|Q: When does the new millennium begin?|
|A: The official position is the following: 12-25-00 at midnight
is the technical end to the second millennium according to the calculations
now current.These calculations were first introduced by Denis the Diminutive
(Dionysus Exiguus) in 525, and popularized by Bede in England (early 8th)
and the Carolingians in continental Europe (latter 8th cn). In the last
two centuries, as the culture has become increasingly secular, there has
been a shift to the use of CE or Common Era. The official change of
the millennium according to this system is 12-31-00 at midnight.
The popular imagination, however, has seized upon 2000, including a number of Christian roosters. The technical problems associated with Y2K have powerfully reinforced this date. For roosters varying dates are never either/or, but both/and. Right now roosters tend to say 2000, while owls pedantically point to 2001. Sometime in the course of 2000, the roosters will redirect their crowing to 2001. Once 2000 has come, therefore, they will focus on 2001 and consider the past one a rehearsal. There will be another significant millennium for Christians in 2033 (bimillennium of the establishment of the Church).
As a research organization, the CMS tracks groups who focus on any date, since fascination with dates is characteristic of the millennial mindset. What the leeway between the end of 1999 and the end of 2001 suggests, is that we are in for a millennial season, rather than a specific date. This issue concerns historians as well: at the approach of a millennial date, many an owl has offered alternatives (see discussion of 1000). To the historians who follow the owls (because they were right) the tendency is to believe that this meant the date had lost its power; to those who listen to roosters, it is more likely that variants merely offered alternatives when a given date failed.
|Q: Why is millennialism a hot topic?|
A: Western culture is especially interested (one might even say obsessed) with timekeeping. The tradition of commemorations held in honor of a chronologically round number (e.g. the bicentennial) is more widespread here than in any culture in world history. So large a number leads many, often completely secular, people to reflect on the previous and the coming era, an activity one cannot do without some ãbigä thinking (what characterizes the last 1000 years? how can we survive another 1000?). Moreover, the enduring presence of the sabbatical millennium in Christian apocalyptic circles leads many Westerners to anticipate the coming of the messianic millennium (chiliasm) at the end of the current one. Jews and Muslims have similar relations to their round numbers. As Hillel Schwartz has shown (Centuryâs End), even the ends of centuries have important social effects.
|Q: What happened in 1000?|
A: Historians are divided on this question. Most medievalists still hold that 1000 was a ãyear like any otherä, and that it passed largely unnoticed by a chronologically ignorant and confused population. A new school, drawing upon the ãRomantic historiansä of the 19th century, but improving upon their often loose recreations, offers a better documented argument (evidence, for example, of widespread and consistent awareness of the date), and more sophisticated analyses (benefitting from the last generation of millennial scholars working on current movements). This latter school, of which Richard Landes is a leading member, sees various popular and elite behaviors as manifestations of a millennial ãspiritä: e.g., waves of conversion to Christianity, imperial and ecclesiatical reforms, mass pilgrimages (especially to Jerusalem), popular ãheresiesä and apostolic movements, the execution of ãhereticsä and popular violence against the Jews, and, most importantly, the ãPeace of God,ä the first mass peace movement documented in world history. When 1000, for all its excitement, failed to bring the awaited end, contemporaries redated to 1033, triggering a second wave of peace councils, pilgrimages, and reforms. The period between 1000 and 1033 mark, then, a particularly apocalyptic ãmillennial generation.ä We may see some resemblances with the period 2000-2033.
|Q: Why is the CMS studying something before it happens?|
A: Apocalyptic beliefs are a most unusual form of religious belief: they have, in the past, always proved wrong, and it is most likely they will again. However, before the moment of disproof, they can achieve great intensity, and have intense power precisely because they are so short-lived. Millennialism operates, therefore, like a Doppler effect: at the approach of a given ãdateä or ãtimeä: it crescendos with accelerating intensity, and, the moment passed, fades rapidly. Historically the written record reflects the ãpost-apocalypticä period in which the roosters appear as foolish and/or dishonest (ie, the tape-recorders only get turned on after the Doppler effect has started to fade), and as a result, the amount of evidence for an apocalyptic moment (eg 1000) is very limited. By anticipating a time when apocalyptic beliefs are likely proliferate, we have a chance to record the roosters while theyâre crowing.
|Q: What will the CMS do in 2001?|
A: Track the ãgoingä of the millennium, follow the most dynamic of the apocalyptic communities ãlaunchedä in the period leading up to 2000. The passage of time historically creates a period of great difficulty for apocalyptic groups whose outlandish hopes have been dashed -- a condition that the social psychologist Leon Festinger called ãcognitive dissonance.ä This is a period scarcely documented in the history of millennial phenomena, and we hope to interview as many believers as we can during this period (e.g., pilgrims returning from Jerusalem, survivors of Y2K). In the longer run, the most creative groups ãmutateä into more enduring organizations which not only survive, but often provide society with its most technologically ãadaptiveä models. The more bitterly frustrated and humiliated a group feels, the more likely it is to turn to forms of ãcoercive purityä and violence. One of the CMSâs main goals is to understand better what influences a ãpost-apocalypticä group to turn toward or away from violence.
|Q: Do you think the world will end?|
A: Eventually, maybe. The Center is a non-denominational research center although some of its researchers are people of religious conviction. The Center has been established to provide future generations with research material on the season of roosters. We, therefore, do not subscribe to any religious apocalyptic scenario about the ultimate end of time. The extent to which associates of the center believe that we are on the brink of a man-made apocalypse (from nuclear to eco-catastrophe), or on the verge of a new millennial age of human understanding on a global scale, or just going to muddle through, is something left up to the individual. Given the nature of this field, itâs likely that opinions will vary quite a bit over the times ahead.
|Q: Why is studying millennialism important?|
|A: In the brief time of apocalyptic intensity, roosters find highly receptive audiences, and are capable of great feats of social creativity, launching new movements, new religions, new paradigms of thought and interaction, and new wars. They are especially imaginative in their uses of communications technology. Many of the movements set in motion by roosters become the ãnormalä institutions and religions of a culture. Millennialism can provide some of the most idealistically practical ãprojectsä for a culture (e.g., the earliest abolitionists were chiliasts), and some of the most devastating paths of self-destruction (e.g. Communist and Nazi totalitarianism). By understanding the peculiar dynamics of millennialism, we understand our origins, the social forces at work in the present (especially at millenniumâs end), and future such ãmoments.ä|
Return to CMS Welcome Page
Return to CMS Home Page
Copyright ©1998 by Center for Millennial Studies - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED