Hell on Earth

Perceptions of hell have influenced international wars, terrorist attacks and even pop culture, said Rachel Falconer, opening keynote speaker at the Tanner Humanities Center conference on Monday.

Falconer’s lecture kicked off the three-day conference sponsored by the College of Humanities to explore hell and its afterlife.

This conference has been in the works for two and a half years and is an opportunity for students, faculty and the community to look at hell and religion in a different way, said Margaret Toscano, assistant professor of language and literature at the U.

“This event is a chance to explore how religious beliefs about hell spill out into other areas of our lives and (to) understand how hell influences our daily lives,” Toscano said.

At the opening lecture, Falconer emphasized that pre-existing notions of hell as a place of pain and torture allow us to make sense of the world and ourselves.

“Hell lets us set up a narrative where we can see ourselves as heroes, set against some demonic entity and make sense of the hell within ourselves,” Falconer said.

Following the London bombings and Sept. 11 attacks, the horrors of the world were boiled down to notions of a hell on earth that splashed across newspaper pages to make the events understandable, Falconer said.

“The idea of hell lets us learn and understand a world that seems to make no sense,” she said. “It conveys the horrors of the abyss and makes it readable.”

Falconer also said that international and national politics, terrorism and war have all been influenced by our current perception of hell.

“The war in Lebanon and the bombing of the village of Qana are motivated by our political sense that we are in hell and we, in turn, create a hell through our political actions,” she said.

The idea of hell impacts our daily lives, Falconer said, and seduces us to believe in its existence.

“The idea of hell seduces us and it should,” she said, “because it forces us into judgment and it makes us react.”

Hell is a difficult concept to explain and understand, said David Andrason, a junior in political science. “But the influence it has on politics is surprising and the connections between current events and the afterlife make the idea of hell more interesting.”

“I was shocked at how much influence hell has on current events,” said Cynthia Hornbeck, a graduate student in English. “Most people don’t look at hell in terms of current concerns, and this gives a new perspective that people should learn and understand.”