October 02, 2023

By Haley Dittbrenner ’25

Syllabus is an ongoing series of stories that gives readers an inside look at some of Susquehanna’s most interesting classes.

The Class: Book of Revelation/Zombie Apocalypse, RELI-300

The Professor: Thomas Martin, religious studies

Thirty years ago, Thomas Martin, associate professor of religious studies, began teaching what he describes as “the most dangerous book in the Bible.” For the past decade, he has incorporated zombie media into his curriculum to curate the course Book of Revelation/Zombie Apocalypse so students could understand the biblical apocalypse in a contemporary way.

“Students are into zombies,” Martin said. “Some students are best friends with zombies.”

Martin asserts that his class is a serious biblical studies course — zombie movies are simply a way of getting familiar with interpreting apocalyptic texts. While the course fills the ethics requirement of Susquehanna’s Central Curriculum, it is geared toward students interested in biblical interpretation and what the Bible says about the end of the world.

Throughout the semester-long course, students analyze three zombie movies and similar passages in the Book of Revelation. One movie, Dawn of the Dead, introduces students to the idea of the classic apocalypse and how the Book of Revelation could also be considered classic.

Later in the semester, students watch Shaun of the Dead, a parody of stereotypical zombie media. The class discusses what constitutes a parody, and how making fun of a zombie apocalypse changes its message. Using these ideas, students question whether the Book of Revelation could be considered parody, and how that would change interpretations of it.

The final film, Warm Bodies, explores the idea of ostracization at the end of the world. “There are places in the Book of Revelation where it appears all the bad people have been sent to hell and are just gone. But then they curiously show up as extras in the story of the New Jerusalem,” Martin said. “Are the damned really damned, or is there hope for them in the Book of Revelation?”

Martin, who has published numerous papers on interpreting biblical literature, including The Silence of God and Angels Run Amok, instructs his students to read the Bible responsibly and nonviolently. For many students, this is the real revelation.

“I have the best job in the world, because every day I get to mess around inside 20-year-olds’ brains,” he said. “And when that works, and they realize what’s happening, and the lights go on, that’s magic. And I love the magic.”

Learn more about the Department of Religious Studies