Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

New class shows how religion influences history

Arthur Gilbert, who is known for his distinctive courses, once again has a full roster for his new class, Apocalypse Now.

In the class, Gilbert, a DU professor of international studies, uses a historical approach to teach how global figures and events have shaped present day policies. His ultimate goal is to help students recognize religion’s important role in history.

“My position is that the secularization of international politics ignores thousands of years of history where international politics is about religion,” Gilbert says. “And this is a huge mistake.”

Apocalypse Now’s coursework begins in the 16th century, when international politics and religion were inseparable. At the time, faith motivated the majority of political action, and this, Gilbert believes, is the key to understanding present-day politics.

“By studying the 16th century, we’re becoming wise,” he says. “International politics needs to bring religion back in to understand it. People are still killing in the name of God.”

The course’s main focus is European history, which was largely determined by religious influence. For example, Gilbert discusses historical conflicts between Protestant France and Catholic Spain to show how religion influenced relations between the two countries, which at times turned bloody.

The class is offered at the undergraduate or graduate level, but the material is similar in each. Gilbert names Charles Manson, Jim Jones and St. Bartholomew’s Massacre among his lecture topics. In a recent interview, he held up a hardcover book — Making War in the Name of God — then laughed, “I could retitle my course that.”

In Apocalypse Now, Gilbert emphasizes the reality of international relations and faith today. The class is balanced between nonreligious and religious individuals; his students range from “flaming atheists” to conservative Christians.
Gilbert believes his students are maintaining a strong interest in the reading and lectures. He thinks very few students have a solid knowledge of international relations and faith, and hopes his course changes that.

The class will most likely be offered again in the coming quarters, but Gilbert stated that the material could change in the future. He is currently using lesser known books and films as lecture material to help students look beyond mainstream media for information.

“I’m a historian,” he says. “I’m not teaching faith. A lot of students are dealing with this personally, and even religious kids take the course. I am encouraging independent thinking, but you have to take the belief systems seriously.”

Comments are closed.