A Central Michigan University course explores the apocalypse and the undead.
Kelly Murphy is known around Central Michigan University’s (CMU) campus in Mount Pleasant for her love of all things undead.
Murphy, an assistant professor in the philosophy and religion department at CMU, has been bringing that love into her classroom for the past year by teaching a class centered on apocalypse scenarios and society’s current fascination with zombies.
The official class title is “From Revelation to the Walking Dead: Apocalypse Then and Now.” In the class, students read through classical and contemporary literature, watch clips from older films and recent television shows, and learn to think and write critically about the themes within them.
“People call it the ‘zombie class,’ and it is in some ways. But more generally, it is a class that looks at how cultures across time have thought about the end of the world,” Murphy says. “A big theme of the class was to think about the literature genre and context—what was happening during the time period [when] the texts we read were written, and what that might have meant to the original authors.”
Murphy uses ancient texts in the beginning of the class that deal with the end of the world, such as the Book of Revelation in the Bible’s New Testament. From there, the class moves forward chronologically and students study how different modern cultural groups have used those religious texts to predict the end of the world.
Students then learn how the zombie phenomenon began and how the notion of a zombie apocalypse has evolved in modern media such as film and television.
“We look at what it (the recent zombie phenomenon) says about our culture, [why] we are so obsessed with zombies, and what zombies represent,” says Murphy.
Students study the Haitian origin of zombies and watch movies such as the late 1960s film Night of the Living Dead, and the more recent young adult book-to-film adaptation, Warm Bodies.
Murphy is in her second year teaching at CMU, and the spring 2015 semester is the second time the class is being offered. Two sections of the class were held during the spring 2014 semester, and Murphy says more than 60 students took the course—most of whom used it as an elective to fulfill graduation requirements.
In addition to reading through the texts and watching the films, students were also required to “Blog the Apocalypse” by writing several blog entries on the class’s CMU website. Students responded to critical thinking questions that were aimed at connecting the apocalyptic theme of the class to modern concerns such as terrorism, race, and gender equality, and could also comment on each other’s blogs.
Murphy said this helped the students create a community outside of the classroom.
“I had wonderful, amazing, engaged, communicative, thoughtful students. They were very excited and enthusiastic about the course,” she says. “Like many others, I love zombie literature, watching zombie movies [and] zombie television, and I like reading the comics. The class was designed to get students to use their brains and to help them improve skills that they are going to need later in life.”