Graduation Year

2004

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Religious Studies

Major Professor

Darrell J. Fasching.

Keywords

Branch Davidians, millennium, Koresh, apocalypse, cult

Abstract

Religion, many times, is one of the phenomena that is misunderstood and often rejected due to apprehension. There is an expected "norm" within our culture for religion and those that fall outside that "norm" are typically criticized for their beliefs. Within Christianity there are a number of extremist groups that follow millennial doctrines and believe they are living in the end times. These organizations tend to view the government as oppressive, disrespectful, immoral and corrupt. Because of this when an incident occurs with one of these millennial groups and the government steps in to control the situation, the way it responds is critical. This is an examination of three incidents with American radical religious groups and the formal reactions to them by the United States government.

The three incidents I will analyze are the incident with the Weaver family at Ruby Ridge, the incident with the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas, and the incident with the Montana Freemen at Justus Township, and how the government handled each of these interactions. I will evaluate Mark Juergensmeyer's theories and patterns of cosmic war and performance violence, and Catherine Wessinger's categories and guidelines for radical religious groups and how she claims the government and media should interact with them. The criteria I will use for evaluation will be how well their theories help us to understand the beliefs and actions of the group. Too often the government is unable to interact constructively with these groups because they do not understand their beliefs, and thereby provoke further violence. What is needed is a shift in attitude, a realization that the language of the groups is not "Bible Babble".

Juergensmeyer and Wessinger have a unique perspective because they have directly interacted with radical religious groups and can provide the government with an insider understanding of the worldview of such religious groups, what it means to them through their eyes. I provide a list of guidelines derived from these two scholars, for the government and media to follow that will aid in constructive interaction with millennial groups and aid in peaceful negotiations in the future.

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