Are we living in the “end times”? Many would agree that, some days, it feels like it. Vancouver School of Theology’s Inter-Religious Studies program will host an apocalyptically themed conference this month called Visions of the End Times. Presenters will invite attendees to explore their fears and hopes for the future.
As part of the conference, which runs May 23-25, the keynote speaker, psychologist Dr. Lionel Corbett, will give a free public lecture. In the May 23 talk, Corbett will discuss the psychology of apocalyptic thinking and religious violence.
On the mornings of May 24 and 25, more than a dozen regional scholars will speak about concepts of the “end times” found in sacred texts, film, popular music and contemporary culture. Afternoon activities will include a multifaith panel of local religious leaders and a creative writing workshop.
The conference had its genesis about three months before the U.S. election in a conversation between Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan, the director of Inter-Religious Studies at VST, and Harry Maier, professor of New Testament and early Christianity studies. The two professors contemplated why zombies are such a popular motif in contemporary culture. Are they a metaphor for soul-less humanity, for consumer culture consuming itself or a political world that has no awareness or conscience? This led to a discussion of the possibility of an academic conference on zombies in popular culture.
“Then,” Duhan Kaplan explained to the Jewish Independent, “we remembered we’re faculty at a theology school, and that zombies sort of appear in the Bible, in Ezekiel’s prophecy about the resurrection of the dead. So, we broadened the topic to Visions of the End Times and made the conference a VST project.”
Duhan Kaplan said she expects the conference will yield lively discussion. “My prediction for the thread that runs through the conference [is that] we will debate whether the world is getting worse or better, or heading in any direction at all.”
She said speakers will address topics such as extremism and religious violence, visions of the end times articulated by religious traditions, the meaning of end-times themes in music and film, the nature of utopian thinking, and a deeper look at end-times teachings in Jewish, Christian and Muslim scriptures. There will also be an open mic Tuesday evening featuring music and poetry of the end times, which Kaplan hopes will be “whimsical and fun.”
“I do believe that eschatological concepts [ideas resulting from the study of the end times] are helpful metaphors,” she said. “They place even terrible events into a hopeful vision. When something bad happens, they say, ‘Don’t worry, it’s just a blip on the way to a good end.’ For example, when something bad happens, many Jews say, ‘These are the footsteps of Mashiach.’ Personally, I take great comfort in Isaiah’s vision that ‘the lion will lie down with the lamb.’
“I don’t think human beings will ever make a [peace] treaty that holds indefinitely,” she continued. “But, while peace holds, people do experience a bit of ‘the World to Come,’ as we sometimes call the end times in Jewish thought.”
Corbett’s public talk is at 7 p.m. on May 23 at Chapel of the Epiphany on the University of British Columbia campus. For more information, visit vst.edu/event/vision-of-the-end-times-an-inter-religious-conference.
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.