RELG 475A/500A: “Apocalypse and Empire”

In this course, students explore the origins of apocalypticism in the clash between subjected peoples and foreign empires in antiquity—especially, but not only, between Jews and Christians and the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman empires. The first unit of the course will focus on the origins and definition of apocalypse as a literary genre and apocalypticism as an ideology while examining the views of empire in apocalyptic texts written under the Persian and Hellenistic empires (e.g., Zechariah, 1 Enoch, Daniel, Sibylline Oracle 3, and the Egyptian Potter’s Oracle). The second unit will turn to the logics and practices of the Roman empire and the apocalyptic texts it inspired (e.g., the Psalms of Solomon, Revelation, material from the New Testament gospels, 4 Ezra, Sibylline Oracle 5, and Shepherd of Hermas). The third unit will consider the reception and revision of ancient apocalyptic visions from late antiquity to the present day with special attention to apocalyptic currents in the Quran, Christian texts from the Crusades, Jewish and Christian Zionism, radical Islamic terrorism, and secular socialist and environmentalist movements.
By the end of the semester, students will have a nuanced and critical understanding of key historical encounters between apocalyptic thinkers and empires. They will also have developed insights into the philosophical question of whether it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of empire, or if humans actually imagine empire precisely by imagining the end of the world.