Ma(r)king The Unthinkable: Cultural and Existential Engagements of Extreme Historical Violence


  • Bretton A. Varga California State University, Chico
  • Cathryn van Kessel University of Alberta, Edmonton


culture, Ernest Becker, post qualitative, social studies education, terror management theory


Culture is an integral part of social studies education, and is a generative line of inquiry when placed in conversation with existential concerns. This post qualitative study engages with terror management theory (and its inspiration, the writing of Ernest Becker) to think about culture in the context of extreme historical violence. In particular, the authors re/read accounts from the Nazi massacre of Jews in Jedwabne, Poland (1941) and the Hutu atrocities against Tutsis in Rwanda (1994) while pondering how perpetrators bonded over culture, ordinarilized evil, fetishized evil, and attempted to triumph over death. The authors invite readers to grapple with identifying (re)new(ed) ways of promoting a world that can hurt less by engaging with accounts of extreme violence to think through the cultivation of non-violent ways of be(com)ing.

Author Biographies

Bretton A. Varga, California State University, Chico

Assistant Professor of History and Social Science

Cathryn van Kessel, University of Alberta, Edmonton

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education - Secondary Education Dept





Cultural Studies and Curriculum