Robert Kramer (History)
9/11 anniversary draws attention to end-times course
On Sept. 11, 2001, Robert Kramer (History) had his mind on the end of the world. Even so, he certainly wasn’t expecting what happened on that horrifying day.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s September issue highlights the uncanny experience Kramer and his students shared on the morning of 9/11.
En route to teach The End of the World, his new senior seminar on end-times movements in history, Kramer saw colleagues crowded around a TV. A plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. He gathered his students, and together they saw a second plane hit the south tower.
“We were just dumbfounded,” he says.
His plan for the day had been to discuss Manichaean thinking, “the tendency to view everything in absolutely dualistic terms – good and evil, light and darkness, us and them,” he says.
Instead, the attacks had illustrated the concept before his students’ very eyes.
“The timing was astonishing,” Kramer says.
Kramer has taught the seminar several times in the decade since. While the course’s content hasn’t changed, his students’ response to it has.
“For a lot of 18- to 22-year-olds, historical often is synonymous with irrelevant,” says Kramer.
The 9/11 attacks changed that.
“It’s not long ago, far away. It’s right now, here at home, which really underlines the immediacy, the urgency, of the subject,” Kramer says.
Kramer, a faculty member since 1989, wrote his doctoral dissertation on governing the holy city that arose in the Sudan during the Mahdiyya, a late-19th century end-times movement among the country’s Muslims. This research, which the Fulbright scholar published in the book “Holy City on the Nile: Omdurman During the Mahdiyya, 1885-1898” (2010), led him to propose the end-of-the-world course.
The first time he taught it, the events of 9/11 served as a backdrop. During his most recent session of the course, Harold Camping warned on billboards across the nation that Judgment Day would come on May 21.
Says Kramer, “The students’ appreciation over the years has been much greater as it became apparent that we’re living in a period of end-times thinking.”