Dr. Jacob R. Hickman

Asst. Professor of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
Brigham Young University
office: 860 SWKT
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Course Description

Why does everyone care so much about the end of the world?

What do obsessions with the end of the world as we know it have to do with a broader understanding of culture? How can we articulate a theory of culture that accounts for this sweeping tendency across human societies? In this seminar we will comparatively analyze different millenarian movements found in a wide range of cultural and historical cases. We will ask whether some universal logic or psychological processes underpin these different approaches to thinking about dramatic social change. Specific questions that we will address include:

Why are people obsessed with the end of the world—or at least the end of the world as they know it? How do we explain the recurrence of utopian and apocalyptic thought across cultural groups and historical periods? What types of events or conditions accentuate these beliefs? How do people cope with a sense of existential threat? Is utopian/apocalyptic thought a psychological universal across different societies? Are ‘secular’ forms—such as climate change alarmism and artificial intelligence enthusiasm—fundamentally similar to or different from ‘religious’ forms—such as Mormonism or the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas? What about UFO cults and conspiracy theorists? What do all of these phenomena have to say about the dual cultural and psychological strategies that people employ to deal with the world that they live in—a world that is perceived to be out of sync with its ethical ideal?

This seminar will explore all of these questions by addressing a wide range of ethnographic, historical, and archaeological cases of groups whose frameworks are centered on the end of the world as we know it. We will engage in historical and cross-cultural comparisons of case studies as varied as:

We will engage with and critique theories that seek to explain these movements in terms of social and political deprivation or through an emphasis on cognitive dissonance. Through an interdisciplinary inquiry (including religious studies, history, archaeology, anthropology, sociology, political science, and cultural psychology), in this seminar we will seek to develop a comparative understanding of why people obsess with dramatic changes in the world around them in different places and in different times.

This course will be conducted as an interactive seminar. I may wax in and out of lecture mode as I share ethnographic examples from my own research or try to situate or explicate particular theoretical points, but student participation and rich discussion is critical. As a result, your participation in the seminar will constitute an important part of the final grade. The syllabus will include an array of reading and multi-media materials, and it is critical that you come prepared each session to discuss your take on the materials for each seminar discussion.

Books and Reading Materials

The following books are required for this course and need to be acquired by every student. The remainder of the required and suggested readings are individual articles or book sections and will be available electronically by clicking on the links in the reading schedule. These required books can be purchased online, and are also available through course reserve:

Gray, John. 2007. Black mass: How religion led the world into crisis. Toronto: Random House.
Underwood, Grant Revon. 1999. The Millennarian World of Early Mormonism. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
Spence, Jonathan D. 1996. God's Chinese son : the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan.
McCants, William Faizi. 2015. The ISIS apocalypse : the history, strategy, and doomsday vision of the Islamic State. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Burridge, Kenelm. 1969. New heaven, new earth: a study of millenarian activities. New York: Schocken Books.

Reading Schedule

Week 1 T Jan 9 Intro to the course
Th Jan 10 Hickman, Jacob R, and Joseph Webster. In Press. "Millenarianism." In Oxford Handbook of the Anthropology of Religion, edited by Simon Coleman and Joel Robbins.
Week 2 T Jan 16 What is millenarianism? Wallace, Anthony F. C. 1956. "Revitalization movements." American Anthropologist 58 (2):264-281.

Linton, Ralph, and A. Irving Hallowell. 1943. "Nativistic Movements." American Anthropologist 45 (2):230-240.

Facilitators: Aerin Burns and Kalie Elkins
Th Jan 18 Key Theoretical Perspectives (old and new) Scott, James C. 2009. "Prophets of Rebellion (Chapter 8)." In The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchst History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.
Week 3 T Jan 23 (Continued) Scott, James C. 2009. "Prophets of Rebellion (Chapter 8)." In The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchst History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

Facilitators: Courtney Seale and Sharae Vance
Th Jan 25 Cargo Cults Burridge, K. 1970. Mambu: a study of Melanesian Cargo Movements and their ideological background: Harper and Row.
(Read pp. xv-xxii [the Preface], pp. 1-13, 25-44, and 246-283; the PDF is in the class folder in Box, and it has more pages scanned, but you only need to read the aforementioned pages)

Facilitators: Jeannie Kwan
Week 4 T Jan 30 Lanternari, Vittorio. 1963. The Religions of the Oppressed: A Study of Modern Messianic Cults. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. (Preface, Foreword to the English-Language Edition, pp.1-7, 54-62, 301-322)

Lanternari, Vittorio. 1974. "Nativistic and Socio-Religious Movements: A Reconsideration." Comparative Studies in Society and History 16 (4):483-503.

Facilitators: Ashton Ledee and Emma Morris
Th Feb 1 Continued: Lanternari discussion (please skim the other piece that you did not read for Tuesday)
Week 5 T Feb 6
McCants, William Faizi. 2015. The ISIS apocalypse : the history, strategy, and doomsday vision of the Islamic State. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Read Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 2

Facilitators: Rhianne Smith and Rebekah Thomson
Th Feb 8 ISIS Apocalypse: Read Chapter 3, Chapter 4
Week 6 T Feb 13 ISIS Apocalypse: Read Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Conclusion
Th Feb 15
NO CLASS. (start reading Black Mass)
Week 7 T Feb 20 Monday Instruction NO CLASS.
Th Feb 22 Gray, John. (2007). Black mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. (we will discuss Chapters 1-4)
Week 8 T Feb 27 Black Mass (skim Ch. 5 and read Ch. 6)
Th Mar 1 van der Veer, Peter. (1994). Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India. Berkeley: University of California Press. (Preface, Ch.1, Epilogue)
Week 9 T Mar 6 Webster, Joseph. (2013). The Anthropology of Protestantism: Faith and Crisis among Scottish Fishermen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. (Prologue, Introduction, skim Ch. 1: The Triple Pinch))
Th Mar 8 Webster, Joseph. (2013). The Anthropology of Protestantism: Faith and Crisis among Scottish Fishermen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. (Ch. 7: Eschatology, skim Conclusion)
Week 10 T Mar 13
Spence, Jonathan D. (1996). God's Chinese son : the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. (Chapters 1-6)
Th Mar 15 God's Chinese Son; Read ONE of the following sections: Chapters 7-10 (first section), 11-14 (second section), 15-17 (third section)

Facilitators: Aerin Burns (First), Jeannie Kwan (Second), Sharae Vance (Third)
Week 11 T Mar 20 God's Chinese Son (Chapters 18-22)

Facilitator: Kalie Elkins
Th Mar 22 Conspiracy Theory (UFOs, 9-11, Illuminati); Read at least 30-ish pages from one of the following:

Barkun, Michael. (2003). Culture of Conspiracy : Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. Berkeley: University of California Press. (this is a link to an eBook that you can only access through the library while logged in or on campus)

Robertson, David G. (2016). UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New Age. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Kaplan, Jeffrey (Ed.) (2013). Millennial Violence Past, Present and Future. London: Frank Cass. (FBI and Canadian Intelligence Service reports on the prospects for violence by "extremist" groups, along with commentary)

Marcus, George E. (Ed.) (1999). Paranoia within reason: a casebook on conspiracy as explanation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Introduction by Marcus and Faubion chapter on Box)
Week 12 T Mar 27 Conspiracy theories continued... (read 30 more pages of conspiracy stuff, or if you want you can read on "Secular" millenarianisms: Climate Change and Artificial Intelligence)
Th Mar 29 Waco Read either the Faubion or Lamy chapters (on Box), and if you want you can peruse the Waco Tribune-Herald piece as well:

Faubion, James D. (2001). The shadows and lights of Waco : millennialism today. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. (Part 1)

Lamy, Philip. (1996). Millennium rage : survivalists, white supremacists, and the Doomsday prophecy. New York: Plenum Press. (Chapter 7)

"The Sinful Messiah" series in the Waco Tribune-Herald

Facilitating: Ashton
Week 13 T Apr 3
Underwood, Grant Revon. (1999). The Millennarian World of Early Mormonism. Illinois: University of Illinois Press. (Introduction and Chapters 1-4)

Facilitating: Ceci and Quinn
W Apr 4 8:00pm at Jacob's House: Apocalypse Pizza Party The Millennarian World of Early Mormonism (Chapters 5-8, Epilogue)

Facilitating: Lara and PJ
Th Apr 5 Class cancelled
Week 14 T Apr 10 Pontius, J. M. (2012). Visions of glory : one man's astonishing account of the last days.
Rowe, J. (2014). A greater tomorrow : my journey beyond the veil.

Facilitating: Amanda and Quinn
Th Apr 12 Ghost Dance PDFs with selections of the following two books can be found in the Box folder (please at least read/skim all of it, but read at least 30-40 pages thoroughly):

Mooney, J. (1965). James Mooney: The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

La Barre, W. (1972). The ghost dance: Origins of religion. New York: Delta.

Facilitating: Amanda and Emma
Week 15 T Apr 17 Conclusions
Please be prepared to give a 2-minute (and please only 2-minute) summary of the argument of your final paper. Also, the final reading will be select pages from:

Burridge, Kenelm. (1969). New heaven, new earth: a study of millenarian activities. New York: Schocken Books. (Please read the Preface, Pages 1-14, and Pages 141-173)
Th Apr 19 Exam Preparation Day NO CLASS.

Twitter in the classroom (and beyond)

We want to make this course as interactive and personal as possible, despite its large size. To this end, we will use Twitter as a mode of communication between students, TAs, and the professor. Students are encouraged to post questions and comments during the lecture and in between lectures while doing the reading using the handle @byuanthro101. During lectures, TAs will assist Dr. Hickman in consolidating and responding to comments and questions on the Twitter feed, and we will also make an effort to respond to comments and questions posed in between classes (e.g., while students are reading the material). We will try to respond as much as possible in lecture and on the Twitter feed itself, where appropriate, but Twitter also provides a forum to expand the in-class discussion and allows the professor to respond to questions that might otherwise be lost in the crowd. If you have comments to contribute or questions you would like to ask and we do not get to you in class, please consider Tweeting your thoughts or questions.

Grade Distribution

Final grades will consist of (1) reading self-reports and reading quiz scores, (2) two short papers, (3) an ethnogrpahic project, (4) three miscellaneous assignments, and (5) a final exam

Assignment Pct of Final Grade
1. Reading Self-Report and Quiz Scores 25
2. Two Short Papers 30
3. Ethnographic Project 20
4. Miscellaneous Assignments 5
5. Final Exam 20

A full description of the assignments and grading procedures for this course along with directions for submission for each assignment can be found on the Assignments Page of this syllabus (click here or on the "Assign" link at the top of this page).

University Policies

Please familiarize yourself with these policies, which will be enforced in this course.

Honor Code

In keeping with the principles of the BYU Honor Code, students are expected to be honest in all of their academic work. Academic honesty means, most fundamentally, that any work you present as your own must in fact be your own work and not that of another. Violations of this principle may result in a failing grade in the course and additional disciplinary action by the university. Students are also expected to adhere to the Dress and Grooming Standards. Adherence demonstrates respect for yourself and others and ensures an effective learning and working environment. It is the university's expectation, and my own expectation in class, that each student will abide by all Honor Code standards. Please call the Honor Code Office at 422-2847 if you have questions about those standards.

Sexual Harassment

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination against any participant in an educational program or activity that receives federal funds. The act is intended to eliminate sex discrimination in education and pertains to admissions, academic and athletic programs, and university-sponsored activities. Title IX also prohibits sexual harassment of students by university employees, other students, and visitors to campus. If you encounter sexual harassment or gender-based discrimination, please talk to your professor or contact one of the following: the Title IX Coordinator at 801-422-2130; the Honor Code Office at 801-422-2847; the Equal Employment Office at 801-422-5895; or Ethics Point at, or 1-888-238-1062 (24-hours).

Student Disability

Brigham Young University is committed to providing a working and learning atmosphere that reasonably accommodates qualified persons with disabilities. If you have any disability which may impair your ability to complete this course successfully, please contact the University Accessibility Center (UAC), 2170 WSC or 422-2767. Reasonable academic accommodations are reviewed for all students who have qualified, documented disabilities. The UAC can also assess students for learning, attention, and emotional concerns. Services are coordinated with the student and instructor by the UAC. If you need assistance or if you feel you have been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of disability, you may seek resolution through established grievance policy and procedures by contacting the Equal Employment Office at 422-5895, D-285 ASB.

Academic Honesty

The first injunction of the Honor Code is the call to "be honest." Students come to the university not only to improve their minds, gain knowledge, and develop skills that will assist them in their life's work, but also to build character. "President David O. McKay taught that character is the highest aim of education" (The Aims of a BYU Education, p.6). It is the purpose of the BYU Academic Honesty Policy to assist in fulfilling that aim. BYU students should seek to be totally honest in their dealings with others. They should complete their own work and be evaluated based upon that work. They should avoid academic dishonesty and misconduct in all its forms, including but not limited to plagiarism, fabrication or falsification, cheating, and other academic misconduct.


Intentional plagiarism is a form of intellectual theft that violates widely recognized principles of academic integrity as well as the Honor Code. Such plagiarism may subject the student to appropriate disciplinary action administered through the university Honor Code Office, in addition to academic sanctions that may be applied by an instructor. Inadvertent plagiarism, which may not be a violation of the Honor Code, is nevertheless a form of intellectual carelessness that is unacceptable in the academic community. Plagiarism of any kind is completely contrary to the established practices of higher education where all members of the university are expected to acknowledge the original intellectual work of others that is included in their own work. In some cases, plagiarism may also involve violations of copyright law. Intentional Plagiarism-Intentional plagiarism is the deliberate act of representing the words, ideas, or data of another as one's own without providing proper attribution to the author through quotation, reference, or footnote. Inadvertent Plagiarism-Inadvertent plagiarism involves the inappropriate, but non-deliberate, use of another's words, ideas, or data without proper attribution. Inadvertent plagiarism usually results from an ignorant failure to follow established rules for documenting sources or from simply not being sufficiently careful in research and writing. Although not a violation of the Honor Code, inadvertent plagiarism is a form of academic misconduct for which an instructor can impose appropriate academic sanctions. Students who are in doubt as to whether they are providing proper attribution have the responsibility to consult with their instructor and obtain guidance. Examples of plagiarism include: Direct Plagiarism-The verbatim copying of an original source without acknowledging the source. Paraphrased Plagiarism-The paraphrasing, without acknowledgement, of ideas from another that the reader might mistake for the author's own. Plagiarism Mosaic-The borrowing of words, ideas, or data from an original source and blending this original material with one's own without acknowledging the source. Insufficient Acknowledgement-The partial or incomplete attribution of words, ideas, or data from an original source. Plagiarism may occur with respect to unpublished as well as published material. Copying another student's work and submitting it as one's own individual work without proper attribution is a serious form of plagiarism.

"Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion."

John Gray

Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia