Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man

Article excerpt

Lee Gilmore. Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. xvi + 237 pps. $24.95 (US). ISBN: 9780520260887

In Theatre in a Crowded Fire, Lee Gilmore paints a vivid picture of life on the Black Rock playa during the Burning Man festival. This annual week-long festival brings thousands of people from across North America and beyond together into a deliberately constructed and conscious community experience of living past the edges of societal expectations. Gilmore skillfully blends ethnographic thick description with theoretical analysis to create both an enjoyable and critically engaging experience for the reader. The strongest aspect of this text is the playful examination of ritual and spirituality that challenges easy definitions. Gilmore deftly shows the usefulness of academic categories and theories of religion and ritual without falling into the trap of trying to construct a vision of Burning Man as necessarily religious. The DVD that is included with the book adds dimension to the ethnography in providing visual and aural engagement with the festival. Having just shown it to my undergraduate students in "Religion and Popular Culture," I can attest to the accessibility of the film and usefulness in making the issues of the construction of "sacred" space/place and "spiritual" experience more concrete. Though the DVD is more low-tech than most documentaries, it was well received by my students.

While appreciating the thick description and depth of analysis through theories of ritual and religion, I am concerned with a lack of consideration on Gilmore's part for concerns around cultural appropriation and exotification at Burning Man. …

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