The Apocalypse and Its Discontents

I have a apocalyptic prediction: Throughout the year 2011 we will see a deluge of movies, television shows, books and films about the The End and the year 2012. Is it truly a prediction if this has already started?

If nothing else, this fascination with mass destruction and the end of the prevailing order provides endless fodder for cultural and religious scholars. In a couple of weeks, I will be joining some of these scholars from around the world for a discussion about these ideas.

On December 11 and 12, the University of Westminster is holding a gathering called “The Apocalypse and Its Discontents.” Here is a description from the University:

The conference aims to address and investigate the pervasive appeal of ‘the End’ in diverse disciplines and popular representations. Visions of destruction and fantasies of the end have always haunted humankind, but the modern period in particular has been characterised by a mixed sense of concern and fascination with the apocalypse, and even more so during the twentieth century. Today we are constantly presented with scenarios of imminent destruction and annihilation, by politicians, scientists, religious groups, and writers, among others.

My role at the conference is two-fold. First, I will chair a panel discussion about global perspectives on the subject. We’ll discuss film, literature and religious movements that deal with apocalyptic scenarios in Russia, Spain and Japan. The panel will take place on Saturday morning, December 11 at 11:00am.

On Sunday, December 12 at 9:30am, I will give a presentation on the Mennonite trek to Central Asia. The thrust of the presentation is this: The history of the Great Trek has always been seen as a cautionary tale about a false prophet driving deluded followers to destruction. Yet, a new perspective is challenging this view. Recent contacts between Uzbeks and American Mennonites are revealing a history of positive Muslim-Christian relationships  that were a direct result of the migration to Khiva.

Others presenting during this session will be talking about environmental and spiritual apocalyptic themes in the the film The Road, as well as Carl Sagan’s scientific prophecies about the effects of a nuclear winter.

London in December isn’t exactly the height of the tourist season. However, this conference and its lively list of topics are sure to make this a great way to wrap up the release year for Pilgrims on the Silk Road.

-Walter Ratliff