Panacea Society’s legacy leads to international conference

Bedford’s religious Panacea Society’s legacy has led to an international examination of apocalyptic threats: climate change, violence, artificial intelligence.

When Mabel Barltrop formed The Panacea Society in Albany Road in Bedford in 1919 she had no idea that she was planting the seeds of a legacy that would help us understand the existential threats of the 21st century world, but that is exactly what has happened. The last member of the reclusive community died in 2012 leaving property and assets which under the guidance of modern day trustees now houses a museum telling the fascinating Panacea story and venue for a newly created Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements (CenSAMM).

On April 6th and 7th the first of three 2017 international conferences will take place in what the Panacea Society believed was the original garden of Eden in the middle of Bedford. The subject, “Violence and Millenarian Movements” (“millenarian” is a belief in a coming supernatural transformation of society) will bring together experts in theology, anthropology, geography and social sciences to pick apart the reasons why such diverse organisations like the Branch Davidians (remember Waco Texas?) and ISIS are ended or motivated by violence.

David Koresh, American leader of the Branch Davidians

Project Director, Simon Robinson, explained, “It is hoped that over two days of presentations and debate we can gain insight into what motivates some religious and political movements to commit acts of terror and in the coming conferences to archive, for future researchers, contemporary thought about big issues and the apocalyptic thinking that seems to be increasing around us.”

Attendance to the April conference is free to the general public and will include presentations by Stuart A. Wright, Professor of Sociology and expert on the Branch Davidians from Lamar University, Texas and Rob Gleave, Professor of Arabic Studies from the University of Exeter.

Other conferences in 2017 will focus on climate (June) and the Reformation (September).

To find out more about this and other CenSAMM conferences and to reserve free seats visit

Editor of The Bedford Clanger, organiser behind BedPop, an events manager and a freelance copywriter

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