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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Apocalypse Now and Then Seminar - Keeping the End in Mind: Left Behind, the Apocalypse and the Evangelical Imagination

24th January 2011, 17:30 to 18:30, IAS Seminar Room, Cosin's Hall, Palace Green, Dr Matthew Guest (Durham University)

This is the sixth seminar in the Apocalypse Now and Then Seminar Series.

The Left Behind novels published by Tim Le Haye and Jerry B Jenkins represent both a commercial success story and a window on to the values and preoccupations of many evangelical Christians in the contemporary USA.

Now stretching to 16 novels, numerous spin-off series, three feature films, a sub-franchise of apocalyptic themed video games, and a vast range of associated merchandise, promoted on a global scale, Left Behind illustrates how apocalyptic ideas now infiltrate western cultures through the media of popular culture. Its authors see themselves as both entertainers and preachers of truth, something that unsettles conventional understandings of end-times fiction and raises questions about how stories like Left Behind shape the worldviews of evangelicals across the western world. This lecture will explore such questions, focusing on how Left Behind reflects a shifting set of sensibilities that challenge our understandings of religion, entertainment and how we negotiate our socio-political identities.

Depictions of apocalypse - understood as revelation and/or the end of the world, in both religious and secular discourses - serve a variety of functions, ranging from the political to the scientific, and the theological to the anthropological. They can reinforce or subvert power structures, interrogate what it is to be human, and figure the future in order to reflect on the present. This interdisciplinary seminar series brings together experts from a number of disciplines to reflect on two intertwined themes. The first explores the functions served by end-of-world narratives and pictures, that is, it focuses on why apocalyptic stories are told rather than on what particular stories are told. The second analyses the ways in which the apocalyptic is characterized by a relationship with particular sorts of form, language and image, for example, metaphors and fictions, pictures, performances, and poems.