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Circulations of the Apocalypse WG

Summary of Working Group discussions ahead of presentation on 23 January 2023

Published onJan 17, 2023
Circulations of the Apocalypse WG

Circulations of the Apocalypse working group, Winter Term 2022

The kernel of the idea for this working group developed out of Simon’s suggestion during the barcamp phase of the term’s opening colloquium for a group focussed in particular on the use, re-use and mis-use of seminal texts in different religious contexts. He had in mind foundational texts like the Book of Revelation, and a modus operandi of examining the varying uses to which such texts were deployed in different cultural contexts across time and space. During the barcamp discussion, the group acquired the name ‘Circulations of the Apocalypse’ (though no member can remember for sure at whose suggestion this name came). With Christian and Rolf on board as group members – and thus a diverse set of expertise and knowledge in place - the group retained a particular focus on the theme of religion, but established an approach that was less focussed on particular texts. Our working group discussions evolved to encompass more far-ranging dialogues revolving around ideas, themes and traditions, rather than particular texts.

Simon brought a perspective from his background in medieval history, with a particular interest in responses to the apocalypse connected to the crusades in the era 1100-1300. Christian drew from his knowledge connected to the Spanish colonisation of Latin America in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, particularly surrounding the activities of Columbus. He also brought expertise in theoretical work on how particular images recur and circulate between cultures (pace Warburg et alia). Rolf brought a crucial non-Christian perspective, coming at discussions from the perspective of his expertise in Tibetan Buddhism and associated cultural transfer/exchange processes (Espagne; Burke).

In the course of our initial discussions at the start of the term, the group settled on a trio – perhaps we might even call it a trinity – of particular themes around which we would compare and contrast between our three areas of expertise. These three are as follows:

1- The Promised Land: connecting to ideas of being a chosen people standing on the cusp of the Endtimes, and the actions and events through which that people could access a sanctified space (whether physical or metaphysical)

2- Messiahs and Messianism: focussing on charismatic figures who gain followers and connect themselves to particular schools of thought about (an often impending) apocalypse.

3- Looking forward to the Apocalypse: discussing instances and scenarios where particular groups and figures might had positive hopes and expectations at the prospect of the beginning of the apocalypse.

What we found in our discussions was that having members with expertise that was not limited to a Christian setting was important to identify similarities and dissimilarities. This permitted us to think about particular ideas, tropes and traditions that transcend Christianity, and which seem to have exerted a wider impact in different parts of the world throughout history through processes of cultural exchange. While we did not seek to reach particular conclusions, we ended up being particularly concerned with formulating what we hope are incisive questions – we aim to focus our presentation on 23 January around these questions, and use them as the basis for discussions with the rest of the CAPAS team.

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