The Return of the Apocalyptic

The 2015-16 Orr Forum

The apocalyptic has often been dismissed as the concern of only a few “primitives.” Today, however, we are inundated with apocalyptic visions, both religious and secular. It seems that that apocalyptic has returned, if it ever went away, and that for all the anxiety about the future, the apocalyptic is a force here and now.

All events are free and open to the public. Discussions will be held in the new Learning Commons at the John Stewart Memorial Library..

Spring Schedule of Events

A Front Row Seat for the Apocalypse: Fundamentalists & Filmmakers Imagine the End-times

Dr. Larry Shillock, Wilson College

Feb. 9 at 11 a.m. 

Fundamentalist Christians and Hollywood filmmakers infrequently see eye to eye. And yet, both groups find themselves increasingly drawn to apocalyptic narratives that imagine mass death as an aspect of human experience. What does a shared fascination with death in the present and near-future tell us about the underlying desires of apocalypticism as such?


Jihadism and the Modern Apocalyptic

Dr. Megan Adamson Sijapati, Gettysburg College

Feb. 23 at 11 a.m. 

The landscape of 21st c. jihadist movements cannot be understood apart from the heterogeneous and competing Salafi and Wahhabi movements of 19th and 20th century Islam. Today's forms of these religion-political ideologies, however, take unprecedented turns that support anachronistic—yet modern—apocalyptic visions of the role of Islam and Muslims in the world.


Yearning for the End of All Things: Who Wants That and Why?

Dr. Lee Barrett, Lancaster Theological Seminary

March 9 at 11 a.m. 

Fascination with the end-times has recurred with regularity in the history of Christianity. However, each generation seems to project different scenarios of the sometimes feared and sometimes hoped for future. We will look at some of the motivations for this interest, and the ways in which diverse apocalyptic passions have given rise to divergent and often conflicting theologies.


Preparing for Doomsday

Dr. Matthew Sutton

March 29 at 11 a.m.

Sutton's talk analyzes the work of David Koresh, Harold Camping, and Billy Graham. While most Americans may want to separate the violent prophecies of Koresh, the date-setting urgency of Camping, and the mainstream evangelicalism of Graham, the work of these prophets of apocalypse has far more in common than most men and women realize. The ideas of Koresh, Camping, and Graham all emerged from the same long river of American Protestant apocalypticism and together they demonstrate the continuing power and appeal of doomsday beliefs in modern United States history.


American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism

Dr. Matthew Sutton

March 29 at 6:30pm

Sutton's talk focuses on how American fundamentalists and evangelicals across the twentieth century took to the pulpit and airwaves to explain how Biblical end-times prophecy made sense of a world ravaged by global wars, genocide, and the threat of nuclear extinction. Rather than withdraw from their communities to wait for Armageddon, they used what little time was left to warn of the coming Antichrist, save souls, and prepare the United States for God's final judgment, ultimately transforming American politics. 


Millenarianism and the Refusal to Plan

Dr. Brad Littlejohn, Davenant Trust

April 12 at 11 a.m.

American religion has, from our first settling here, been dominated by radically optimistic and pessimistic versions of millenarian eschatology, in which either triumph or doom was deemed inevitable, and this has left a deep imprint on our national psyche and culture. Both strains, unfortunately, are ill-suited to prudent long-term planning in the face of natural disasters. It is this religious pathology, I argue, that bears much responsibility for American apathy and inaction in the face of climate change.


The Spring Scholars

Lee Barrett is Staeger Professor of Theology at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He holds BA, MA, MDiv, and PhD degrees from Yale University and is the author of several books and articles on the thought of Soren Kierkegaard, the theology of the Reformed tradition, and Christianity and popular culture. 

Brad Littlejohn is Director of the Davenant Trust, an organization dedicated to renewing classical Protestant theology and ethics at the intersection of the church and academy. He also teaches philosophy, writes in the fields of ethics and historical theology.  

Larry Shillock is Professor of English at Wilson College. His scholarship focuses on composition, critical theory, the English novel, film, and the history of affect. A book reviewer for The Bloomsbury Review, his recent scholarly publications have been devoted to the Iliad, The Time Machine, Heart of Darkness, The Maltese Falcon, and two television series, Spartacus and The Walking Dead.  

Megan Adamson Sijapati is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Co-Chair of Globalization Studies at Gettysburg College. Her areas of specialization are religion and modernity, religious violence and non-violence, and religious revivalism and reform in South Asian religions, particularly Islam. She is a board member of the South Asian Muslim Studies Association, author of Islamic Revival in Nepal: Religion and a New Nation (Rutledge, 2011), and co-editor and author of the forthcoming book Religion and Modernity in the Himalaya (Routledge).

Matthew Avery Sutton is the Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of History at Washington State University. He is currently working on a new book tentatively entitled FDR's Army of Faith: Religion and Espionage in World War II (New York: Basic Books, 2019). He is the author of American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), Jerry Falwell and the Rise of the Religious Right: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012), and Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (Harvard University Press, 2007). He has published articles in diverse venues ranging from the Journal of American History to the New York Times and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the US Fulbright Commission, and the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation.

For more lectures check out the Confronting Climate Change series.

History of the Orr Forum

Since its inception in 1964 the Orr Forum has been Wilson College’s most widely-known and perhaps most prestigious academic event. Prior to the establishment of the Orr Forum, the College sponsored annually what was called “Devotional Week” with a series of chapel services, sermons, and a communion service.

During the 1962-1963 academic year Associate Professor of Bible and Religion Harry Buck and Professor Graham Jamieson, Chairman of the Department of The Bible and Religion, discussed the use of a fund established by Thomas J. Orr in honor of his parents Mary and William. The aim was to establish an endowed lecture series that would bring to campus outstanding thinkers in various aspects of religion studies. President Paul Swain Havens enthusiastically endorsed the plan, approving its implementation in 1964. The following year Professor Raymond Anderson joined the Department and quickly became an invaluable part of the Orr Forum personnel.

Topics addressed by the Orr Forum have reflected the wide and shifting interests in religion studies in America. The series began with Edward Jurji, Professor of Islamics and Comparative Religion, Princeton Theological Seminary, speaking on convergence and prejudice. Succeeding years have been devoted to such topics as bioethics; race relations; the relationship of church and state; the nexus between religion and environmental issues; the AIDS crisis; and contemporary Islam.


Recent Orr Scholars


A Robed Revolulution:
Female Ordination in Buddhism (2013)

Guest Speaker: Dr. Susanne Mrozik
Associate Professor of Religion
Mount Holyoke College


Female ordination in Buddhism is one of the most hotly contested issues in the Buddhist world today. Dr. Susanne Mrozik of Mount Holyoke College examines what is at stake—and for whom—in international and local campaigns to grant women access to full ordination as Buddhist nuns (bhikkhuni). She focuses particular attention on Sri Lanka, where she spent two years conducting ethnographic research on the 1998 revival of the Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist nun’s order.

Susanne Mrozik is a gender specialist in Buddhist studies. She teaches courses on women in Buddhism, Buddhist ethics, Buddhist literature, Buddhism in America, and a comparative religion course on body images and practices in religious traditions. Most of her courses are cross-listed in Asian Studies and/or Gender Studies. She also is the Mount Holyoke faculty advisor for the Five College Buddhist Certificate Program.

Mrozik has contributed scholarly articles to a range of publications, including Religion Compass, the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, and the Journal of Religious Ethics. She is the recipient of numerous teaching and academic awards, including the Derek Bok Center Certificate of Distinction in Teaching from Harvard University; an American Institute of Sri Lankan Studies Fellowship for ethnographic research in Sri Lanka; a Fulbright grant for Sanskrit research in India; and a Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Completion Fellowship.





KeciaAli_2011.jpgEthical Formation in a Post-Secular Age (2012)

Guest Speaker: Jennifer A. Herdt, Ph.D.
Professor of Christian Ethics
Yale Divinity School

Autonomy After Virtue

I distinguish among four conceptions of autonomy and argue that the contemporary turn to tradition, given its self-conscious character, is best understood not as a repudiation of autonomy but as tradition-constituted autonomy.
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Scripture (Secular and Sacred) in the Task of Ethical Formation

In conversation with Martha Nussbaum, postliberal theologians, and Nicholas Boyle, I reflect on the role that secular literature (especially the novel) and sacred scripture play in ethical formation, and how these might fruitfully be understood in relation to one another.

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Forming a More Perfect Union: Democratic Virtues, Proximate Goods, and Christian Formation

I ask whether and how the retrieval of virtue ethics and the turn to tradition-constituted autonomy might contribute to improving the quality of public life in American society today.

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KeciaAli_2011.jpgRepresenting Muhammad:
Competing Images of Islam's Prophet (2011)

Guest Speaker: Dr. Klecia Ali
Assistant Professor of Religion
Boston University


An Assistant Professor of Religion at Boston University, Kecia Ali received her Ph.D. in Religion from Duke University, with a specialization in Islamic Studies. She is the author of Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence (Oneworld Publications, 2006) and Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam (Harvard University Press, 2010). Her research centers on Islamic religious texts, especially jurisprudence, and women in both classical and contemporary Muslim discourses. Her biography of the jurist and legal theorist al-Shafi'i will appear in Oneworld's Makers of the Muslim World series in 2011. Her current book project, The Lives of Muhammad, investigates Muslim and non-Muslim biographies of the prophet. She serves as co-chair for the Study of Islam Section of the American Academy of Religion and is a member of its Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession. She previously held research and teaching fellowships at Brandeis University and Harvard Divinity School.




DouglasOttati_2010.jpgModern Theology (2010)

Guest Speaker: Dr. Douglas F. Ottati
Craig Family Distinguished Professor in Reformed Theology and Justice Ministry
Davidson College


His scholarly interests include contemporary theology and ethics, as well as the history of theology and ethics, particularly in America. He is co-general editor of the multi-volume series, The Library of Theological Ethics.Recent books include Theology for Liberal Presbyterians and Other Endangered Species, Reforming Protestantism: Christian Commitment in Today's World, and Hopeful Realism: Recovering the Poetry of Theology.




PaulWaldau_2009.jpgWhy Animals Matter (2009)

Guest Speaker: Dr. Paul Waldau
Director, Center for Animals and Public Policy
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
Tufts University


Dr. Paul Waldau has spent much of the last decade studying the different ways that cultures, religious traditions and legal systems impact our view of the animals outside our own species. Focusing on our inherited views of these beings, as well as our current treatment and future possibilities, Dr. Waldau has published books and articles, and also lectured widely in academic, corporate, and media-based venues. With extensive experience in the academic world, veterinary education, legal education and the world of nonprofit organizations, Dr. Waldau speaks to religious concerns, the importance of scientifically informed analyses, and the foundational role of ethical inquiry. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Oxford University in 1997. His other degrees include a Juris Doctor degree from U.C.L.A. in 1978, a 1974 Master of Arts degree in Modern Religious Thought from Stanford University, and a 1971 Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies from the University of California.




NancyAmmerman_2008.jpgOn Being Publicly Religious (2008)

Guest Speaker: Dr. Nancy Ammerman
Professor of Sociology of Religion
Boston University


Dr. Nancy Ammerman has spent much of the last decade studying American congregations. Her most recent book, Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and their Partners (University of California Press, 2005), describes the common patterns that shape the work of American's diverse communities of faith. Her 1997 book, Congregation and Community, tells the stories of twenty-three congregations that encountered various forms of neighborhood change in communities around the country. Along with a team of others, she edited and contributed to Studying Congregations: A New Handbook, published in 1998 by Abingdon. Prior to her work on congregations, she wrote extensively on conservative religious movements, including Bible Believers: Fundamentalists in the Modern World, a study of an independent Baptist church in New England, and Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention, which received the 1992 Distinguished Book award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Nancy has also been active in attempting to educate a larger public audience about American religion. In 1993, she served on the panel of experts convened by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Treasury to make recommendations in light of the government's confrontation with the Branch Davidians at Waco. In 1995, she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the same subject, and in 1997 she lectured in Israel under sponsorship of the U.S. State Department. Nancy earned the Ph.D. degree from Yale University.