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IP204 The Apocalyptic Imaginary

Dr Gavin Schwartz-Leeper
Module Leader
Term 2
10 weeks

Moodle Platform »

Principal Aims

This module uses transdisciplinary Problem-Based Learning approaches to support students to generate problems arising from a range of narratives about the end of the world, and to consider how these problems reflect complex concerns about individuality, morality, the social contract, and the afterlife. Beginning with historical mythological narratives and encompassing religious, political, and ecological apocalyptic theories and scenarios through to the modern day, this module will encourage students to think in transdisciplinary ways about the roles played by apocalyptic narratives in historical and modern societies. The module will make use of literary, religious, philosophical and historical texts, films, music, images, environmental science data, news and social media, and political narratives to encourage students to develop comparative analytical skills and think across disciplinary boundaries.

Principal Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, students will have been exposed to and worked with complex, multi-disciplinary narratives, requiring the development and employment of advanced critical thinking skills, academic writing, presentation skills, and both individual and group research skills. Students will be expected to demonstrate they have:

  • Acquired an understanding of key features of Western apocalypticism, including aspects of cosmology and eschatology;
  • Examined and explicated the consequences of apocalyptic beliefs in practical settings;
  • Acquired an understanding of the ways in which social concerns shape political activities;
  • Acquired an understanding of the ways in which social concerns shape scientific inquiry; • Studied at least two apocalyptic narratives in depth;
  • Developed an ability to critically examine and critique apocalyptic symbols in art and society;
  • Developed an ability to generate relevant multidisciplinary problems through individual and small group research;
  • Developed their individual and group research skills through multidisciplinary examinations of specific case studies.


Section One: How do religious responses to apocalyptic ideas function?

Week 1: An Introduction to Eschatological and Apocalyptic Narratives in Science, Religion, and Philosophy

Week 2: Apocalypse and The Book I: From Isaiah to Revelations

Week 3: Apocalypse and The Book II: Islamic Eschatology

Section Two: How does science prompt, provoke, or respond to the apocalypse?

Week 4: Cold War Apocalypticism

Week 5: Environmentalism and its Discontents

Week 6: The Pale Blue Dot: Carl Sagan and Popular Cosmology

Section Three: How does the apocalypse function in the Western popular imagination?

Week 7. Apocalypticism in the Media: The Language of the Popular Apocalypse (plus group presentation)

Week 8: Zombies and Society (plus group presentation)

Week 9: The Transhuman Postapocalypse (plus group presentation)

Week 10: Discursive Outline Peer-Review Session

Indicative Bibliography

Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Pan Books, 1979)
Rachel Carson. Silent Spring (Penguin, 1965).
Kelton Cobb, ed. The Blackwell Guide to Religion and Popular Culture (Blackwell, 2008).
James F. Cooper, Jr. and Kenneth P. Minkema, eds. The Sermon Notebook of Samuel Parris, 1689-1694 (University Press of Virginia, 1993).
Mary B. Cunningham and Elizabeth Theokritoff, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
Jared Diamond. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2nd edn. (Norton, 2011).
John S. Dryzek, et. al., eds. The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society (Oxford University Press, 2011).
Andrew George, trans. The Epic of Gilgamesh (Penguin, 2000).
Hesiod. Theogony, trans. Glenn W. Most. (Loeb, 2014).
Safa Motesherrei, et. al. “Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies” in Ecological Economics 101 (2014), pp. 90-102.
James T. Palmer, ed. The Apocalypse in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
Neal Stephenson. Seveneves (Morrow, 2015).
Carl Sagan. The Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (Random House, 1994).
J. B. Stump and Alan G. Padgett, eds. The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (Blackwell, 2012).
Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda, trans. Anthony Faulkes (Everyman, 1987).
Jerry L. Wallis, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology (Oxford University Press, 2008).
Tim Winter, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Additional Reading opportunities


Visual Materials

Apocalypse Now (United Artists, 1979).
The Walking Dead (AMC, 2010).
Wall-E (Pixar, 2008).