Date of Award
Doctor of Liberal Arts (DLA)
This thesis examines a particular strand of American Protestantism, the shift from the “commonly received doctrine” being post-millennialism, founded on gradual improvement and reforming the world, to a significant number of Americans adhering to the form of pre-millennial dispensationalism that has been referred to as “Armageddon theology.” This transition is considered through the filter of the sentiment Talal Asad encapsulates in his observation that “the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ are not essentially fixed categories,” contending that, over time these domains influence and shape one another.
“The secular” is viewed in a bifurcated fashion, comprised of popular media, as well as historical events, with the contention that both categories of this sector shape, and are shaped, by the “religious” sphere. This position is grounded in Victor Turner’s assertion that modern genres, like literature, “play” with cultural elements such as religion, and reshape the normative order. The influence each of these spheres exerts on the others is examined through the process turner associates with transformative events and the human experiences they provoke.
Chapter one outlines this project’s structure, and speaks to foundational concepts. As a means of establishing the environment from which this eschatological transition emerged, chapter two contains a close reading of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which embodies post-millennial thought in terms of the novel’s form, as well as its message. Contemplating why this eschatological shift occurred, chapter three begins with a brief historical overview of the transition from antebellum post-millennialism to Cold War “Armageddon Theology.” Correlations are drawn to concepts within Robert J. Lifton’s work regarding impaired spiritual and psychological connections that stem from broken symbol structures, relating them to Hans Blumenberg’s work on mythology as necessary to human orientation. These concepts are further aligned with the pattern Turner applies to transformative human experience. The literary selection for this chapter, Russell Hoban’s post-apocalyptic novel Riddley Walker, conveys this process, also in the context of the nuclear reality of the society in question.
Chapter four considers “where we go next,” and contains a survey of new images, and perspectives that emerge in a variety of media as “Armageddon theology” engages the “secular.” This sampling demonstrates the level to which concepts with this form of pre-millennial dispensationalism have become entrenched in American culture at large.
Chair and Committee
Abram Van Engen, English
Leigh Schmidt, Henry Schvey
Bigham-Bartling, Mary, "Selections from the Seedbed of Cultural Creativity: Where “the Religious” and “the Secular” Converge. or How We Went from Antebellum Post-millennialism to Cold War “Armageddon Theology.”" (2018). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1277.