Delenda Est: World and Belief in Apocalyptic Thought

Van Houdt, Jennifer. Delenda Est: World and Belief in Apocalyptic Thought. 2018. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

In the recent rise of dystopic fiction, millenarianism, fundamentalism, and ecological disaster, Delenda Est interrogates the current proliferation of apocalyptic texts not as individual phenomena but as shared configurations for thinking about worlds, particularly in the crisis of belief invoked in the end of the world. I posit that apocalyptic thinking is best understood not through a particular history, period, genre, or place, but as a recurrent set of philosophical problems engendered in the attempt to imagine the “end” of a world, problems that bring worlds and our beliefs about them into view. This dissertation, in conversation with literary scholars of the post-secular age and contemporary philosophers that bridge the continental-analytic divide, works toward a theory of apocalyptic thinking as a consequence of (and a means of furthering) rupture in the belief systems that are integral to everyday narrative construction and world-constitution. Delenda Est comprises a comparative study of scriptures, literature, art, and popular culture about the end of the world that traces the shifts in world-committing beliefs across period and place, from famous apocalyptophilic works such as the Book of Revelation, Hieronymus Bosch’s Last Judgment, and William Blake’s Jerusalem to those of the American Shakers, Russian modernists, and contemporary evangelical pop culture. Apocalyptic texts, this dissertation suggests, provide a unique but critical site for comprehending totalizing beliefs and how such beliefs commitments can break, transition, or are fortified in the end of a world.

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