All about the end of the world

CMU’s Critical Engagements program invites community to discuss difficult themes

| Author: Ari Harris

​There's no escaping the end of the world. The theme is everywhere — it's the subject of hundreds of popular novels and dozens of blockbuster movies. It pops up in news headlines as a dire warning from political pundits and finds its way into catchy pop songs.

The compelling idea is the subject of this year's Central Michigan University Critical Engagements series.

Questions that matter

Critical Engagements features guest speakers, panel discussions, special events and a selection of featured courses in several academic areas that will explore the theme. Housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, the program brings the university community together to explore tough ideas, said series co-founder and world languages and cultures faculty member Christi Brookes.

"We identify some of the world's most challenging issues and difficult questions, then tap CMU's most powerful resources — faculty expertise and the creativity of our students — to explore solutions," she said.

The goal is to spark conversation and the exchange of ideas, Brookes said. Participants will hear from and work with people with diverse points of view and be challenged to think in a new way — all while developing their critical reasoning and problem-solving skills.

Last year, the program highlighted issues of immigration, borders and identity with the theme People on the Move.

Several activities planned for this year — including an English class, a campus-wide game and a special spring theater performance — will be linked to the novel "Station Eleven." The story centers on the lives of a group of actors in the years following a flu epidemic that wipes out much of humanity.

Later this month, the program will host keynote speaker and author Jamie Ford for a discussion about Japanese internment camps in the U.S. during World War II. Ford's visit is co-sponsored by the King-Chávez-Parks Visiting Professors program.

Crisis, turning points and renewals

Greg Smith, chair of the history department and co-founder of Critical Engagements, said this year's theme is hardly a new idea.

"People have worried about the end of the world for thousands of years: in times of war, for example, or following the fall of empires that once seemed eternal. It's also a major and recurring issue in many of the major world religions and philosophies."

Smith said the theme feels particularly relevant today. He noted several discussion themes — political instability, discrimination and oppression, environmental disasters, and climate change — have been popping up in national and international news more frequently in the past year.

But Smith also said there's always more to the discussion than doom, gloom and disaster.

"Crisis situations are usually followed by periods of rebuilding and renewal. The end of one world is often just the beginning of another," he said.

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