A term used to refer to a religious movement which prophesies the coming of the millennium and a cataclysmic end of the world as we know it; or, more formally, which anticipates imminent, total, ultimate, this-worldly, collective salvation. Examples include Christadelphianism, Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventism, Fifth Monarchy Men, North American Indian Ghost Dance Movement, and Jehovah's Witnesses. As will be evident from this list of examples, these movements display great variation in the degree of activism expected among followers; the extent to which they are Messianic or charismatic; and the organizational structure of the movement as a whole.
Millennial movements occur inside all religions, including early Christianity and Islam , but also develop outside organized religions. Millenarianism therefore can take many different forms. However, it usually involves explosions of discontent, a rejection of the status quo, and the proposal that the coming millennium will see the installation of a new social order. This new society is usually constructed as egalitarian and just. Millenarianism often develops in a colonial situation and can have grave consequences for the dominant political order. There is little chance of political compromise since the followers of millenarian movements are not afraid of death; for example, they have been known to run against the guns of an army, believing that the millennium is about to end anyway. Millennial doctrines are often anti-reproduction, and ban sexual intercourse and the planting of crops, since there will be no next year. There is always the tension within millenarianism between an other-worldly message with no earthly content and one where the divine returns into the political process to rule justly. Inevitably, the millennium does not come, and the movement collapses. It either fades away or part of the message is recovered and institutionalized-as in the case of Christianity.
The best-known modern examples of millenarianism are the so-called cargo cults in Melanesia. These usually believe that the ancestors or a culture hero are on their way back to this world in a magic ship to create a timeless order which has been interfered with by Europeans. There will be the return of a cargo of precious material goods to their rightful Melanesian owners, bringing about an era of universal happiness and plenty, where the colonized people will be liberated from White domination. Explanations of the emergence of these cults abound. Peter Worsley (The Trumpet Shall Sound, 1957) argues that Melanesian cargo cults are not irrational ‘madness’, but are the result of frustrations caused by colonialism . The movements are fundamentally opposed to imperialism and use a religious idiom to attempt to explain the power of colonizers. This mystical power comes from the ability of Whites to intercept riches (cargo) bound for local peoples. Millenarianism is invoked as a last resort in dealing with this power when political opposition has failed. Alternative interpretations include those of Kenelm O. L. Burridge (Mambu, 1960), who argues that cargo cults express certain moral and emotional imperatives in Melanesian society, and Peter Lawrence (Road Belong Cargo, 1964), who offers a historical and structural account which emphasizes the ‘mismatch’ between Western and Melanesian norms of reciprocity and exchange .
At a more general level, the numerous theories of millennial movements as a whole include interpretations in terms of relative deprivation ; those which see such movements as being rooted in the strains associated with rapid social change ; and some which emphasize the social isolation, disruption, and normlessness characteristic of situations of anomie . A fairly representative selection of such accounts will be found in the collection edited by Sylvia L. Thrupp (Millennial Dreams in Action, 1962).

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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