By Christina Elias

Getting together to discuss the end of the world might not seem like the ideal way to spend a weekend for most people, but for those on Elon University’s campus next week, that’s one of their options.

The Elon Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society (CSRCS) is sponsoring a symposium called “On the Edge of Apocalypse: New Directions in the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion,” which invites scholars to discuss the religious and cultural origins of apocalyptic thought.

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Brian Pennington, director of Elon’s Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society

“‘Apocalyptic thought’ refers to ideas we find around the world and throughout history that the world will come to an end through violent, cataclysmic causes,” Brian Pennington, CSRCS director and professor of religious studies, said. “Often this kind of thinking involves God appearing on Earth or sending deputies to crush evil-doers and reward the righteous.”

Through the symposium, Pennington said they hope “to demonstrate how various and widespread apocalyptic ideas are.”

“We have scholars who study many religious traditions—from Christianity to Islam to Hinduism—as well as those who study popular culture,” he said. “The topics of papers is incredibly varied: we have scholars speaking about Christian theme park The Holy Land Experience, Hindu fans of Donald Trump, the television show ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,’ and Black Lives Matter.”

Pennington said the symposium is not only dedicated to “educating the community about the role of religious ideas in society,” but is also a way to support student and faculty research in the same areas. The visiting scholars will be collaborating with participating Elon faculty on a book about apocalypticism.

“This symposium is an opportunity for Elon faculty to collaborate with other academics from the U.S. and Canada on a common research project,” he said. “As part of the symposium, we will also hold a poster session for Elon students doing research on religion to get feedback on their own projects.”

Pennington received a grant in fall 2016 to help fund the project. He credited much of the thought behind the symposium to associate professor of religious studies Lynn Huber and professor of anthropology Tom Mould, co-authors of the $4,000 grant. “They are specialists on apocalyptic ideas,” Pennington said. “The shape of this three-day conversation is largely their doing.”

“Some of the paper presentations and discussions may not appeal to a general audience, but the keynote address by David Cook of Rice University on Feb. 9 is definitely something we want Elon students, faculty, and the public to attend,” Pennington said.

The CSRCS will host the symposium from Feb. 9-11 in Numen Lumen Pavilion. The full schedule of events can be found here.

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