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Claire Curtis
Political Science

Professor Claire Curtis

Professor Keeps Watch on Extremist Literature
By Kinsey Labberton

Utopia versus Distopia. That's the subject matter in which political science professor Dr. Claire Curtis specializes. Teaching courses in Honors Western Civilization, Introduction to Political Theory, Contemporary Liberalism, and American Political Thought, Curtis has kept a busy schedule at the College of Charleston since starting in 1998.

A mother of twin girls, Curtis was raised in Rochester, N.Y., and attended Bowdoin College and Johns Hopkins. Initially a Russian major, she spent part of her undergraduate time in Poland getting as close as she could get to the Mother Country.

However, her fascination with the writings of authors such as George Orwell, Thomas Moore and Ursula Legwin eventually led to an interest in rationalism in politics and Curtis decided to change her focus to political science. While still a Russian enthusiast, she hasn't looked back since.

The animated professor has spent a large portion of the last few years focusing her Utopian/Distopian theory on a highly controversial and extremely popular set of novels titled Left Behind. Co-written by Christian minister and political activist, Tim LaHaye and former vice president of publishing for Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, Jerry Jenkins, the 13 book series depicts a fictional Second Coming foretold in the biblical Book of Revelations. From people being raptured into heaven, to those still 'left behind' on earth, to others finding God, to the birth of the Anti-Christ, the books cover all of the apocalyptic prophecy as if it were to occur in the very near future.

Since the first books publication in 1995, the series has gone onto sell more than 65 million copies and has developed a cult following, complete with a website. The site not only promotes and sells the books, but includes links to join a Prophecy Club, whose members receive a "newsletter to help you understand how current events may actually relate to End Times prophecy," a Live For God Channel to assist readers in accepting Christ into their lives, as well as daily polls, asking questions such as "How often do you pray a day?"

Captivated by dogmatic utopia, Curtis first picked up the books out of curiosity. After reading all 13 and working on a new prequel to the series, she's found the books to be of utmost scholarly analytical importance. In her current analysis Curtis critiques the books hazardous messages which she say's advocate evangelical Christian terrorism through "safe discrimination."

What she has surmised in her years of research is Utopian literature focuses on creating a perfect image of what the life should be like in order to make readers act or change the world. Distopian literature is the reverse in that it gives the reader a grotesque image of the future to stimulate change through revolution. According to Curtis the Left Behind series is - contrary to many reader's opinions - not Utopian literature. Nor is it Distopian. What it is, is a dangerous, "problematic Christian argument" that depicts a violent post tribulation rapture scenario that "makes the reader take no action other than try and be saved."

Peeling through the pages with a fine toothed comb, Curtis has found many alarming examples promoting discrimination. The Anti-Christ is bred from the sperm of two gay men, the antagonist is a female secular humanist academic and did we mention, also unattractive, and in the eighth book, The Mark, those "left behind" are asked to state whether they believe in God or not. The Muslims say they do, but the book quickly confirms that regardless of that, they will burn in hell for all eternity for following the wrong religion. These examples are only the tip of the controversial iceberg.

In 1978, Dr. William Pierce published the book, The Turner Diaries, full of White supremacist, anti-government hate literature that's said to have inspired Timothy McVeigh's Oklahoma City Bombing. Curtis sees the messages promoted under the guise of Christian evangelism in the Left Behind series just as potentially dangerous and powerful.

Curtis aims to publish her findings in a political science journal such as Polity. She hopes to bring attention to the powerful cult following phenomenon that is the Left Behind series. Bringing these books to the public and academia's attention is important Curtis feels because popular literature reflects society's attitudes and current political climate.

"Left Behind suggests one become apathetic to violence, and trust that everything will work out," says Curtis. With the U.S. fighting religious fundamentalists overseas, she says it's important we don't fail to keep an eye on similar movements at home.