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Millenarianism (also millenarism), from Latin mīllēnārius "containing a thousand", 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. Millenarianism exists in many cultures and religions.
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.
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.
The terms millenarianism and millennialism are sometimes used interchangeably, but this usage is incorrect. As Gould notes:
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 no two n's.
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.
Many if not most 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 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 and the 19th and 20th-century Cargo Cults among isolated Pacific Islanders.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 676, follows a discussion of the church's ultimate trial. "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 [emphasis added], especially the 'intrinsically perverse' political form of a secular messianism."
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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:
- 2012 phenomenon
- Acaxee Rebellion
- Apiaguaiki Tumpa
- Boxer Rebellion
- Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University
- Branch Davidians
- British Israelism
- Canudos War
- Catholic Apostolic Church
- Christian Israelite Church
- Church of World Messianity
- Cult of the Holy Spirit
- Convulsionnaires of Saint-Médard
- Earth Changes
- Fifth Empire
- Fifth Monarchy Men
- Ghost Dance
- Heaven's Gate
- Helter Skelter (Manson scenario)
- Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
- Jehovah's Witnesses
- Jewish movements started by claimants to be the Messiah
- The Living Church of God
- Lord Our Righteousness Church
- The Lord's Resistance Army
- The Mahdist Movement
- Münster Rebellion
- New Apostolic Church
- Plymouth Brethren
- Pueblo Revolt of 1680
- The Qarmatians
- Rastafari movement
- Taiping Rebellion
- Technological singularity
- Tepehuán Revolt
- Transcendental Meditation movement
- Shia Islam
- The Turner Diaries
- Xhosa Cattle Killing Movement (see Nongqawuse)
- Yellow Turbans
- Gould, Stephen Jay. 1997. Questioning the millennium: a rationalist's guide to a precisely arbitrary countdown. New York: Harmony Books, p. 112 (note)
- Kark, Ruth "Millenarism and agricultural settlement in the Holy Land in the nineteenth century," in Journal of Historical Geography, 9, 1 (1983), pp. 47-62
- Landes, Richard A. Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.
- Gould, Stephen Jay. 1997
- Mayer, Jean-François (June 2016). "Millennialism: New Religious Movements and the Quest for a New Age". The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. II. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190466176.013.30.
- Worsley, Peter. 1957. The trumpet shall sound ; a study of "cargo" cults in Melanesia. London: MacGibbon & Kee.
- Desroche, Henri (1969). Dieux d’hommes. Dictionnaire des messianismes et millénarismes de l’ère chrétienne. Paris: Berg International. pp. 31–32.
- Wessinger, Catherine. Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases. Syracuse, N.Y: Syracuse University Press, 2000. Print.
- Burrage, Champlin. "The Fifth Monarchy Insurrections," The English Historical Review, Vol. XXV, 1910.
- 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. ISBN 0-8052-3175-7 hb.
- Cohn, Norman. The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, revised and expanded (New York: Oxford University Press,  1970). (revised and expanded 1990) ISBN 0-19-500456-6
- Gray, John. Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (London: Penguin Books,  2008) ISBN 978-0-14-102598-8
- Hotson, Howard. Paradise Postponed: Johann Heinrich Alsted and the Birth of Calvinist Millenarianism, (Springer, 2000).
- Jue, Jeffrey K. Heaven Upon Earth: Joseph Mede and the Legacy of Mllenarianism, (Springer, 2006).
- 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 Popkin, Richard H. 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
- Landes, Richard. Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of Millennial Experiences, (Oxford University Press, 2011).
- Lerner, Robert E. The Feast of Saint Abraham: Medieval Millenarians and the Jews, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000).
- Millenarianism and Messianism in Early Modern Culture (4 voll.), Dordrecht: Kluwer.
- Vol. 1: Goldish, Matt and Popkin, Richard H. (eds.). Jewish Messianism in the Early Modern World, 2001
- Vol. 2: Kottmnan, Karl (eds.). Catholic Milleniarism: From Savonarola to the Abbè Grégoire, 2001
- Vol. 3: Force, James E. and Popkin, Richard H. (eds.). The Millenarian Turn: Millenarian Contexts of Science, Politics and Everyday Anglo-American Life in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, 2001
- Vol. 4: Laursen, John Christian and Popkin, Richard H. (eds.). Continental Millenarians: Protestants, Catholics, Heretics, 2001
- Schwartz, Hillel. The French Prophets: The History of a Millenarian Group in Eighteenth-Century England. Berkeley: University of California, 1980.
- Voegelin, Eric. The New Science of Politics. University of Chicago Press (October 12, 2012).
- Catherine Wessinger (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism, New York: Oxford University Prees 2011.
- Wright, Ben and Dresser, Zachary W. (eds.) Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2013.