Apocalyptic patterns of thought: 2012 and other prophecies

12 November 2011 - 12 November 2011

Venue: Holborn Bars, 138-142 Holborn, London

Speakers: Prof. Suzanne Newcombe, FBA, Prof. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, FRS, DBE, Prof. Charles B. Strozier, Prof. Keith Ward, FBA

Apocalyptic thought has a long history in the West dating back to the prophets of the Old Testament. It is also prominent in the New Testament - it is clear that Jesus and his followers expected the world to end in their lifetime. Since then, there have been repeated patterns of this kind, including those leading up to the year 1000 and the recent millennium. In the Indian tradition, this thinking is represented by the transition from the Kali Yuga to a new Golden Age, a theme which is also represented in the West and parallels the process of death and rebirth. Among the latest manifestations of apocalyptic thought are prophecies that the world will come to an end in December 2012, in accordance with the ancient Mayan calendar.

This conference takes a critical view of apocalyptic thought, drawing on world renowned experts from four disciplines. Keith Ward will explain the background to such thinking in the Bible, then Jocelyn Bell Burnell will give an astronomer's perspective of the astrological predictions. Charles Strozier is coming from New York to share his insights about the psychology of fundamentalism and apocalyptic thought, then finally Eileen Barker will consider the sociological implications of these kind of prophecies. This is an outstanding opportunity to sort sense from nonsense in this controversial field. 

Listen to the talks

Prof. Keith Ward: Apocalyptic thought in the Bible and Christian Tradition - listen to audio mp3 of the talk

Prof. Jocelyn Bell Burnell: The End of the World in 2012? An Astronomer’s Perspective  - listen to audio mp3 of the talk

Prof. Charles Strozier: ‘Endism’ and the Psychology of the Apocalyptic -  listen to audio mp3 of the talk

Prof. Suzanne Newcombe : Just How Nigh can the End Be? Some Sociological Thoughts on the Varieties of Apocalyptic Experience -  listen to audio mp3 of the talk

Plenary dialogue -  listen to audio mp3


The Speakers

Prof. Eileen Barker, OBE, FBA is Professor Emeritus of Sociology with Special Reference to the Study of Religion at the London School of Economics. Her main research interest is ‘cults’, ‘sects’ and new religious movements, and the social reactions to which they give rise. She has around 300 publications (translated into 27 different languages), which include the award-winning New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction.  In the late 1980s, with the support of the British Government and mainstream Churches, she founded INFORM, a charity based at the LSE which provides information about the new religions that is as accurate, objective and up-to-date as possible. She is a frequent advisor to governments, other official bodies and law-enforcement agencies around the world; and was the first non-American to be elected President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. 

Prof. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, FRS, DBE spent ten years as Professor of Physics at The Open University, with a year as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Princeton University, USA. She was Dean of Science at the University of Bath and is now a Visiting Professor at Oxford University. She received her PhD at Cambridge in radio astronomy, where  she was involved in the discovery of pulsars. In 2008 she became the first female President of the Institute of Physics. She is a Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Science, and has received numerous awards from learned bodies and universities in the UK and the USA. 

Prof. Charles B. Strozier is a Professor of History and the founding Director of the Center on Terrorism, John Jay College, City University of New York, and a practising psychoanalyst in New York City.  Strozier’s most recent book is Until the Fires Stopped Burning: 9/11 and New York City in the Words and Experiences of Survivors and Witnesses.  He was the lead editor and major contributor to The Fundamentalist Mindset: Psychological Perspectives on Religion, Violence, and History.  He is also the author of Apocalypse:  On the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America and has edited, with Michael Flynn, Trauma and Self, Genocide, War, and Human Survival, and The Year 2000.  Strozier was the founding editor of The Psychohistory Review and has published scores of articles and book chapters on aspects of history and psychoanalysis. He is coming from New York especially for the conference. 

Prof. Keith Ward, DD, FBA was Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford and is a Governor of Christ Church. He was Gresham Professor of Divinity and is currently a Professorial Research Fellow at Heythrop College, London. He is former President, World Congress of Faiths and was on the executive council of the Royal Institute of Philosophy. He has been a visiting professor at numerous universities, and has given many distinguished lecture series around the world, including the Gifford Lectures, the Sarum Lectures and the Hensley Henson Lectures. He is the author of more than thirty books on philosophy and theology covering a multitude of themes including science and religion, the soul, images of God, the case for religion and the new atheism. 


Prof. Suzanne Newcombe, PhD is a Research Officer at Inform where she has been studying 2012 groups in Britain since 2008. She is currently preparing an edited volume on Prophecies with her colleague Sarah Harvey for the Inform-Ashgate Series on Minority Religions. Inform is a charity, based at the London School of Encomics, founded by Professor Eileen Barker in 1988 to provide information about the new and minority religions and spiritualities that is as accurate, objective and up-to-date as possible. More widely, Dr Newcombe is also an Associate Lecturer for the Open University and has lectured on Sociology of Religion at Kingston University and taught on related courses at the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics. She has published several articles and book chapters on the popularisation of yoga and ayurvedic medicine.

Chair: David Lorimer  is Programme  Director of  the Scientific and Medical Network and President of Wrekin Trust. He is editor of The Spirit of Science, Thinking Beyond the Brain, Science, Consciousness and Ultimate Reality and A New Renaissance. His book on the Prince of Wales’s philosophy and work – Radical Prince -  has been translated into French, Spanish and Dutch. 


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