CMCS Houston Inaugural Conference

Daniel, Islam, Apocalyptic

23-25 February 2022

In association with the 'Reading the Bible in the Context of Islam' research project headed by Dr Ida Glaser at CMCS Oxford, we are announcing our first research project at CMCS Houston.

 

The project will investigate the interpretation of the biblical book of Daniel, the reception of the character of Daniel and the use of associated apocalyptic material in Islamic contexts.  It will be particularly concerned with the impact of Daniel (and associated material) on Christian-Muslim relations throughout history, and with consequent links between religious thought and public policy in today's world. 

We use the term ‘apocalyptic’ here to refer to ‘a distinctive combination of axioms or propositions about space, time and human existence’, which includes belief in a transcendent reality which is hidden from normal observation, in a present reality inhabited by opposing good and evil forces, and in a coming conflict in which the good forces will defeat the evil forces[1].  We distinguish it from ‘apocalypse’, which is a genre of writing which purports to unveil the transcendent and, usually in graphic imagery, to explain the present and to predict the future.   Apocalypse under the name of 'Daniel' as well as that which alludes to the biblical book of Daniel is included in 'associated material'.

Practicalities

The conference will be held face-to-face in Houston, 2 p.m. Wed 23rd Feb - 12 p.m. Fri 25th Feb..  Venue and costs will be announced soon.  We plan to live-stream plenary sessions for those who are unable to attend in person.   

 

This is a working conference, so we will post papers for pre-conference discussion.  We will aim to facilitate online as well as face-to-face discussion during the conference where possible.

Conference output will include an edited volume of selected papers in the 'Routledge Reading the Bible in Islamic Context' series and some more accessible material for religious communities and policy makers in the USA.

Call for Papers

We invite proposals for papers which

  • examine the range of past and present uses of the biblical book of Daniel and the figure of Daniel by Muslims and in relation to Islam;

  • develop understanding of current popular uses of Daniel and associated apocalyptic material by Muslims and in relation to Islam;

  • examine correlations between such uses of the biblical Daniel and attitudes, behaviors and policies in today's world.

We will, of course, gladly consider other innovative approaches to our concerns.

Abstracts should be sent to ida@cmcshouston.org by 1st December 2021.

Why?

There is intrinsic academic interest in bringing together scholars from different disciplines around this theme.  To our knowledge, there has never been any attempt at a focused study of how the range of material relating to Daniel has been used both by Muslims and by non-Muslims in relation to Islam.  However, there are also compelling reasons for doing this study at this point in history:  it is relevant to understanding today’s world, and can contribute to affecting factors which influence social and international policies as well as personal attitudes and relationships. 

It is not unusual to find the influence of ‘end-times’ thinking on current events discussed in international media, whether of the 'apocalyptic' beliefs of the 'Islamic State' or of the factors affecting the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2017.   It is not without reason that there is often a Christian-Muslim relations dimension in such cases:  apocalyptic thinking has affected the interfaces between the faiths since the time of the early Islamic conquests.

 

We are launching our research at CMCS Houston with this conference because we consider the topic to be of great significance in the USA.  World views based on particular interpretations of biblical end-times prophecies can be traced back to the Pilgrim Fathers, and it is arguable that the whole of American culture is, therefore, historically rooted in what is called ‘apocalyptic’ thinking.  This is part of what distinguishes it from other English-speaking cultures world-wide. 

 

Prior to the ‘9/11’ events which re-directed the ‘apocalyptic’ imagination towards Islam, Lee Quenby asserted:

Americans have been taught to reside in apocalyptic terror and to count on millennial perfection.

For some, she recognizes, this has explicit biblical roots.  However, she sees the mind-set as pervasive of American thinking:  nebulous fears and hopes which are ‘a loose blend of religious symbols and secular expression’  ‘In the United States,’ she concludes, ‘This imprecise yet overwhelming belief system is a way of life.’[2]  Along with other observers, she sees ‘apocalyptic’ world-views as dividing the world into the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, with the expectation of battles between the two and eventual victory for the ‘good’.  It is not surprising, then, that the good/bad polarization has been applied to Islam since the social trauma of ‘9/11’.

Such a worldview can have, of course, positive as well as negative outcomes, fueling perseverance through adversity and work for reform[3].  However, psychological studies indicate its potential for driving violence as well as fear of the perceived ‘other’[4].  Reflecting on the influential Left Behind series and its accompanying video games in 2010, James W. Jones comments,

I can say that right now in the United States a whole generation of Christian adolescents is learning how to kill non-Christians, UN peace-keepers, and Christians less evangelical than themselves in the name of this apocalyptic Jesus.[5]

This may be overstating the case, but it does raise the question of how the popular ‘apocalyptic’ of the last decade might be affecting the thinking of this decade.  In the context of this particular conference, the question is how it might be affecting thinking relating to Islam.  If, as it seems from a brief survey of relevant web-sites[6] and from anecdotal experience, the effects are pronounced and can be negative, the question is, then, whether the academic world has anything to offer beyond analysis of the situation.  This conference and its output could be an important contribution.

Why Daniel?

Daniel can be seen as the root out of which other biblical and extra-biblical apocalypses have grown.  It contains the predictive framework which has long been used as a basis for interpreting other biblical material, and to which much other biblical material clearly alludes.  The name of Daniel is also attached to extra-biblical apocalypses produced by Jews and by Muslims as well as by Christians[7]

Daniel apocalypses have been used in Jewish and Christian thinking about Islam since the time of the first Islamic conquests.  Daniel, while not mentioned by name in the Qur’an, has long featured in Muslim stories of the prophets.  Currently, Daniel apocalyptic is used to interpret world events in a variety of ways.  On the one hand, such interpretations can result in polarisations between peoples and faiths; on the other hand, the biblical book of Daniel has great resources for inter-cultural and inter-faith engagement.

[1] L. DiTomasso, ‘Apocalypticism and popular culture; in The Oxford Handbook of Apocalyptic Literature, Oxford University Press, 2014, p 474.

[2] L. Quenby, Millenial Seduction: a skeptic confronts apocalyptic culture, Cornell University Press, 1999.  ​[3] See, for example, the argument of Norman Cohn in The Pursuit of the Millenium

[4] Note the number of papers examining apocalyptic in C.B. Strozier, D.M. Terman, J.W. Jones and K.A.Boyd (eds) The Fundamentalist Mindset:  psychological perspectives on religion, violence and history, Oxford University Press, 2010.  These include all three of the papers in the section on ‘Christian and American Contexts’.

[5] ‘Eternal Warfare: violence on the mind of American apocalyptic Christianity’, in Strozier et. al., p103.

[6] Some are overtly antagonistic, such http://www.apocalypse2008-2015.com/Beast_System-Islam.html, http://www.jacksmithprophecy.org/2014/06/23/islamic-state-of-iraq-and-the-levant-daniel-724s-fulfillment/.  Others are more nuanced, such as https://joelstrumpet.com/.

[7] For a thorough survey of the material, see L. DeTomasso, The Book of Daniel and the Daniel Apocalypses, Brill, 2005.