Messianism and millenarianism

Messianism and millenarianism are defined here as forms of millennialism in which human agency, magical or revolutionary, is central to achieving the Millennium. Messianic movements focus on a particular leader or movement, while millenarian movements, such as many of the peasant uprisings of fifteenth and sixteenth Europe, believe revolutionary violence to smash the evil old order will help usher in the Millennium (Rhodes, 1980; Smith, 1999; Mason, 2002). Al Qaeda is, for instance, rooted in Islamic messianic eschatology; the Jihad to establish the global Caliphate is critical in the timeline for the coming of the Mahdi, or messiah. Osama bin Laden is only the latest of a long line of Arab leaders claiming, or being ascribed, the mantle of Mahdism (Cook, 2005; Furnish, 2005). In the Hindu and Buddhist messianic tradition there is the belief in the periodic emergence of Maha Purushas, 'great men', who arrive in times of need to provide either righteous rule or saintliness. Millenarian uprisings in China were often led by men claiming to be Maitreya, the next Buddha. Secular messiahs and revolutionary leaders are similarly often depicted in popular mythology as possessing extraordinary wisdom and abilities from an early age, validating their unique eschatological role. George Washington could never tell a lie and showed superhuman endurance at Valley Forge, whereas Chairman Mao was a modern Moses, leading his people on a Long March to Zion and guiding the masses with the wisdom in his Little Red Book.

Continue reading here: Positive or negative teleologies utopianism and apocalypticism

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