Protest, Performance, and Religious Identity in the Nuclear Age

By (author) Kristen Tobey

Hardback - £55.95

Publication date:

28 July 2016

Length of book:

184 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271076720

In September 1980, eight Catholic activists made their way into a Pennsylvania General Electric plant housing parts for nuclear missiles. Evading security guards, these activists pounded on missile nose cones with hammers and then covered the cones in their own blood. This act of nonviolent resistance was their answer to calls for prophetic witness in the Old Testament: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war.”

Plowshares explores the closely interwoven religious and social significance of the group’s use of performance to achieve its goals. It looks at the group’s acts of civil disobedience, such as that undertaken at the GE plant in 1980, and the Plowshares’ behavior at the legal trials that result from these protests. Interpreting the Bible as a mandate to enact God’s kingdom through political resistance, the Plowshares work toward “symbolic disarmament,” with the aim of eradicating nuclear weapons.

Plowshares activists continue to carry out such “divine obediences” against facilities where equipment used in the production or deployment of nuclear weapons is manufactured or stored. Whether one agrees or disagrees with their actions, this volume helps us better understand their motivations, logic, identity, and ultimate goal.

“This book is intense. Nuclear warheads, spilled blood, fiery trials, and bracing analysis fill the pages. Tobey shows how the Plowshares’ legendary protest actions—from direct monkey-wrenching to courtroom presentations—were boundary-making and -marking performances that reveal a great deal about how religious identities are constituted in fraught political and legal settings. Plowshares brings fresh and provocative insights to a host of timely issues being debated across religious studies, performance studies, and critical legal studies, among other fields.”

—Greg Johnson, author of Sacred Claims: Repatriation and Living Tradition