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Reflecting on an American Tragedy: The Branch Davidians 20 Years Later

Date: April 18, 2013

Relevant Articles

Field Notes
The Branch Davidian Symposium
and Twentieth Anniversary
Memorial, 18–19 April 2013

by Marie Dallam

Nova Religio:The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Volume 17,Issue 2,pages
61–73.2013 (uploaded with the permission of Marie Dallam)


CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE VIDEOS OF THIS CONFERENCE

 

April 18, 2013

Truett Seminary, Powell Chapel

April 19, 2013, will be the 20th anniversary of the fire that took the lives of some 80 members of a small religious group whose history begins in the 1920s.  The Davidian Seventh-day Adventists had been founded by Victor Houteff and had been part of the larger Waco community since 1935. A disruption among the Davidians at the end of the 1950s would lead to the movement splintering and the development of several new branches, one of which remained in Waco taking the name Branch Davidian. In March of 1993, its headquarters, built on land that they called Mt. Carmel, in rural McLennan County, near Waco, was raided by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and in an exchange of gunfire, four federal agents and six members of the Mt. Carmel community were killed. A lengthy standoff between the group and government (FBI) agents ensued that ended on April 19, when the buildings at Mt. Carmel were burned to the ground following an attempt by the FBI to end the standoff. The event would lead to congressional investigations and a reorganization of the FBI, and remains a matter of intense controversy within American historical and religious studies.

“Reflecting on an American Tragedy” will bring a group of knowledgeable scholars together to discuss the continuing issues raised by the Branch Davidian event and provide some insight into its long-term meaning for American religious life and culture.

Program

9:00 AM Welcome

Kenneth W. Starr, President, Baylor University

William H Bellinger, Jr., Chair, Baylor Religion Department

Rodney Stark, Co-Director, Baylor Institute of Studies of Religion

9:30 AM Introducing the Branch Davidians

Presiding: Bill Pitts, Department of Religion, Baylor University

“The Branch Davidians and Texas Religious History” — J. Gordon Melton, Distinguished Professor of American Religious History, Baylor University

“A Pictorial Introduction to the Mt. Carmel Property”  — Matthew Wittmer, Documentarian

“The Branch Davidians Dilemma: “To Obey God or Man?”  — Phillip Arnold, Executive Director of Reunion Institute (Houston) and founder of the Religion Crisis Task Force

10: 45 Coffee break

11:00 Putting a Human Face on the Branch Davidians

Presiding: Marie Dallam, Professor, University of Oklahoma Honors College

“Listening to Branch Davidians: Learning from the Survivors” — Catherine Wessinger, Professor, Religious Studies, Loyola University New Orleans

12: 00 Lunch

1: 15 The Fruits of Conflict

Presiding – Timothy Miller—Professor of Religious Studies, University of Kansas

“The Challenges of Negotiating at Waco” – Gary Noesner, Chief, FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit (retired)

2:15 Presiding – Byron R. Johnson, Director, Baylor Institute of Studies of Religion

“The Role of State Militarization in the 1993 Branch Davidian Conflict” — Stuart A. Wright, Professor of Sociology, Lamar University

3:30 Waco, the Branch Davidians and the Wider World

Presiding: Susan Palmer, Dawson College, Montreal

“Remember Waco! The Disaster in Politics and Popular Culture”  — Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History, Baylor University