We may tend to think of millennialism as something typical of New Religious Movements and christian fundamentalism, but it has a long and interesting history in the Islamic world too. Rob Gleave, Professor of Arabic Studies at Exeter, takes us through the history of Islamic millennialism, and explains how it has been tied up with politial events in the past, as well as the present. He raises interesting points about how the unusual form of Twelver Shi’ite millennialism developed from Islamic theological discourse.
Are we right to connect millennialism and violence? Are groups like Heaven’s Gate or the Branch Davidians typical, or rare exceptions, magnified out of proportion by the lens of the media – and scholarship? How do we account for the popularity of mllennialism outside of religious traditions, new, extreme or otherwise?
Area 51, Ancient Aliens, endemic child abuse at the BBC, and Reptilians,… This interview begins with David’s own journey to this research field, before considering some basic questions such as “what is a conspiracy theory?”
Gardenstoun is a fishing village in the North-East of Scotland with a population of only 700 and six churches, four of which are branches of the Plymouth Brethren. Anthropology “at home” – within our own culture, rather than that of some exotic Other – undermines many of the assumptions that the study of religion is based upon, and has the power to make “the strange familiar, and the familiar strange”.
“RastafarI is itself a millennial movement with the belief that Haile Selassie I is the God Liberator, an avatar returned to restore True Salvation for the subaltern people of African lineage. It is also a revolutionary movement which wants to change the lot of Africans…”
Why is it that millennialism – the belief in an immanent return of Christ to Earth – has had such a particular fascination for the American people? Millennial prophecy is often analysed with relation to violence and minority “cults”, but it is also infused into everyday discourse, in the rhetoric of politicians and the “rolling prophecy” of talk radio hosts. In this wide-ranging interview, David asks Gordon Melton about the history and reasons behind the fascination. Discussion moves from the Millerites and the Great Disappointment of 1844, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas. We discuss the strategies used by these groups when their prophecies fail, which often involves a shift from premillennialism to postmillennialism.