'On the Edge of the Apocalypse' symposium delves broadly into the 'end times'
Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society celebrates successful completion of inaugural scholarly meeting
"This kind of energetic conversation doesn't happen when you write an article and publish it," Elon folklorist Tom Mould, professor of anthropology, exclaimed. He was referring to the inaugural symposium hosted by the Elon Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society on Feb. 9-11, 2017.
To be offered biannually, the 2017 symposium was organized around the theme “On the Edge of Apocalypse” by Mould and Lynn Huber, associate professor of religious studies who specializes in the Christian Book of Revelation.
Explaining the concept of the symposium, Huber observed, "We tend to think of apocalyptic thought as being about the future, but it is really about the present." Mould added, "Apocalyptic thinking helps us evaluate our current circumstances and then project them into the future. Are we headed for disaster? Or are we headed for peace and prosperity?"
Eleven scholars from universities across the US and Canada explored those ideas and presented their own research tracing the edges of apocalyptic thought and practice. Those scholars joined Elon faculty conveners of the symposium, Huber and Tom Mould, as well as CSRCS Director Brian Pennington for three days of analysis and discussion of contemporary and past millenarian practice.
Those in attendance were able to consider their understanding of apocalypticism as it manifests in various religions and cultures in light of the research that others in the room were doing. "The quality of the conversations and the many expressions of appreciation for the work Elon is doing to foster new scholarship on religion were very gratifying," Pennington said.
Symposium sessions were titled, “Apocalypse and Temporal Imaging,” “Apocalypse and Social Cohesion,” “Apocalypse and Gender in Popular Culture,” “Apocalypse as Contemporary Ideology” and “Apocalypse as Queer Unveiling.” Papers ran the gamut of end-times thinking, from depictions in popular culture such as "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" to the political rhetoric of the 2016 US Presidential campaign to the imaginings of 16-century Afghani apocalypticists. The symposium’s sessions were all open to Elon students and faculty.
Thursday night’s keynote address entitled “Every Time a Horn Goes, Another Replaces It: Cyclicality and Conquest in Muslim Apocalypticism,” offered by David Cook of Rice University, drew a standing room only crowd in McKinnon Hall in the Moseley Student Center.
The Elon community was able to get involved in other ways. Students conducting undergraduate research in religion and anthropology had the opportunity to share their research with the visiting scholars during a poster session on Friday afternoon. This opened the door for productive conversations for both visitors and students alike. Numerous Elon faculty joined the discussions over the symposium's three days.
The next “On the Edge” symposium will be held in 2019 to once again bring together scholars working at the theoretical and methodological boundaries of fields that have a stake in the critical analysis of religion—law, history, psychology, anthropology, literature/textual studies, philosophy, art history, political science, classics, and gender studies. Through this year’s symposium and future meetings to come, the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society hopes to contribute to a richly contextualized and multi-layered understanding of the role of religion in societies past, present, and future.