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Millenarianism (also millenarism) is the belief by a religious, social, or political group or movement in a coming major transformation of society, after which all things will be changed. Millennialism is a specific form of millenarianism based on a one-thousand-year cycle, especially significant for Christianity.



A core doctrine in Christian eschatology is the expectation of the Second Coming and the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. According to prophecies in the Book of Daniel and the Revelation of St John, this kingdom of God on earth will last a thousand years (a millennium).[1] Millenarian ideas permeated early Christian thought. Also known as Revelationists. From the 5th century on, opposition to this ideology mounted, and only small groups outside the official churches embraced it. In the 16th century, millenarian beliefs re-emerged in certain branches of Protestantism, and millenarianism became more entrenched after the French Revolution.[1] In England, these ideas were spread by the evangelical movement in the late 18th and early 19th century. Dozens of books promoting millenarianism were published in the first three decades of the 19th century, and millenarian societies were formed. Leading thinkers of the time were James Bicheno (described by one writer as "a radical philo-Semite")[2] and Charles Jerram.[1]

Millenarian theology

Millenarian groups claim that the current society and its rulers are corrupt, unjust, or otherwise wrong. They therefore believe they will be destroyed soon by a powerful force. The harmful nature of the status quo is always considered intractable without the anticipated dramatic change. In some who held Medieval millenarianism the world was seen as controlled by demons and even up to the nineteenth century Chinese millenarianism used something like this motif, but with "demon" having a slightly different cultural connotation.

However, others who held millenarian views such as those held by the earliest Christians were condemned in 1530 by the Lutherans. [3]

In the modern world economic rules or vast conspiracies are seen as generating oppression. Only dramatic change will change the world and change will 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 true believers will be rewarded.

While many millennial groups are pacifist, millenarian beliefs have been claimed as causes for people to ignore conventional rules of behaviour, which can result in violence directed inwards (such as mass suicides) and/or outwards (such as 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 or another metaphysical force.

Millenarian ideologies or religious sects sometimes appear in oppressed peoples, with prominent examples being early Christianity, the 19th century Ghost Dance movement, and the 19th and 20th century Cargo Cults.

The Catechism of the Catholic church, paragraph 676 follows a discussion of the church's ultimate trail. "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 modifed forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism (underline added), especially the 'intrinsically perverse' political form of a secular messianism."

Millenarian movements

There have been many examples of millenarian groups, movements and writings over the years. While each is different, and not all of these adhere to a millennial pattern, they do ascribe to patterns of wide-scale change as described above:

Transhumanism and Singularitarianism may be considered millenarian movements in a looser sense, because they anticipate changes in the established biological and therefore social orders, although neither group considers these changes to be thoroughly inevitable, merely likely. Furthermore, neither group maintains a belief in the evilness or wrongness of the current order, only in the notion that we should desire to change the order for humanistic and humanitarian reasons, and as such, both groups are thoroughly dedicated to ensuring that the changes involved are decidedly non-violent, entirely optional, and beneficial to as many people as possible.

In politics, millenarianism is often, but by no means always, linked to radical ideologies that share a similar belief in a transformation of society. These can be based in secular or religious ideas. In this way millenarianism is closely linked to Apocalypticism.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Kark, Ruth "Millenarism and agricultural settlement in the Holy Land in the nineteeth century," in Journal of Historical Geography, 9, 1 (1983), pp. 47-62
  2. ^ Wilson K A new imperial history: culture, identity, and modernity in Britain and the Empire, 1660-1840 Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 0521007968, 9780521007962; p. 270
  3. ^ "The Confession of Faith: Which Was Submitted to His Imperial Majesty Charles V. At the Diet of Augsburg in the Year 1530. by Philip Melanchthon, 1497-1560." Translated by F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau. Published in: Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 95.

Further reading

  • Burridge, Kenelm. "New Heaven, New Earth: A Study of Millenarian Activities" (Basil Blackwell. Original printing 1969, three reprints 1972, 1980, 1986) ISBN 0-631-11950-7 pb.
  • Cohn, Norman. The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, revised and expanded (New York: Oxford University Press, [1957] 1970). (revised and expanded 1990) ISBN 0-19-500456-6
  • Gray, John. Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (London: Penguin Books, [2007] 2008) ISBN 978-0-14102-598-8
  • Kaplan, Jeffrey. Radical Religion in America: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997). ISBN 0-8156-2687-8 ISBN 0-8156-0396-7
  • Katz, David S. and Richard H. Popkin. Messianic Revolution: Radical Religious Politics to the End of the Second Millennium. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999 ISBN 0-8090-6885-0.Review on H-Net
  • Mühling, Markus. "Grundwissen Eschatologie. Systematische Theologie aus der Perspektive der Hoffnung" (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2007), 198–220

External links



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