Michael Schulz is professor and director of the Arbeitsbereich Philosophie und Theorie der Religionen (Department for Philosophy and Theory of Religions) within the Philosophical Faculty (humanities) of the Rhenish Friedrich Wilhelm University of Bonn. He is also speaker for the Interdisciplinary Latin America Centre (ILZ) at the University of Bonn. His research interests include studies on the truth claims of religions, Trinitarian theology and philosophy, theories of evil, and Latin-American philosophy.

Portrait photo of michael schulz

What were your first thoughts, when you saw the call for applications for the fellowship?

My first spontaneous thought was: I'll participate and mostly because I have published on apocalyptic ideas in Latin-America and wanted to further my understanding of said research topic. I also hoped to meet colleagues who were also interested in this topic with a focus on Latin America.

What does the apocalypse and/or post-apocalypse mean for you?

As an originally Catholic theologian, I have given lectures on topics of eschatology; apocalypticism is a late Jewish form of eschatology, which was also customary in the New Testament and gained great importance in the theological and cultural history of Europe at various times. This professional study made me develop a critical attitude towards apocalypticism, which has often served as a source of great theological nonsense and crazy political opinions. Many sects concoct fantastic visions of the future inspired by the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse of John, which engages in a kind of biblical science fiction without ever having dealt scientifically with the genre of these texts. Historically speaking, it became dangerous and deadly when people thought they could bring about the end of the world or a change of times themselves. The apostle Paul, on the other hand, says: “Do not avenge yourselves, dear brothers, but leave room for the wrath [of God]; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord” (Letter to the Romans 12:18f). But this conflict-avoiding function of the apocalypse has often been overlooked. People preferred, on the other hand, to act as riders of the apocalypse themselves. That is why I personally had little interest in apocalypticism.

I became interested in the subject in the context of my Latin-American studies. The apocalyptic mood that determined the so-called discovery of America and the mission of the New World explains both the violence with which the mission was carried out (in order to save time because Christ was going to come again) and defence strategies: through so-called sermons of hell, the missionaries tried to save the indigenous people; whoever enslaved them would end up, post-mortem, in the kingdom of darkness. I am currently looking to examine the specific mixture of Christian apocalypticism with pre-Columbian, indigenous ideas of turning times and apocalypses, which can be found, for example, in the Mayan Chilam Balam books and are again directed against colonial brutality.

What is your fellowship trying to achieve?

As I said, I would like to examine the intermingling of Christian apocalyptic with pre Colombian indigenous ideas of turning times and apocalypses. In this case, the apocalypse has a humanizing meaning: it expresses the hope that colonial society will come to an end and the indigenous people will thus be free. But apocalypticism or eschatology could also serve to justify violence. Because the Puritans of North America believed themselves to be God's chosen people, they also believed themselves justified in waging the God wars against indigenous peoples, as Israel waged them against peoples who did not grant Israel the right of settlement in the Promised Land. The promise of the Promised Land and its occupation are considered the first forms of eschatology in the Old Testament. One could also derive opposite consequences from eschatology and apocalypticism: the protection of indigenous peoples who are now called to the heavenly Jerusalem of which the Apocalypse of John speaks. It is exactly this ambivalence of the apocalypse that interests me.

To get some practical advice: What would be the three things that you would definitely need in a post-apocalyptic world? 

A good wine, optimism, and Siegfried's cloak of invisibility. In the biblical sense, heaven comes after the Apocalypse and for such an eventuality, according to Luther, one would need a gracious God.

What are some of your favourite pop culture references to the/an (post)apocalypse — whether its films, books, a YouTube channel, or music — what can you recommend?

One could read the Apocalypse of John; then there is currently an exhibition in Frankfurt at the German Film Museum on catastrophes and apocalypses in film that is really worthwhile. And then, of course, Roland Emmerich's 2012 or, alternatively, La leyenda de los soles (1993), penned by Mexican writer Homero Aridjis as an eco-apocalypse set in Mexico in 2027, which is at that point called Ciudad Moctezuma. According to the calendar of the Aztecs, it is the time of the fifth sun. The Age of the Fifth Sun is supposed to go down in earthquakes and famines. The novel, however, depicts this downfall in terms of a neoliberal globalized world. At the end, the time of the sixth sun dawning acts as a mythical promise and in the sign of the syncretic representations of the Virgen de Guadalupe on Mount Tepeyac, wrapped in a blue cloth, the Christian Mother of God is merged with the Aztec earth goddess Tonantzín.