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Accepted Paper:

‘Enjoy Life Forever!’ Scriptural Reasoning and Circumspect Speculation about Deep Time among Jehovah’s Witnesses  
Joseph Webster (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

Based on new ethnographic fieldwork among Jehovah’s Witnesses in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, this paper examines how Witnesses imagine the soon arrival of the eschaton an escape from the abyss and into deep time.

Paper long abstract:

Based on new ethnographic fieldwork among Jehovah’s Witnesses in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, this paper examines how Witnesses imagine the soon arrival of the eschaton an escape from the abyss and into deep time. As Witnesses live during the present ‘last days of this wicked system of things’, the nearness of Armageddon inspires hopeful acts of ‘imagining a paradise home ahead’. In this eternal future, the millennium is a busy period of mass bodily resurrection, deep spiritual reeducation, and total environmental renewal, culminating in the establishment of a New World. But what will life in Paradise be like? Will everyone be youthful? Will children be born in the New World? How will the planet heal following the environmental horrors of Armageddon? Because no death exists in the New World, will everyone be vegetarian? What will it feel like to live to be billions of years old? Considering how such questions are pondered by Witnesses, this paper aims to show what happens when ultra-rational scriptural reasoning reaches its limit, and then pivots to allow continued pondering via what I term ‘circumspect speculation’. Far from being what Witnesses would call ‘foolish and ignorant debates’, circumspect speculation describes a careful extension of ‘reasoning from the scriptures’ via tentative Biblical inference. Always offered with the warning that ‘we can’t know for sure’, circumspect speculation allows Witnesses a hermeneutically guarded way to extend hopeful imaginings of deep time about which neither the Bible nor Watchtower literature offers definitive statements, while still remaining tethered to both.

Panel P094b
Hope from the Abyss? Deep Time, Contemporary Crises, and the Reimagining of the Commons II
  Session 1 Thursday 28 July, 2022, -