Graeme Wood, Timothy Furnish, Cole Bunzel, Jeffrey Bale, David Cook, J.M. Berger, Itamar Marcus, Charles Jacobs, David Redles, Mia Bloom, Charles Strozier, Brenda Brasher and Paul Berman — quite a stellar crew.

    **

    My two latest pieces for LapidoMedia, where I’m currently editor:

    ANALYSIS: Understanding the jihadists through their poetry and piety
    12th June 2015

    YOU might not think that ‘what jihadis do in their spare time’ would be a topic of much interest, but it’s one that has been under-reported and is just now breaking into public awareness.

    Much of the credit for this goes to Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel for their current New Yorker piece, Battle lines: Want to understand the jihadis? Read their poetry.

    But behind Creswell and Haykel’s piece lurks a striking presentation given by the Norwegian terrorism analyst Thomas Hegghammer at St Andrews in April.

    Hegghammer’s Wilkinson Memorial lecture was titled Why Terrorists Weep: The Socio-Cultural Practices of Jihadi Militants…

    Read the rest

    I’m still intending to do a longer and more detailed write-up for Zenpundit on Hegghammer’s highly significant lecture.

    Today:

    The Bamiyan Buddha lives again

    A CHINESE couple, dismayed by the Taliban’s destruction of Bamiyan’s two Buddha statues, has brought the larger of the statues back to life.

    Locals and visitors can once again see the Bamiyan Buddha through the use of laser technology – this time not in stone but in light.

    Carved into the great cliff face towering over the fertile valley of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, two Buddha statues stood for centuries.

    In 2001 the Taliban dynamited the statues, built in the Sixth century in the Gandhara style, the larger of them standing 55 metres tall.

    It was not the first attack against them.Lapido aims to provide (mostly secular) journalists with insight into the religious & spiritual values behind current events.

    Read the rest

    I stood there, atop the Bamiyan Buddha: it’s personal.

    **

    At the World Religions and Spirituality Project at Virginia Commonwealth University, I’m one of two Project Directors for the JIHADISM Project. We’re very much a work in progress, aiming to provide a resource for scholarship of religion as it relates to jihadism.

    **

    Justin Seitz made a post titled Analyzing Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf on Bellingcat, to which I responded, and we had a back-and-forth of emails &c.

    Justin then gave our discussion a shoutout at The Loopcast

    — the immediate context starts around the 30 min mark, and runs to around 35 — and followed up with a second Bellingcat post, Analyzing Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf Part 2 — in which he quoted me again. Key here is his remark:

    a human with domain expertise is always going to be in a better position to make judgement calls than any algorithm

    Agreed — & many thanks, Justin!

    Bellingcat — definitely an honor to get a shoutout there,

    **

    Pragati: The Indian National Interest Review

    My latest on Pragati was my review of JM berger & Jessica Stern’s ISIS: the State of Terror, which I’ve already noted & linked to here on ZP.

    Up next, my review of Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall‘s The Arabs at War in Afghanistan

    **

    And last but not by any means least…

    Cath Styles’ new Sembl slideshow:

    It’s a terrific feeling to see the next runner in a relay race take off from the handover… Cath is getting some high praise for her work on Sembl for the museum world, including the following:

    Sembl incredibly succesfully mixes competitive and collaborative play, creativity and expression, and exploration and inspiration. It’s the sort of game you think about when you’re not playing it, and it’s the sort of game that helps you see the world in new ways.

    Paul Callaghan
    Writer, Game Developer, Lecturer at Unversity of East London

    Meanwhile, I’m still quietly plugging away at some other aspects of the HipBone / Sembl project.


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