Escape to the mountains: A case study of the Church Universal and Triumphant

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Michael Barkun


Church Universal and Triumphant, Millenialism, Survivalism, Prophet, Elizabeth Clare, Elizabeth Clare Prophet

Subject Categories

Political Science | Religion


This dissertation examines the apocalyptic doctrine of the Church Universal and Triumphant, an American new religious movement which emerged as a lineal descendant of earlier esoteric groups in the Ascended Master tradition. The Church, which was formed in 1958, assumed the character of a religio-political movement from its inception. Blending strident anti-communism and patriotism with a vision of human transcendence to the Godhead, the organization's world outlook became dominated by images of enemies who were believed to oppose its millennial dream for America's re-birth as a Chosen nation.

The group's spiritual leaders, Mark and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, infused their following with the belief that conspiratorial forces were succeeding in their efforts at destroying the country, and that a world catastrophe would soon take place as a sign of God's Judgment against those responsible for America's decline. In response to these perceived threats, the organization adopted a separatist existence, divorced both psychologically and geographically from the environing society. Its strategy of group separatism led the group to a communal ranch in southwestern Montana, a location thought to offer believers safety from the imminent catastrophe predicted by Elizabeth Clare Prophet.

Despite its flight to Montana, the movement further descended into the conspiratorial and apocalyptic thoughtworld which had historically defined its outlook. These attitudes culminated in Elizabeth Clare Prophet's prediction of a Soviet nuclear attack on the U.S. on March 15, 1990. In order to withstand the event, group members undertook a survivalist plan which included constructing underground shelters and purchasing emergency supplies. Although the group possessed weapons, its theology steered it away from a violent encounter with outsiders during the frenzied period of millennial excitement leading to the expected disaster.

The Church's mobilization for a cataclysmic event draws attention to the disaster-prone beliefs adhered to by some countercultural movements. Its brush with the apocalypse in Montana offers insights into the crisis psychology that pervades catastrophic millennial groups.


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