Newswise — As fans of “The Walking Dead” prepare for the Season 7 premier of the AMC show on Sunday, October 23, it’s no secret that, in addition to serving as the foundation of the number-one program on television, “all things zombie” have become extremely popular in entertainment, social media, pop culture, literature and even college campuses, in recent years. A professor who teaches a college course about zombies offers some insights on why our cultural connection with zombies serves as a compelling conversation point around the water cooler, in social settings and in the classroom.
According to Alden Stout, assistant professor of philosophy at Morningside College in Iowa, there is a deep fascination because the genre “amplifies” many of the real-life philosophical situations in which we often find ourselves, every day, and facilitates reflection on them. He maintains that the ambiguities of the world of "The Walking Dead" graphic novels and two TV series are natural gateways to questions about morality and personal consequences.
“People like to see zombies on the large and small screens, read about them and talk about them, because the theme represents something that touches on some of our most basic human emotions and instincts—such as life and death, mortality, danger, survival, unexpected crisis, morality and ethics,” he says. “We love to explore, think and talk about the question: ‘What would you do, if…?’ even in a fictitious scenario where the stakes are extremely high.”
Stout developed and teaches a special-topics course “Zombies, Philosophy & the Undead” which is designed for advanced first-year students as a way to engage them in philosophical questions. “The course is offered to Morningside College first-year trustee scholars,” he says, “and it uses questions such as ‘Do zombies have consciences and are we still who we are when we're undead?’ to open doors to other philosophical questions that can be posed to and explored by students in some pretty meaningful ways in the class.”
Professor Stout is one of many college faculty members across the country to use the topic of “zombies” as a successful teaching resource. The Morningside College www.morningside.edu philosopher uses the undead as a starting point in many of his other classes to get students involved in discussing ethical and moral issues. “Sometimes, it can be a challenge to get college-age students to open up, contribute and join in on classroom conversations,” he says. “Once you add zombies to the formula, even just to kick things off, everybody wants to talk, and the conversation then flows with much interest and participation.”
Stout has also been working with other faculty members as a group to write a new interdisciplinary book on zombies, and he has helped the college’s philosophy club develop a popular student “zombie-apocalypse” contest on campus, a fun and challenging educational survival game—and an exercise in human behavior—held annually, the week leading up to Halloween.