Faculty's new book analyzes appeal of apocalyptic thought in politics

July 22, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A forthcoming book from Ben Jones, assistant director of Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute, offers a novel account of apocalyptic belief in politics.

“Apocalypse without God: Apocalyptic Thought, Ideal Politics, and the Limits of Utopian Hope” (Cambridge University Press, 2021) is a critical analysis of apocalyptic thought’s enduring appeal in politics, especially for secular thinkers.

“When you think about apocalyptic thought and doctrines, often they are seen as the most bizarre elements of religious faith,” Jones noted. “So it is puzzling why thinkers without strong religious commitments would find these doctrines valuable for interpreting politics.”

In the book, Jones — whose work centers on political philosophy, applied ethics and the history of political thought — tries to resolve this puzzle by focusing on what he calls "cataclysmic apocalyptic thought," which sees a special relationship between crisis and utopia. Such thought consists of four parts, explained Jones.

“The first element draws attention to widespread corruption in the world and the fact that it is not what it should be. For example, in the Book of Revelation [in the Bible], its author, John, rails against the Roman Empire and its corruption," said Jones.

The second element forecasts a looming crisis, and the third emphasizes that this crisis will be guided by a higher power toward an intended goal, said Jones. The fourth element, at the end of it all, is utopia.

“Apocalypse without God” is the culmination of research that Jones began in graduate school at Yale University. It touches on topics and themes he has long grappled with, he said.

“For many, encountering apocalyptic thought is like entry into an alien world that is wholly unfamiliar. In my case, though, working on this project had a different feel, given my religious background. It was like returning to a hometown where you don't intend to stay, but where the surroundings are familiar,” Jones explained.

Cambridge has scheduled the book’s release for December 2021. In addition to the hardcover book, Penn State University Libraries will be making the book available open access through its TOME initiative.

TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem) is designed to support peer-reviewed, open access monographs. It is a collaborative effort between 20 universities, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Research Libraries, and the Association of University Presses.

In addition to “Apocalypse without God,” Jones is co-editor with Eduardo Mendieta of “The Ethics of Policing: New Perspectives on Law Enforcement” (New York University Press). His research has appeared in the Journal of Applied PhilosophyPolitical Research QuarterlyJournal of Criminal Law and Criminology, and various other venues, including popular outlets like The Washington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer. You can find more information about his research at his Academia.edu page

The Rock Ethics Institute promotes engaged ethics research and ethical leadership from its home in Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts. The Institute was established in 2001 through a $5 million gift from Doug and Julie Rock.

  • Image of Rock Ethics Institute associate director Ben Jones

    Ben Jones
    Associate Director, Rock Ethics Institute

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated August 10, 2021