Malise Ruthven – The apocalyptic social imaginary







Event Date: 18-20 July 2012
Hotel Solstrand
Solstrandveien 200, Postboks 54,
5201 Os, Norway

Modernism, Christianity, and Apocalypse

A conference organised by the Department of Foreign Languages at the University of Bergen, Norway; funded by the Bergen Research Foundation through the ‘Modernism and Christianity’ research project.

Dr Malise Ruthven: The apocalyptic social imaginary

My paper will explore the popularity of  End Time scenarios, as reflected in the nineteenth century paintings of John Martin (1789-1854) with their paradoxically futurist vision, and the hugely popular Left Behind series of novels by the American writer Tim LaHaye (b 1926). It will explore the fundamentalist protestant theology known as pre-millennial dispensationalism (sometimes known as pre-tribulation dispensationalism) as pioneered by John Nelson Darby (1880-82) and  C I Scofield
(1843-1921) and popularized by Hal Lindsay (b 1929) in his hugely successful Late Great Planet Earth (1974) . In the absence of the ecclesiastical restraints derived from Augustinian theology apocalyptic expectations and end-time speculations – always a latent presence in Christianity – have tended to flourish at times of radical economic and political change.   The destiny of Israel as the place  where all the world’s Jews must foregather prior to the return of Christ is central to this tradition of biblical prophecy.
However, apocalyptic pessimism about the imminent end of the world, is subject to  “slippage”, whereby disconfirmation  – the absence of “rapture” and non-appearance of the Messiah – paradoxically endows the believers with a new kind of social energy. A clear example is provided by the evolution of the Mormon church from an apocalyptic cult to  a world-constructing enterprise. The  transformation of Tim LaHaye from  premillenialist evangelist to soi-disant fiction writer exhibits a similar slippage. While focusing on American religious cultures, the paper will draw parallels with similar aspects of Old World religions, including the eschatological tendencies in Judaism and Islam, and the dangers these pose in a highly armed, polarized world.

Malise Ruthven is an independent writer, teacher, and journalist. His publications include Fury for God: the Islamist Attack on America (Granta, 2002) and Fundamentalism: the Search for Meaning (Oxford University Press, 2004).


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