Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society Faces the End Times

Eleven North American scholars will participate in the center's first symposium, "On the Edge of Apocalypse," Feb. 9-11.

Predictions about a cataclysmic end to history are found across cultures, but Elon’s expert on apocalyptic thought, Dr. Lynn Huber (Religious Studies) says they share one important feature: “As fantastic as they are, apocalyptic and end time scenarios are, ironically, not usually about the future. On the contrary, they often reveal what people find pressing in the present moment. By studying these narratives and traditions we can get a sense of what communities, often imagining themselves within a state of crisis, find to be most important.”

Along with Dr. Tom Mould (Anthropology/Sociology), Huber has worked to identify and invite eleven scholars from around the US and Canada to present research on apocalyptic thought Feb. 9-11. Huber’s own research focuses on the book of Revelation in the Christian New Testament. The idea of working collaboratively with other scholars on a wide-ranging, comparative study of apocalypticism inspired her to organize this small conference with Mould. Topics of the papers to be presented include the Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando, Florida, Hindu nationalist supporters of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, and contemporary Iranian horror films. Reflecting on the variety of perspectives represented in the meeting, Mould observed, “You find evidence of humanity’s enduring fascination with the idea of the end of the world in an incredible number of places around the world and across time.”

Called “On the Edge” to emphasize the new and innovative scholarship it will showcase, the symposium will be hosted every two years by Elon’s Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society (CSRCS). Each year it will be organized by Elon faculty members who will announce the theme and invite participants. CSRCS director, Brian Pennington, explained that this kind of regular, scholarly meeting was part of the original vision for the CSRCS when it was founded in 2011. “This symposium will position Elon as a place where serious, collaborative scholarship on religion takes place, and it will support the work of our own faculty in disciplines across the university who are doing research on the role of religion in society,” he said. Mould, whose work in Folklore has examined religious narratives in both Choctaw and Mormon cultures, was a member of the planning committee who originally envisioned the CSRCS as a center for research and education about religion that would complement the multi-faith initiatives at Elon. “We saw these symposia as opportunities to explore the overlapping edges of our different disciplines,” he said. “It’s at those intersections that some of the most interesting work gets done.”

The keynote address for the symposium will be given by David Cook of Rice University on Feb. 9 at 5:45 in McKinnon Hall in the Moseley Student Center. His talk, “‘Every Time a Horn Goes, Another Replaces It’: Cyclicality and Conquest in Muslim Apocalypticism,” will discuss the history of Islamic thought about the end of the world. The keynote is free and open to the public. Other sessions of the symposium will take place in small working groups where the scholars in attendance will offer feedback on the papers in progress. Huber, Mould, and Pennington expect to publish an anthology of this research in a forthcoming book.

The symposium will also offer an important professionalization opportunity for Elon students to observe and take part in its deliberations. “They will be able to see how scholars discuss and debate one another’s ideas,” Pennington explained. In addition, he said, a poster session in which undergraduates present their projects to the symposium participants will take place on Friday afternoon. “It will also give many of our students a chance to interact with some of the country’s best scholars of religion and discuss their own undergraduate research findings with them.”

More information about “On the Edge of Apocalypse” can be found on the website of the CSRCS here: For further information call 336.278.7729.