Course Description & Objectives


Apocalyptic destruction has long been a mainstay of Hollywood, and television has increasingly joined this trend that blends doomsday with entertainment.  A significant number of works of American literature also reflect fascination with the idea of an end to the world—or the world as we know it.  Often, the threat of an apocalyptic day of doom serves as a warning about the immorality of American life. The Left Behind series, for example, charts a Fundamentalist Christian view of the Endtime, from the Rapture and Tribulation to Armageddon and New Jerusalem.  From a secular stance, some American apocalyptic writers and filmmakers use the threat of doomsday to launch an ironic critique of American gullibility and superficiality.  And many these days see December 21, 2012 as either a portent of total catastrophe or one that ushers in a new age of supreme consciousness.

Clearly, America has apocalyptic gusto.

But why has American culture been so receptive to doomsday belief?  In this course, we will explore the antecedents of contemporary American doomsday belief in order to grasp the history, structure, imagery, and drama of apocalyptic narrative and to analyze its effects on individuals and society.  By learning to recognize its narrative logic as manifest variously in religious, literary, and cinematic texts, we will gain an understanding of the ways in which doomsday belief shapes everyday perceptions in our own time, including impulses toward moral certitude and violence.  We will investigate the ways in which apocalyptic narratives are produced by and further produce gender and sexual oppositions and states of paranoia.  We will reflect on how the human imagination accentuates anxiety and seeks reassurance in the face of finality.

Course Objectives

Knowledge Bases

Students should:

  • develop ability to understand and analyze texts with doomsday themes and images
  • develop understanding of apocalyptic texts in their interdisciplinary contexts (e.g., cultural, social, historical, scientific, psychological, and political)
  • understand rhetorical strategies and gendered elements of apocalyptic discourse
  • learn to appreciate textual and imagistic complexity, ambiguity, and paradox
  • learn to identify apocalyptic styles
  • develop ability to use websites as a learning/teaching tool
  • develop understanding of interrelation of discourse, culture, and society

Academic Skills

Students should:

  • be able to reason, think critically, evaluate, use evidence, and make judgments
  • be able to write clearly and imaginatively, in a variety of forms and for a variety of purposes and audiences
  • be able to revise written work and creative project
  • be able to use the library to find appropriate print and electronic sources
  • develop a sense of fairness, objectivity, and accuracy in reporting
  • understand the ethics of research and writing, including the proper citation, and integration, of source materials into their work and the meaning and consequences of plagiarism
  • develop listening skills; develop ability to speak effectively

Social and Personal Skills

Students should:

  • learn to be self-reflecting
  • develop ability to work cooperatively and engage in civil debate
  • develop respect for both intellectual and cultural diversity