Apocalypticism

Apocalypticism is a metaframe that involves the sense of expectation that dramatic events are about to unfold during which good will confront evil in a confrontation that will change the world forever and reveal hidden truths.[1] Apocalyptic movements believe that time is running out. The term millenarianism describes movements that are apocalyptic, with millennialism referring to such movements built around a theme involving a one thousand year span (or some other lengthy period).[2] Robert J. Lifton observes that “historically the apocalyptic imagination has usually been nonviolent in nature,” but they also can generate horrific violence.[3] An apocalyptic leader may take on the mantle of the messiah. In all political religions, leaders portray the sacred entity as threatened by malevolent forces. This creates dualism.

[1] N. Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith, New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1970; N. Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium, New York: Oxford Univ. Press,1993; P. Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap/Harvard Univ. Press, 1992; C.B. Strozier, Apocalypse: On the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America, Boston: Beacon Press, 1994; S.D. O’Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994; R. Fuller, Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995; D. Thompson, The End of Time: Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millennium, Hanover, NH: Univ. Press of New England, 1998; E. Pagels, The Origin of Satan, New York: Vintage, 1996. I first heard apocalypticism described as a type of frame by sociologist of religion Brenda E. Brasher at a conference. We later developed the idea in B.E. Brasher and C. Berlet, “Imagining Satan: Modern Christian Right Print Culture as an Apocalyptic Master Frame,” paper presented at the Conference on Religion and the Culture of Print in America, Center for the History of Print Culture in Modern America, Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison, September 10–11, 2004.

[2] Here I disagree with Gentile’s statement that apocalyptic political religions are not “millenarian.” I think they are millenarian, but not necessarily millennialist. See Gentile, “Fascism, Totalitarianism and Political Religion,” p. 356.

[3] R.J. Lifton, Superpower Syndrome: America’s Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World, New York: Thunder’s Mouth Books/Nation Books, 2003, p. 21; Catherine Wessinger (ed.), Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases, Syracuse: Syracuse Univ. Press, 2000.