Laudato Si': An (Anti)Apocalypse Encyclical

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Mon 27 Feb
  • Monday, 27 February 2023
  • 7:00pm - 8:00pm
  • Online - Zoom



Course overview

Apocalypticism has become part and parcel of contemporary rhetoric surrounding the environmental crisis. Although today the term “eco-apocalypse” is most often used as a synonym for a catastrophic end of the world, for those familiar with Biblical literature the term also evokes radically different meanings of revelation or redemption. Given this ambiguity, how should Christians understand and relate to the climate apocalypse? Is it a catastrophe to be avoided, or is it rather a revelatory (or even a redemptive) event occasioning hope? Can the concept of eco-apocalypse play a role in our pursuit of environmental justice?

This course will attempt to answer the above questions by reading Laudato Si’ apocalyptically. During the five weeks, participants will have an opportunity to explore the various ways in which the papal encyclical bears on themes traditionally raised by apocalyptic texts. Throughout the course we will 1) familiarise ourselves with Christian apocalypticism; 2) see how Laudato Si’ modifies and critiques the apocalyptic tradition; and 3) develop a theological response to the climate apocalypse informed by Laudato Si’.

Course outline

Week 1
What is an apocalypse?

In this week, we will pay particular attention to the tension between the destructive and redemptive aspects of the (environmental) apocalypse. We will begin by reading passages by authors which belong to the canon of ancient and medieval apocalypticism: St. Paul, John of Patmos, Joachim of Fiore, and others. We will then examine how Laudato Si’ relates to these historical accounts of the apocalypse by drawing out ideas capturing our contemporary eco-apocalyptic situation.

Week 2
Whose responsibility?

In our second session, we will compare and contrast different notions of responsibility operative in The Apostolic Letters, The Book of Revelation, and Laudato Si’. We will examine who generates an apocalyptic crisis within creation, and who is responsible for solving it. As we will find, for ancient writers, humans have limited responsibilities and should display mostly a passive attitude towards the apocalypse. We will then explore how Laudato Si’ recasts human responsibility in the context of the climate apocalypse, and how it reinterprets humanity’s passive and active attitudes, putting an emphasis on ecological action.

Week 3
The end(s) of history?

Although in the public imagination the apocalypse functions as a single end of history located in the future, medieval writers developed historical models with multiple apocalypses, understood as transitions between epochs. In this week’s session, we will ask if these models attentive to multiple end-times can be seen as underlying the account of history found in Laudato Si’. We will also consider how emphasising multiple eco-apocalypses allows Western societies to acknowledge the past and present suffering of non-Western communities, and thus to work more effectively towards environmental justice.

Week 4
An anti-apocalypse?

So far, we have focused on drawing parallels between the apocalyptic tradition and Laudato Si’. However, this week we will approach the encyclical from a radically different angle – we will read Laudato Si’ as an anti-apocalyptic document whose goal is to unambiguously reject eco-apocalypticism, and to supress any attempts at framing the climate apocalypse as revelatory or redemptive.

Week 5
A theology of eco-apocalypse?

We will conclude our course with a general theological reflection on the relation between Laudato Si’, the climate apocalypse, and environmental justice. The participants will have an opportunity to discuss questions raised throughout the course, such as: is Laudato Si’ an apocalyptic text? What is the relationship between the notions of integral ecology and the eco-apocalypse? Is apocalyptic conceptuality useful in the struggle for a just and sustainable world? What would a theology of climate apocalypse look like and can Laudato Si’ inform it?

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