Millenarianism (also millenarism), from Latin mīllēnārius "containing a thousand", is the belief by a religious, social, or political group or movement in a coming fundamental transformation of society, after which "all things will be changed". Millenarianism exists in various cultures and religions worldwide, with various interpretations of what constitutes a transformation.
Millenarianist movements can be secular (not espousing a particular religion) or religious in nature.
Millennium is from the Latin mille, "one thousand," and annus, "year"—hence the two n's. Millenarian is from the Latin millenarius, "containing a thousand (of anything)," hence no annus, and only one "n".
The application of an apocalyptic timetable to the establishment or changing of the world has happened in many cultures and religions, and continues to this day, and is not relegated to the sects of major world religions. Increasingly in the study of apocalyptic new religious movements, millenarianism is used to refer to a more cataclysmic and destructive arrival of a utopian period as compared to millennialism which is often used to denote a more peaceful arrival and is more closely associated with a one thousand year utopia.
Millennialism is a specific type of Christian millenarianism, and is sometimes referred to as "chiliasm" from the New Testament use of the Greek chilia (thousand). It is part of the broader form of apocalyptic expectation. A core doctrine in some variations of Christian eschatology is the expectation that the Second Coming is very near and that there will be an establishment of a Kingdom of God on Earth. According to an interpretation of prophecies in the Book of Revelation, this Kingdom of God on Earth will last a thousand years (a millennium) or more.
Many if not most millenarian groups claim that the current society and its rulers are corrupt, unjust, or otherwise wrong, and that they will soon be destroyed by a powerful force. The harmful nature of the status quo is considered intractable without the anticipated dramatic change. Henri Desroche observed that millenarian movements often envisioned three periods in which change might occur. First, the elect members of the movement will be increasingly oppressed, leading to the second period in which the movement resists the oppression. The third period brings about a new utopian age, liberating the members of the movement.
In the modern world, economic rules, perceived immorality or vast conspiracies are seen as generating oppression. Only dramatic events are seen as able to change the world and the change is anticipated to be brought about, or survived, by a group of the devout and dedicated. In most millenarian scenarios, the disaster or battle to come will be followed by a new, purified world in which the believers will be rewarded.
While many millennial groups are pacifistic, millenarian beliefs have been claimed as causes for people to ignore conventional rules of behavior, which can result in violence directed inwards (such as the Jonestown mass suicides) or outwards (such as the Aum Shinrikyo terrorist acts). It sometimes includes a belief in supernatural powers or predetermined victory. In some cases, millenarians withdraw from society to await the intervention of God. This is also known as world-rejection.
Millenarian ideologies or religious sects sometimes appear in oppressed peoples, with examples such as the 19th-century Ghost Dance movement among Native Americans, early Mormons, and the 19th and 20th-century cargo cults among isolated Pacific Islanders.
The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgement. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the 'intrinsically perverse' political form of a secular messianism.
There have been examples of millenarian groups, movements, and writings over the years. While each is different, and not all of these adhere to a strict millennial pattern, they do ascribe to patterns of wide-scale change as described above:
The 2012 phenomenon was a range of eschatological beliefs that cataclysmic or otherwise transformative events would occur on or around 21 December 2012. This date was regarded as the end-date of a 5,126-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, and as such, festivities to commemorate the date took place on 21 December 2012 in the countries that were part of the Maya civilization (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), with main events at Chichén Itzá in Mexico, and Tikal in Guatemala.Various astronomical alignments and numerological formulae were proposed as pertaining to this date. A New Age interpretation held that the date marked the start of a period during which Earth and its inhabitants would undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that 21 December 2012 would mark the beginning of a new era. Others suggested that the date marked the end of the world or a similar catastrophe. Scenarios suggested for the end of the world included the arrival of the next solar maximum, an interaction between Earth and the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy, or Earth's collision with a mythical planet called Nibiru.
Scholars from various disciplines quickly dismissed predictions of concomitant cataclysmic events as they arose. Professional Mayanist scholars stated that no extant classic Maya accounts forecast impending doom, and that the idea that the Long Count calendar ends in 2012 misrepresented Maya history and culture, while astronomers rejected the various proposed doomsday scenarios as pseudoscience, easily refuted by elementary astronomical observations.A Culture of Conspiracy
A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America is a 2003 non-fiction book written by Michael Barkun, professor emeritus of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.Cargo cult
A cargo cult is a belief system among members of a relatively undeveloped society in which adherents practice superstitious rituals hoping to bring modern goods supplied by a more technologically advanced society. These cults, millenarian in nature, were first described in Melanesia in the wake of contact with advanced Western cultures. The name derives from the belief which began among Melanesians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that various ritualistic acts such as the building of an airplane runway will result in the appearance of material wealth, particularly highly desirable Western goods (i.e., "cargo"), via Western airplanes.Cargo cults often develop during a combination of crises. Under conditions of social stress, such a movement may form under the leadership of a charismatic figure. This leader may have a "vision" (or "myth-dream") of the future, often linked to an ancestral efficacy ("mana") thought to be recoverable by a return to traditional morality. This leader may characterize the present state as a dismantling of the old social order, meaning that social hierarchy and ego boundaries have been broken down.Contact with colonizing groups brought about a considerable transformation in the way indigenous peoples of Melanesia have thought about other societies. Early theories of cargo cults began from the assumption that practitioners simply failed to understand technology, colonization, or capitalist reform; in this model, cargo cults are a misunderstanding of the systems involved in resource distribution, and an attempt to acquire such goods in the wake of interrupted trade. However, many of these practitioners actually focus on the importance of sustaining and creating new social relationships, with material relations being secondary.Since the late twentieth century, alternative theories have arisen. For example, some scholars, such as Kaplan and Lindstrom, focus on Europeans' characterization of these movements as a fascination with manufactured goods and what such a focus says about Western commodity fetishism. Others point to the need to see each movement as reflecting a particularized historical context, even eschewing the term "cargo cult" for them unless there is an attempt to elicit an exchange relationship from Europeans.Center for Millennial Studies
The Center for Millennial Studies is a scholarly institute at Boston University devoted to studying millennial, millenarian, and apocalyptic movements, groups, and individuals throughout history and on the contemporary scene.
Boston University professor Richard Landes currently serves as director of the center.Doomsday cult
Doomsday cult is an expression used to describe cults which believe in apocalypticism and millenarianism, and can refer both to groups that predict disaster, and to those that attempt to bring it about. The expression was first used by sociologist John Lofland in his 1966 study of a group of members of the Unification Church of the United States in California, Doomsday Cult: A Study of Conversion, Proselytization, and Maintenance of Faith. A classic study of a group with cataclysmic predictions had previously been performed by Leon Festinger and other researchers, and was published in his book When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World.Referring to his study, Festinger and later other researchers have attempted to explain the commitment of members to their associated doomsday cult, even after the prophecies of their leader have turned out to be false. Festinger explained this phenomenon as part of a coping mechanism called dissonance reduction, a form of rationalization. Members often dedicate themselves with renewed vigor to the group's cause after a failed prophecy, and rationalize with explanations such as a belief that their actions forestalled the disaster, or a belief in the leader when the date for disaster is postponed.
Some researchers believe that the use of the term by the government and the news media can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which actions by authorities reinforces the apocalyptic beliefs of the group, which in turn can inspire further controversial actions. Group leaders have themselves objected to comparisons between one group and another, and parallels have been drawn between the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy and the theory of a deviancy amplification spiral.Fifteen Signs before Doomsday
The Fifteen Signs before Doomsday (alternatively known as the Fifteen Signs of Doomsday, Fifteen Signs before Judgement, and – in Latin – Quindecim Signa ante Judicium) is a list, popular in the Middle Ages because of millenarianism, of the events that are supposed to occur in the fortnight before the end of the world. It may find an origin in the apocryphal Apocalypse of Thomas and is found in many post-millennial manuscripts in Latin and in the vernacular. References to it occur in a great multitude and variety of literary works, and via the Cursor Mundi it may have found its way even into the early modern period, in the works of William Shakespeare.Jeung San Do
Jeung San Do (증산도), occasionally called Jeungsanism (증산교 Jeungsangyo), meaning "The Dao/Tao of Jeung-san", although this term is better reserved for a larger family of movements, is a new religious movement founded in South Korea in 1974. It is one of more than 100 Korean religious movements that recognize Gang Il-sun (강일순) (Kang Jeungsan, or Chungsan), an early 20th century religious leader, as the incarnation and personification of Sangjenim (上帝任, the "governing spirit of the universe") and performed a "reordering of the universe" through his mission and rituals. The religion is characterised by a universal message, millenarianism, and a method of healing meditation.John Dury
John Dury (1596 in Edinburgh – 1680 in Kassel) was a Scottish Calvinist minister and a significant intellectual of the English Civil War period. He made efforts to re-unite the Calvinist and Lutheran wings of Protestantism, hoping to succeed when he moved to Kassel in 1661, but he did not accomplish this. He was a prolific preacher, pamphleteer, and writer.Miao Rebellion (1854–73)
The Miao rebellion of 1854–1873, also known as the Qian rebellion (Chinese: 黔亂; pinyin: Qián luàn; literally: 'Guizhou uprising') was an uprising of ethnic Miao and other groups in Guizhou province during the reign of the Qing dynasty. Despite its name, Robert Jenks estimates that ethnic Miao made up less than half of the uprising's participants. The uprising was preceded by Miao rebellions in 1735–36 and 1795–1806, and was one of many ethnic uprisings sweeping China in the 19th century. The rebellion spanned the Xianfeng and Tongzhi periods of the Qing dynasty, and was eventually suppressed with military force. Estimates place the number of casualties as high as 4.9 million out of a total population of 7 million, though these figures are likely overstated.The rebellion stemmed from a variety of grievances, including long-standing ethnic tensions with Han Chinese, poor administration, grinding poverty and growing competition for arable land. The eruption of the Taiping Rebellion led the Qing government to increase taxation, and to simultaneously withdraw troops from the already restive region, thus allowing a rebellion to unfold. Millenarianism was an influence especially on the non-ethnic Miao participants. The aftermath of the rebellion causes many Miao, Hmong and other groups to migrate into Vietnam and Laos.
The term "Miao", explains the anthropologist Norma Diamond, does not mean only the antecedents of today's Miao national minority; it is much more general term, which had been used by the Chinese to describe various aboriginal, mountain tribes of Guizhou and other southwestern provinces of China, which shared some cultural traits. They consisted of 40–60% population of the province.To date, the only English language account of the Miao Rebellion was written by Robert D. Jenks. Most contemporary records from the uprising comes from Qing officials who were sent to quell the rebellion.Millenarianism in colonial societies
Millenarianism has been found through history among people who rally around often-apocalyptic religious prophecies that predict a return to power, the defeat of enemies, and/or the accumulation of wealth. These movements have been especially common among people living under colonialism or other forces that disrupt previous social arrangements.
The phrase "millennialist movement" has been used by scholars in anthropology and history to describe the common features of these religious phenomena when viewed as social movements, and has most often been used to describe the social movements that have taken place in colonized societies.Christianity itself can be seen as originating in a millenarian movement among Jewish people living under Roman rule, although its characteristics as a social movement quickly changed as it spread through the Roman Empire. The Book of Revelation also predicts a thousand-year reign of Jesus prior to the defeat of Satan.
Some millenarian movements include:
The Ghost Dance movement among Native Americans.
Tenskwatawa the "Shawnee Prophet" called for return to ancestral ways and defeat of European colonial power.
The Xhosa cattle-killing movement of South Africa, led by the prophetess Nongqawuse.
The Righteous Harmony Society during the Boxer Rebellion was a Chinese movement reacting against Western colonialism.
The God Worshipping Society of the Taiping Rebellion, which fused Anglo-American Protestant Christian and Chinese elements into a movement that focused the resentment of Han Chinese against the ruling Manchu Qing Dynasty. Hong Xiuquan, their leader, proclaimed himself to be the second son of God and brother of Jesus Christ, as well as the Tian Zi (Son of Heaven), a sacred title of the Chinese emperor. He would establish the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, which controlled much of southern China from 1851-1864.
The Maji Maji Rebellion was influenced by an African spirit medium who gave his followers war medicine that he said would turn German bullets into water.
Bábism and Bahá'ism, two perennialist movements founded in Qajar Persia by self-proclaimed prophets.
The Mahdist State in Sudan, which was established by Muhammad Ahmad, who proclaimed himself the Mahdi and led a jihad against the Khedive of Egypt's rule over the Sudan and the British Empire.
Chilembwe uprising - a 1915 uprising in Nyasaland led by a Baptist minister named John Chilembwe, with diverse social, political, and spiritual motivations that included some member with millenarian beliefs.
The Melanesian John Frum cargo cult believed in a return of their ancestors brought by Western technology.
Burkhanism was an Altayan movement led by a visionary that reacted against Russification.
The Battle of Kuruyuki was the 1892 attempt of the Eastern Bolivian Guarani to combat Christianity and Bolivian settlers.
The Guaycuruan-speaking Toba attempted to regain control of the Gran Chaco in Argentina in 1904.
The Tepehuán Revolt in 1620s Mexico was an attempt to expel Spanish colonists and priests and return to traditional ways.
A number of religious movements in the African diaspora -- for example, Haitian Vodou, Louisiana Voodoo, Santería, Candomblé, and Hoodoo -- syncretise Christian and traditional West African beliefs and practices, sometimes with influence from other traditions such as Native American religions, Islam, Spiritism, or Western esotericism. While these religions are not themselves especially millenarian, they would have a heavy influence on later religious movements in the African diaspora, such as Rastafarianism, the Nation of Islam, the Nuwaubian Nation, and the Black Hebrew Israelites which do have strong millenarian doctrines. These later movements also greatly emphasise black nationalist identity, present themselves as movements for political as well as spiritual liberation, have a history of encouraging black solidarity and political activism, and have variously been involved in political violence.
Other religious movements in the African diaspora -- such as Ethiopianism (a movement among black Americans to adopt Ethiopian Christianity) or the American Society of Muslims (an organisation of black Sunni Muslims, in opposition to the Nation of Islam) may, like these millenarian new religious movements, share an emphasis on black identity, political activism, and community building, but they also emphasise the teachings of existing religions (Ethiopian Christianity and Sunni Islam, respectively), and so are not millennarian religions.Millennialism
Millennialism (from millennium, Latin for "a thousand years"), or chiliasm (from the Greek equivalent), is a belief advanced by some religious denominations that a Golden Age or Paradise will occur on Earth prior to the final judgment and future eternal state of the "World to Come".
Christianity and Judaism have both produced messianic movements which featured millennialist teachings - such as the notion that an earthly kingdom of God was at hand. These millenarian movements often led to considerable social unrest.
Similarities to millennialism appear in Zoroastrianism, which identified successive thousand-year periods, each of which will end in a cataclysm of heresy and destruction, until the final destruction of evil and of the spirit of evil by a triumphant king of peace at the end of the final millennial age. "Then Saoshyant makes the creatures again pure, and the resurrection and future existence occur" (Zand-i Vohuman Yasht 3:62).
Scholars have also linked various other social and political movements, both religious and secular, to millennialist metaphors.Millennium
A millennium (plural millennia or millenniums) is a period equal to 1000 years, sometimes called a kiloyear. It derives from the Latin mille, thousand, and annus, year. It is often, but not always, related to a particular dating system.
Sometimes, it is used specifically for periods of a thousand years that begin at the starting point (initial reference point) of the calendar in consideration (typically the year "1"), or in later years that are whole number multiples of a thousand years after it. The term can also refer to an interval of time beginning on any date. Frequently in the latter case (and sometimes also in the former) it may have religious or theological implications (see millenarianism).Quautlatas
Quautlatas (Northern Tepehuán pronunciation: /quäutlˈätäs/) was a Tepehuán religious leader who inspired the bloody Tepehuán Revolt against the Spanish in Mexico in 1616. Quautlatas was known as "The Tepehuán Prophet".Richard Popkin
Richard Henry Popkin (December 27, 1923 – April 14, 2005) was an academic philosopher who specialized in the history of enlightenment philosophy and early modern anti-dogmatism. His 1960 work The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes introduced one previously unrecognized influence on Western thought in the seventeenth century, the Pyrrhonian Scepticism of Sextus Empiricus. Popkin also was an internationally acclaimed scholar on Jewish and Christian millenarianism and messianism.Soldiers of Heaven
The Soldiers of Heaven or Jund As-Samaa (Arabic: جند السماء), were an armed Iraqi Shi'a messianic sect which was led by Dia Abdul Zahra Kadim, who reportedly died in fighting in Basra, Iraq on 29 January 2007.The group has been described as an apocalyptic Muslim cult and is reported to believe that spreading chaos will hasten the return of the 12th Imam.Stephen J. Hunt
Stephen John Hunt is a British professor of sociology at the University of the West of England. Prior to his appointment at the University of West England in 2001, Hunt had taught at the Sociology Department at the University of Reading for thirteen years, as well as in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Surrey, Roehampton.Hunt's primary research interests include the Charismatic movement, the "New" Black Pentecostal Churches and the "gay debate" in the Christian Churches.He is the author of Alternative Religions: A Sociological Introduction, (2003). He is also the author of The Life Course: A Sociological Introduction, (2005) Religion in Western Society, (2002) and The Alpha Enterprise,(2004). He also edited the work: Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco.Hunt is on the editorial board of Pentecostudies.Taiping Heavenly Kingdom
The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, literally the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace, later shortened to Heavenly Kingdom (Chinese: 天囯) or Heavenly Dynasty (Chinese: 天朝) was an oppositional state in China from 1851 to 1864, supporting the overthrow of the Qing dynasty by Hong Xiuquan and his followers. The unsuccessful war it waged against the Qing is known as the Taiping Rebellion. Its capital was at Tianjing (present-day Nanjing).
A self-proclaimed convert to Christianity, Hong Xiuquan led an army that controlled a significant part of southern China during the middle of the 19th century, eventually expanding to a size of nearly 30 million people. The rebel kingdom announced social reforms and the replacement of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Chinese folk religion by his form of Christianity, holding that he was the second son of God and the younger brother of Jesus. The Taiping areas were besieged by Qing forces throughout most of the rebellion. The Qing government defeated the rebellion with the eventual aid of French and British forces.Tepehuán Revolt
The Tepehuán Revolt broke out in Mexico in 1616. The Tepehuán Indians attempted to break free from Spanish rule. The revolt was crushed by 1620 after a large loss of life on both sides.William Law
William Law (1686 – 9 April 1761) was a Church of England priest who lost his position at Emmanuel College, Cambridge when his conscience would not allow him to take the required oath of allegiance to the first Hanoverian monarch, King George I. Previously William Law had given his allegiance to the House of Stuart and is sometimes considered a second-generation non-juror (an earlier generation of non-jurors included Thomas Ken). Thereafter, Law first continued as a simple priest (curate) and when that too became impossible without the required oath, Law taught privately, as well as wrote extensively. His personal integrity, as well as mystic and theological writing greatly influenced the evangelical movement of his day as well as Enlightenment thinkers such as the writer Dr Samuel Johnson and the historian Edward Gibbon. In 1784 William Wilberforce (1759-1833), the politician, philanthropist and leader of the movement to stop the slave trade, was deeply touched by reading William Law's book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1729). Law's spiritual writings remain in print today.