The Undead and Theology has found a publisher in Wipf & Stock. My co-editor Kim Paffenroth signed the contract this week. Submissions by the contributors are due at year’s end. Here is a description, as well as a list of contributors and their chapter topics.
Kim Paffenroth and John W. Morehead, editors
The academy and pop culture alike recognize the great symbolic and pedagogical value of the undead (or reanimated dead). Vampires, zombies, and other creatures possess an important ability to enable reflection in a variety of personal and cultural ways. This has been explored variously from critiques of consumerism and racism, explorations of gender and sexuality, consideration of the breakdown of the nuclear family; such academic examinations of the undead have been done from the perspectives of philosophy and political theory. But another important avenue of exploration these monstrous icons can lead us is theology.
This anthology volume on the undead and theology is similar in format to those that have looked at various expressions of horror in pop culture and philosophy, such as Zombies, Vampires, and Philosophy (Open Court Press, 2010), True Blood and Philosophy (Wiley, 2010), and Twilight and Philosophy (Wiley, 2009). Submissions address a variety of theological issues by drawing upon the undead as objects of critical reflection.
“When You’re Undead, the Whole World is Jewish”
Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg; Visiting professor at University of Baltimore
The Jewish myth of the Golem is usually remembered as a magically animated clay construct, but there are Golem stories that shatter the misconception that there are no Jewish zombies…apart from a certain carpenter. Golem folklore often features reanimated corpses in stories of injustice, vengeance, and the search for the soul, with the addition of the Jewish respect for the dead (K’vod HaMes). The creature is impelled by belief in God but a danger to its creator and its intended victims. Tales of the Golem are often overlooked in our expanding exploration of the cultural impact of the undead.
“The Living Christ and The Walking Dead: Karl Barth and the Theological Zombie”
Jessica DeCou, PhD Candidate in Theology at University of Chicago Divinity School
Stepping into the world of The Walking Dead, this chapter considers the “theological zombie” through a Barthian lens. Unlike the philosophical zombie, indistinguishable from us in appearance and behavior, the theological zombie is the recalcitrant corpse of popular imagination, shuffling about in sluggish but relentless pursuit, consuming the living for the sake of the dead. What are the implications of this zombie infestation for a theological understanding of genuine humanity? Can this apocalyptic outbreak serve to “reanimate” theological contemplation of the eschatological promise of bodily resurrection?
“Vampires, and Female Spiritual Transformation”
Dr. Vicky Gilpin, Millikin University
An originator of the “urban fantasy” genre, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series encouraged new pop cultural interpretations of vampire existence and the effects vampires have on humans and other paranormal creatures. Through the mostly human protagonist’s psychological, magical, and spiritual growth as a result of her paranormal connections, the works explore the question “what is the definition of monsterhood?” A character with strong religious identification, Anita’s increasingly sex-based powers and proclivities often cause her to question her spiritual standing. The depictions of religion and spirituality in the Anita Blake series, as well as the constant themes of sexual power, demonstrate the importance of a character’s spiritual and reflective journey as another lens through which to view theology and the undead.
“Crossing the Spiritual Wasteland in Priest”
Joseph Laycock, PhD Candidate at Boston University’s Department of Religion and Theological Studies
Scott Stewart directed Legion and Priest. Both films work by turning the traditional heroes of religious horror films––angels and the Church––into antagonists. This is one of the classic “sociophobics” discussed in Douglas Cowan’s Sacred Terror: the fear of a change in the sacred order. This article explores how Priest attempts to disturb and fascinate by challenging audience expectations regarding spiritual good and evil. The vampire-hunting protagonist experiences moral uncertainty about his Church and these doubts are inflicted on the audience as well. The film’s post-apocalyptic setting is explored as a potent metaphor for a broken sacred order.
“Vampires are People, too: Personalism in the Buffyverse”
Jarrod Longbons, PhD Candidate at the University of Nottingham
Buffy the Vampire Slayer puts forward an interesting image of the vampire: a dead body in which a demon has taken the place of the soul. Moreover, a vampire in the Buffyverse may elect to win back its soul. Though they remain “un-dead,” these “en-souled” vampires display only one significant change: they transform from diabolical parasites into persons for others. Because of its immanent perspective, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s vision of the soul is a secular parody of Catholic personalism, as explicated in this essay via an analysis of the character arc of the vampire “Spike.”
“Zombie Jesus, Zombie Walks, and the Eschatology of Postmodern Flesh”
John W. Morehead, MA from Salt Lake Theological Seminary
This chapter will describe the origins and expressions of the zombie walk, and Zombie Jesus phenomena, and how these phenomena incorporate postmodern conceptions of the body, and perhaps hint at a critique of the frequent Evangelical Christian emphasis on the soul/spirit to the neglect of the physical body. Finally, this chapter will consider that the mass gatherings of zombies rising from the grave, coupled with the presence of Zombie Jesus, may be understood in part as a form of resurrection without immortal bodily transformation as well as a reflection of critique of Christian eschatology, and the incorporation of postmodern nondualist metphaphysics.
“When All is Lost, Gather ‘Round: Exploring the Theologies of Grief and Hope in The Walking Dead”
Ashley Moyse; Sessional Instructor, Faculty of Science, University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, BC; Ethics Tutor, Undergraduate medical program, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia
This essay will explore the theology of grief and hope as illumined in the debut season of The Walking Dead. Specifically, the essay will argue that The Walking Dead tells the story of how one must rely upon the community, not only for strength but also hope during times of crisis and of grief. In support of this thesis, I will rely upon the theological writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth and Paul Tillich who may help explore how communities are constructed, how they labor together in times of grief, and where they may encounter hope.
“Negotiating (Non)Existence: Justifications of Violence in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead”
Dr. J. Ryan Parker
The religious aspects of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead chiefly concern morality and ethics, particularly regarding the brutal violence within various communities of survivors and between these communities and the zombies that plague them. From moral or physical superiority to survival needs to revenge, survivors of the zombie plague attempt to justify their violent actions. Drawing from studies of not only violence in film, television, and video games, but also the ways in which it is defended within such media, this essay further reveals ways in which narratives of the undead speak to the living. In our own world where unthinkable acts of violence (and violent reactions to them) are often cloaked in moral/religious/theological armor, Kirkman’s narrative sheds light on the hypocrisy of one individual or group claiming superiority over another, even if that other is a zombie.
“’The Devil is Born Anew’: The Satanic Turn in the Vampire Legend and the Creation of a Popular Theology of Evil”
Dr. Scott Poole, Associate Professor of History at the College of Charleston, author of Satan in America: The Devil We Know (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), and Monsters in America (Baylor University Press, 2011)
This essay examines how Hammer Studio films use of satanic metaphors in the late 60’s and early 70s reflected an increased fascination with the Devil as a new kind of horror film monster, as well as anxieties about “real” Devil worship. My analysis includes the work of several significant evangelical and Pentecostal theologians whose work touched on the role of the demonic such as Carl F.H. Henry, Gordon Fee and John Christopher Thomas. The essay will show the links between moral panics, modern folklore, theology and film audiences.
“’Eat of My Body and Drink of My Blood’: Johannine Metaphor, Gothic Subculture, and the Undead”
Beth Stovell, PhD Candidate at St. Thomas University, Assistant Professor in Biblical Studies
Using conceptual metaphor theory, this essay examines inclusion and exclusion in the Johannine literature, Gothic subculture, and modern “undead” literature, suggesting three critical ways that apocalyptic metaphors are used in these contexts: 1) as a reaction against mainstream culture, 2) as a reaction against exploitation, and 3) as a form of paradox and irony that subverts expectation. By creating a group of insiders and rejecting the culture of its time, these “undead” literatures, like the Johannine corpus, provide solace and a community for their readers, reinterpreting apocalyptic metaphor, and informing social identity.
“Fire, Brimstone and PVC: Clive Barker’s Cenobites as Agents of Hell”
Andrea Subissati, MA from Carleton University with a thesis on the sociology of the living dead
In Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart, Frank Cotton’s search for the ultimate carnal experience leads him to discover a gateway into hell. Far from the orgiastic pleasures he had hoped for, Frank is dragged into hell by cenobites for an eternity of corporeal torture. Barker’s novella and the resulting films are laden with theological concepts, particularly the Christian distinction between body and soul. This chapter will seek to analyze Barker’s version of hell, looking at how it relates to traditional Christian conceptions. Sources will include the original text, comic books and franchise of films.