Earthalujah! Reverend Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping: A Conversation with William Talen and Savitri D

Second event in our series “Reverent Irreverence: Parody, Religion, and Contemporary Politics.”


7:00PM–8:30PM (film screening at 6:30PM)

Knight Hall’s Emerson Auditorium

Washington University in St. Louis


  • Earthalujah! Rev. Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping: A Conversation with William Talen and Savitri D

    February 6, 2024

What began as a televangelist parody twenty-five years ago has grown into a radical performance community of international renown, Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. Whether taking the stage at Burning Man, performing at Zuccotti Park, or opening for Neil Young, Reverend Billy and his choir have become widely recognized prophetic voices questioning the gods of the market. William Talen (aka Reverend Billy) will be joined by his long-time collaborator Savitri D, the artistic director of the Stop Shopping Choir. In recent years they have worked together on building a new community in New York City known as Earth Church.  

The character of Reverend Billy was developed in the mid 1990s by actor and playwright, William Talen.

Talen grew up in small towns throughout Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. He left home at 16, moving east with Charles and Patricia Gaines, a writer and painter who encouraged him as an artist. Talen began to perform his poems and stories, hitch-hiking from Philadelphia to New York to San Francisco.

Talen’s chief collaborator in developing the Reverend Billy character was the Reverend Sidney Lanier,  vicar of  St. Clement’s in the 1960s, an Episcopal Church in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. In an effort to increase attendance at St. Clement’s, Lanier had torn out the altar and pews, inviting actors to perform scenes from plays by his cousin Tennessee Williams and Terrence McNally, and founding the American Place Theater. Lanier described Talen as “more of a preacher with a gift for social prophecy than an actor.” In the early 1990s Talen moved with Lanier to New York City from the San Francisco Bay Area, branding his act as a “new kind of American preacher.”

Savitri D is an artist and activist. Born at the Lama Foundation, a commune in Northern New Mexico that was started by her parents, she was raised in community by her  mother and older sisters. She has lived and traveled in many places. She has an extensive background in dance and moved to New York City in 1996.

Savitri is the director of Reverend Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping and has led direct action and organizing campaigns against corporations, institutions, and injustice all over the world. She is the principal designer of The Church of Stop Shopping’s visual materials and conceptualizes most of their actions with Reverend Billy and the Choir. She is a serious lover of the wild and devotes her life to working for the earth.

This event is the second in our series “Reverent Irreverence: Parody, Religion, and Contemporary Politics.”

As the counterculture of the 1960s churned, Harvard theologian Harvey Cox wrote of the dawning of a new religious sensibility reliant on “conscious play and comic equivocation.” Amid “dead gods” and “museum churches,” Cox suggested that laughter was religion’s last hope. Parody was the potential vehicle of its rebirth.  Our program series on “Reverent Irreverence” digs into those paradoxical conjunctions and ironic possibilities.  How does religious parody, satire, or humor become serious, solemn, or sincere? How does a camp aesthetic intersect with the arts of dissent and protest among environmentalist, feminist, and LGBTQ+ communities? What makes such parodies so dangerous, blasphemous, or obscene—so politically charged amid the nation’s endless culture wars? Are the comic effects of such performances, however serious, ultimately a jest for liberal secularism? Please join us for a series of events this spring to explore the profound play among parody, religion, and contemporary American politics.  

This event is free and open to all, no tickets required. General admission seating—first come, first served. Doors will open at 6:00 p.m. We hope you will join us for a screening of the documentary short film Earth Riot featuring Rev. Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping at 6:30 p.m. and a reception immediately following the conversation.

Visitor parking in the Danforth University Center (DUC) underground garage or the Millbrook parking facility is free after 5:00 p.m. in all yellow spaces (parking in red spaces will be ticketed). Parking passes or vouchers are not required. You will pull a ticket upon entry to the garage, which you will need for a no-fee exit of the garage when you depart. More information and campus maps are available at:

Please contact our office at or (314) 935-9345 if you have any questions or would like to share accessibility needs.

We are unable to offer a livestream of this event, but will archive a recording on our website for future viewing.