Victor Balaban (Emory University) speaks at Boston University on January 20, 1998 about Marian apparitions at the end of the millennium.
1) Globalization and the Millennium
In the recorded history of mankind, there have been no more than a dozen generations that marked a "millennial" passage. As a result of the events of the last century, in which the technological advances in commmunications-- embodied and disembodied -- have turned the globe into a vast network ofconnections and spread the use of AD dating in the process, this will be the first millennium acknowledged world wide. There are two significant dimensions to this phenomenon: First, globalization as a form of market penetration and dissolution of more traditional cultures tends to trigger millenarian movements among natives (Ghost Dance, cargo cults, mahdism). The recent rapid spread of a whole new level of market penetration in the Pacific Rim, in particular, makes the prospect very strong for a wide variety of such religious responses. Second, the proximity of the millennium has stimulated a great deal of apocalyptic thinking among westerners (Christians and secularists), who are energetically pursuing projects to stimulate world-wide movements at the advent of 2000. The presence of so many ways to communicate -- including the new and amazingly personal tele-communications of the World Wide Web -- increase the potential for all kinds of new and unusual connections to be made internationally at very high speeds. The talk would go over some of the dynamics at work, discuss some possible scenarios and their prognoses.
2) To Celebrate or to Panic: On the Proper Way to Greet the New Millennium
Ironically, the two ways in which religious believers respond to an approaching apocalyptic date have reconfigured themselves among purely secular people. On the one hand, there are numerous preparations in the works for huge celebrations at the advent of the year 2000. These include not only the official national preparations of countries like France, Germany, and England, but also the preparations of cities associated with First Night International and a wide range of "peace" movements working on global cooperation and understanding. Some of these preparations have already gone well beyond the "spectacular fireworks" stage, and visionary millennial themes appear in the most "secular" of places. On the other hand, there are numerous trends that create an ominous sense of potential disaster. Some of these are "old hat" (ecological concerns, population bombs, political and ethnic hostilities), some relatively new (new levels of globalization, market integration and interdependence, social, ethnic and religious pathologies that lead to genocidal violence). The newest, and most ironic, is the Y2K problem in which computers may seize up at the passage from December 31, 1999 to the new millennium. The first remorseless deadline in history has been set by man himself. Traditionally the two main roads that millennial fervor takes from the margins (where it always hovers, waiting to metastasize) to the center of a culture are paranoia and celebration, fear and hope. With the success of movies like JFK and shows like the X-Files, as well as the WWW as a perfect medium for spawning and spreading conspiracy theories, we have a major avenue along which paranoia can move to from periphery to the center of modern culture. With rock and sports concerts, the diffusion of democracy and its commitment to public assembly, and the recent emergence of million-people gatherings as the fashion of the age, there is also an avenue to celebration and ecumenism. How they will interact in the next decade is anyone's guess. At least, however, we should think about it. Symptoms of millennial behavior, various groups planning events, notions of people's role in millennial moments.
3) Millennial Madness or Mongering Media: Is 2000 Anything more that a Hype?
Some people have already had enough of the year 2000: from M&M's declaring itself the candy of the millennium, to products which misspell the word, it looks like a marketers dream and a consumer's nightmare. The media eagerly hops in with endless specials about Nostradamus, weird cults, doomsday prophecies about the Y2K problem, and learned remarks about 2001 as the real beginning of the next millennium. Plans for New Year's festivities, from the private blow-outs to the grandest plans for civic celebrations, inflate fast enough to keep up with the Indonesian Rupiah. It seems like we will be supersaturated before we even reach January 1, 2000, so much the more by 2001. Will the year 2000 be one of the great duds in history? A year, as medievalists tell us about the year 1000, "like any other." Does a commercialized media tail wag the cultural dog? The problem is that a much larger group than just media types have fixed their visionary sights on this coming millennium, and they bring to the date a different, far less secular agenda. Here we find the pope -- the only human being currently who can assemble a million people at will -- planning a colossal Jubilee year gathering in Rome for 2000, Protestant evangelicals planning an equally huge, if less centralized pilgrimage to Israel, the ecumenical Promise Keepers planning assemblies in every state capitol of the US for January 1; more ominously, right wing conspiracists intensify their paranoid calls to arms at the approach of the millennium. The religious and specifically Christian interest in 2000 jumps the gaps: apocalyptic fundamentalism shows increasing strength around the world. Secular, new age, and neo-pagan groups plan gatherings to compete with the religious ones. The president of Iran, whose calendar reads 1418 Year of the Hejira, invokes 2000 as an occasion to reenter the international community. A trivialized millennium or a cosmic millennium? What is an ordinary person to make of all this brouhaha? Ultimately, like eating and sleeping, we all must decide for ourselves. It helps, however, to be informed.
4) Roosters, Owls, Bats: A Guide to the Millennium for the Perplexed
The advent of any millennial date -- a year that has "messianic" meaning --demands a response. One cannot ignore it, no matter how much one would like to. There are two major postures towards such a date: roosters and owls. Roosters crow to awaken at dawn, time to awaken from slumber, to put off the robes of suffering and prepare for the day of vindication. Owls hoot silence: it is still the middle of the night, the predators prowl, the master still sleeps, death courts those who awaken. The owls want us to believe that the rooster is "Chicken Little"; the roosters, that the owl has his head in the sand. In any history of a messianic culture -- Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Modernity -- the story can be told as a battle between roosters who crow of the coming "Day of the Lord", and owls who oppose them. Since the owls always win -- the Day has yet to come --they control our memories of the past. This history of millennial history considers how potent the position of the owls in the surviving record, written and preserved ex post facto. Even the surviving roosters have become owls. We, today, are once again in such a situation. However rationalist we might want to be -- Stephen Gould provides a most eloquent statement -- we must, even unwillingly, consider how powerful the seemingly irrational notion that this year has cosmic meaning, if only for other people. So we must at least learn to think like roosters too. It does not help to deal with so lively a partner in so uninformed a way. Indeed, it turns out, roosters crow all around: like Studebakers, once you get a rooster, you spot them all over. Then we are faced with issues of immense significance. Given the technological power that is now accessible to human will, will we modern consumers destroy life as we know it? Will terrorists lead us all, Sampson-like, to destruction? How serious is the Y2K computer problem? Here too, then, in the halls of the environmental conferences, on the pages of business journals, around policy tables, everywhere roosters and the owls debate about our future and what control we have over it. And because the human future is fact free -- no one can be certain what will happen on January 1, 2000 -- we cannot know whether to trust the person assuring us that Y2K is no problem, or the one shouting about a coming disaster, rendered ever-greater with every day we refuse to wake up. How to identify owls and roosters, bats and turkeys, forms of apocalyptic rhetoric, intellectual defenses, scorecard.
5) Mingling Commoners and Elites: On the Sociology of Millennialism
One of the great puzzles of millennialism is how, having failed time after time, it always comes back. It seems like, in some places (like medieval Europe), the cycles of hope and disappointment followed hard upon each others' heels. Why is it as hard to get a generation to say "no" to its millennial moment, as it is to get a youth not to believe in love? The most powerful appeal of "doomsday cults" is the intimacy it offers to the believing. Part of this intimacy results from the radical social egalitarianism of such groups: they often seek to create communities without hierarchy. The language of justice and fairness that so marks millennial discourse, aims precisely at this desire. Indeed, the whole idea of the millennium, is that it offers just reward to the good and punishment for the evil. Since power corrupts, any millennial movement will see the powerful as ensnared in evil. Thus millennial movements have a strong appeal to the downtrodden of all kinds -- social, political, psychological -- and the communities of belief that they form often break down all previous cultural barriers (neither Greek nor Jew). The risks are great, the results sometimes disastrous, sometimes constructive, always remarkable. Millennialism, with this egalitarian component, has proven historically to be may an extraordinarily fertile matrix for social creativity. The psychology and sociology of millennialism, the risks and rewards, problems of disappointment, role of technology in western millennial movements.
6) The Year 1000 and the Year 2000: Retrospective Prognostications on the 21st Century
Consult a medievalist and he'll tell you that nothing happened in 1000. "Why, the peasants didn't know and couldn't have cared about the date, and the clerics were themselves confused about exactly when it came." Read about it in the textbookss and the Millennium issue of the National Geographic. But ask a taxi-cab driver or a French tour guide, and they might tell you that people gave all their possessions to the church and found themselves bereft thereafter. Look for scholars currently working on the year 1000, and chances are they'll tell you that agreement about the date AD was widespread, and that it had (could not not have had) apocalyptic meaning. Indeed, when 1000 passed, the disappointed retargetted their apocalyptic hopes to 1033, the thousand years from the Passion, thus creating an entire "millennial generation." How can historians be in such fundamental disagreement? Are the skeptics like the people they study, eager to downplay any validity to apocalyptic ideas? Are these the same scholars who fail to mention that Charlemagne was crowned on the first day of the year 6000 from the Creation of the World by a widely known millenarian calendar? Are these the same people who tell the tale of the American Revolution without mentioning the profusion of millenarian preaching the broke out in 1773-1776? Are the proponents of an apocalyptic year 1000 like the people they study? All worked up about ideas of no consequence? What does it mean to our understanding of the written and oral memory that we retain of the past that apocalyptic memories -- no matter how overwhelmingly powerful at the time -- fade rapidly from memory? (For example, how many holocaust survivors felt utterly apocalyptic at the time and have not mentioned it since?) By looking at the behavior of people in the millennial period of 1000-1033 -- their fervent pilgrimage, mass rallies, new sects, relic cults, and sacred violence -- we get a panoramic view of the millennial dynamic. What happened after 1033? Are the Promise-Keepers a modern version of the warriors at the Peace of God assemblies? What are the prospects for 2033?
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