UCCS annual Apocalyptica Symposium hosted in Montréal

Armageddon. The Hunger Games. The Walking Dead. Ragnarok.

Each of these has a common theme – impending or post-apocalyptic settings. The causes vary, from asteroids to zombies, but all feature the end of the known world in some fashion. The theme of apocalyptic thought has been a fascination present in humanity for millennia, from our earliest cultures to recent pop culture iterations, as explored in the annual symposium “Through a Glass Darkly.”

Conference organizers Lorenzo DiTommaso, Gerberg Oegema, and Colin McAllister

“Through a Glass Darkly” was founded by Colin McAllister, Department of Visual and Performing Art Assistant Professor and Music Co-Director, in 2015. It started as a small conference at UCCS held at the Heller Center and has grown each year, with Lorenzo DiTommaso of Concordia University Montréal joining in 2018 as co-director.

“Through a Glass Darkly” explores the phenomenon of the apocalypse and interest humanity has shown in it, beginning centuries ago. As the program’s website states, “the study of humankind’s fascination with the apocalyptic worldview is a vast field which has increased in interest over the last three decades with the approach and passing of the start of a new millennium. It is a subject that spans cultures, religions, time, and space, and one that resists easy categorical definition. In ‘Through a Glass Darkly,’ scholars and artists gather each year to deliver presentations and engage in dialogue.”

For the first time since its inception the conference was held in Montréal, co-hosted by the Department of Religions and Cultures at Concordia University and the School of Religious Studies at McGill University, in part thanks to a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. This year’s theme was “Revelation Rebooted: The Commentary Tradition on the Revelation of John,” focusing on how the Book of Revelation was interpreted in earlier centuries.

“This is an exploration of how that book was received during the Medieval period. How did people in Medieval times think about the book?” McAllister explained.

“I love the Revelation commentary tradition. That’s one of the things I’ve worked in and actually translated. I think it’s cool because it’s like a Google search engine for understanding what people in that time period were concerned about.”

McAllister notes that while Apocalyptic studies can be specialized and not easily accessible to those who aren’t pursuing the discipline, the idea of apocalypse and the world ending is a widespread interest that has permeated more accessible avenues, such as popular culture.

McGill University Campus

“What’s fascinating about the study of apocalyptic thought is that on the one hand, it can be a very precise and academic discipline. There are all these texts that exist in Latin and Greek and other languages we don’t use anymore, and so that’s a very specialized and scholarly pursuit, to read and interpret these texts. On the other hand, everybody is sort of interested in what is the end of the world? Is there going to be an end of time, an end of history?” McAllister said.

This interest is shown in the consistent outreach McAllister receives from people in various disciplines. He was recently a guest on a philosophy podcast to discuss apocalyptic literature, along with being contacted by a Washington Post reporter who came across McAllister’s work while writing about NASA’s recent satellite launch to make contact with an asteroid.

“I get calls like that all the time, from people all over that somehow find me and want to talk about the end of the world,” McAllister said.

Unlike many conferences that host multiple workshops at the same time, “Through a Glass Darkly” is structured to allow everyone attending to participate in each talk.

“We’ve always curated this one to be small enough that everybody gets to go to everybody else’s presentations, so there’s no overlapping talks. It creates a great sense of community, and it creates, I think, really interesting dialogue,” McAllister noted.

While these talks are a main part of the conferences, they aren’t the only presentations conducted. Performance art is often incorporated, like the musical narrative “Aeneas in the Underworld” that McAllister developed with composer Christopher Adler.

Montreal skyline

This was year was the first time the conference was held outside of UCCS, something McAllister hopes to continue by alternating between Colorado Springs and Montréal in the future: the next symposium will be held Oct. 12-14, 2023, and will be co-sponsored by UCCS and Colorado College, then will return to Montréal in 2024.

McAllister also highlights the support he’s received from UCCS for the conference. The program is underwritten by the UCCS Humanities Program, the Heller Center for Arts & Humanities, the UCCS Department of Visual and Performing Arts, the UCCS Department of History and the UCCS Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life.

“That’s what I love about UCCS. I think the UCCS community, especially our Humanities program, is incredibly supportive of transdisciplinary scholarship. I’m not sure that’s the case everywhere.”

Learn more about “Through a Glass Darkly” and the Heller Center for Arts and Humanities online.