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Millenarianism or millenarism is the belief in a future second coming of Jesus Christ, coinciding with certain number of millennia after his life. Or more generally an apocolyptic fatalism about the approaching close of a millennium. This pattern of behaviour occurs in both religious and political systems.

Millenarianism is so called because it was thought to peak at the turn of the millennia and this was supposedly seen in the year 1000, and somewhat toward the year 2000. Having passed the second millennium uneventfully, Millenarianism could be expected to see a decline in popularity for a while. However it is common for believers to use a variety of accounting methods to extend the range of relevant dates for calculating the appropriate millennium.

The idea predates Christianity and similar ideas can be found in Judaism and Islamic teaching. It is not part of main stream Christianity, but has been adopted by numerous sects.

Millenarism typically claims that the current society and its rulers are corrupt or unjust and will be destroyed soon. The evil nature of the status quo is always considered intractable without dramatic change. In Medieval millenarianism the world was seen as controlled by demons, in the modern world economic rules or vast conspiracies guarantee continued oppression. Only dramatic change will change the world and change will be brought about, or survived, by a group of the devout and dedicated. The disaster or battle to come will be followed by a new, purified world in which true believers will be rewarded.

Millenarian beliefs can make people 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.

Millenarian ideologies or religious sects often appear in oppressed peoples.

In politics millenarianism is often linked to radical ideologies that share a similar but secular belief in a transformation of society

The words millenism, millennialism, millennianism, millenniarism and millenniumism are rarer synonyms.

The supposed year 1000 panic

It was once widely believed that a severe millenarian panic seized Christian Europe in the year 1000. However historians have found no contemporaneous references to such events, and the earliest known reference is actually from Johannes Trithemius' Annales Hirsaugiensis which was written at least five centuries later. Scholars have discredited the notion since at least 1840, but it still remains a popular urban legend.

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45