Colloquium: Philip Barlow

Date(s) - 12/07/2017
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

3108 JKB


Philip Barlow, Neal A. Maxwell Fellow at the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU and the Leonard J. Arrington Professor of Mormon History & Culture at Utah State University, will present at the final colloquium of the semester. Please join us, Thursday, Dec. 7th at 3:00 PM in 4010 JFSB.

Title: “Shards of Combat: the War in Heaven as an Idea”

Few modern people concern themselves consciously with the concept of a pre-mortal war in heaven. Across time, however, the image of gods, angels, demons, or cosmic forces in primordial conflict is rife in the mythos of diverse societies. Versions may be traced not only among the ancient Hebrews and their Christian heirs, but in their Mesopotamian and Egyptian neighbors and in the successive empires of ancient Greece and Rome. Contesting gods help define early forms of Gnosticism. Related ideas flourished in ancient India and in tribal religions in regions as disparate as New Zealand, Africa, and the Americas. They continue in Sufi (mystical) forms of Islam. Among Persia’s Zoroastrians, battle between equally matched gods is perpetual. What such war is fundamentally about ranges considerably.

All this might be dismissed as a Freudian projection of human struggles. Projection is alive and well, to be sure, but it would be a mistake to assume that this explanation explains the phenomenon away. Moreover, ideas, if they are sufficiently potent, become ideologies. Among the Latter-day Saints, the ideology of war in heaven assumes intriguing forms.

Ideology is a word we apply to a body of doctrine, myth, or belief that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or religion. In this sense the LDS ideology of pre-existent war has affected such this-worldly matters as the high Mormon birth rate and the labeling of displeasing political movements as extensions of the satanic side in the war in heaven. But ideology also bears a contrasting meaning: “theorizing of a visionary or impractical nature.” In Mormon popular culture, the war in heaven is often cast in trivial terms, either with insufficient heft to have ignited a cosmic conflict at all or with an unscriptural presumption that Satan’s stratagem was to abort human agency by coercion. Might there be other ways “to destroy the agency of man”?

Refreshments will be served

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