Central Michigan University students study zombies through religion course

"From Revelation to 'The Walking Dead'" ties biblical texts to pop culture
Kelly Murphy

Central Michigan University students are studying zombies through “From Revelation to ‘The Walking Dead,’” a course that explores ancient texts and apocalyptic themes in the media.

“Thinking about the end and imagining life in a different way is something that humans have always done,” said Kelly Murphy, a philosophy and religion faculty member.

Murphy said she has always wanted to teach a course on apocalyptic literature, and she is a fan of “The Walking Dead.”

“The prevalence of apocalyptic stories in various media gives us a window into what people are worrying about, what they hope for and how they imagine they would react in the face of a cataclysmic event,” Murphy said. “In the same way, we can read the Book of Revelation or other ancient apocalyptic texts and learn what ancient Jewish and Christian groups were concerned about and what kind of world they hoped might exist.”

Murphy’s class will discuss ancient biblical texts including the books of Daniel, Enoch and Revelation; review popular novels such as “World War Z;” and watch clips from zombie movies such as “Shaun of the Dead” and “28 Days Later.”

“It’s important to incorporate popular culture into classroom settings because it gives students a means of connecting with the subject,” said Kevin White, a St. Clair Shores senior majoring in political science and religion. “Studying ancient biblical texts isn’t most people’s cup of tea. But, when you add zombies, it instantly becomes everyone’s cup of tea.”

Mount Pleasant senior Devon Wright, an English and history major, has never taken a religion course before and enrolled in the class because of her interest in zombies.

“In the first few weeks, we watched a lot of clips from zombie films and basically went through a history of zombies,” Wright said. “I like the idea of talking about something that’s a theme in pop culture and trying to give it some academic understanding.”

Students also will discuss hypothetical ethical and theological problems people could encounter in a postapocalyptic world.

“In ‘The Walking Dead,’ I think you’re more afraid of the people than the zombies because you don’t know who you can trust,” Wright said. “Zombies you know to stay away from. You’re more afraid of humanity than the undead.”

There are many theories about what zombies represent—such as communism, terrorism, consumerism or environmental disaster, Murphy said. Students in the class will discuss many of these themes in relation to ancient texts and current portrayals in the media.

“I think the professor is dealing with religion in a way where we’re talking about the Bible in a hands-on, easy-to-understand way,” Wright said. “I think most of the students aren’t even religion majors. Most of them just have an interest in zombies.”

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Rachel Esterline Perkins
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