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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements edited by Richard Landes (Routledge) All of the major world religions, with the exception of Hinduism, began as millennial movements. They have been a common form of social protest and a mechanism for seeking societal change. Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements is a guide to the religious or spiritual social movements throughout history and around the world that have promised to create a better world or usher in a new one. Millennialism is not simply a fringe activity-it is a critically important aspect of the human experience, past and present.

Millennial movements are given many names: crisis cults, nativistic movements, messianic cults, cargo cults, chiliastic movements, revitalization movements, utopian movements, and apocalyptic movements. Many of them have, naturally, been triggered by calendar dates considered to be of spiritual or magical significance. The concept of the millennium has long fascinated people in the Christian world-much of the western world was captivated by the millennial potential of Y2K-but a millennial time or moment can be determined by non-European calendars, by signs in the stars or in nature, by numerology, or by particular events that a group considers to be millennial. For example, some considers the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former Soviet Union in 1986 a millennial event.

The Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements is historical, cross-cultural, and interdisciplinary, covering movements in Western society and also in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and among native North and South Americans, drawing upon the work of religious scholars, anthropologists, historians, political scientists, and others who study millennial movements. In addition to descriptions of specific movements like Aum Shinrikyo, Christian Identity, Heaven's Gate, the John Frum Movement, Nazism, Solar Temple, and Ufology, there are articles about the concepts and theories that guide the scholarly study of millenarianism like cults, societal stress, and utopia, and articles on general topics such as charismatic leadership, the role of women, and religious conversions. Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements is likely to become the standard general resource on the topic, providing basic information and context for the study of millennialism as a continuing human phenomenon and a vital aspect of human history. 

Editor Richard Landes is Associate Professor of Medieval History at Boston University and the cofounder and Director of the Center for Millennial Studies, an independent organization dedicated to tracking, archiving, and interpreting the manifestations of apocalyptic expectation in and around the year 2000. He is the author of Relics, Apocalypse, and the Deceits of History: Ademar of Chabannes, 989-1034; and coeditor of The Peace of God: Social Violence and Religious Response in France around the Year 1000.


 Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movementsis a guide to the religious or spiritual social movements throughout history and around the world that have promised to create a better world or usher in a new one. These movements are given many names: crisis cults, nativistic movements, messianic cults, cargo cults, chiliastic movements, revitalization movements, utopian movements, apocalyptic movements, and millennial movements. All share a number of common features. They are collective movements, drawing people together in a common belief and often a common cause. They depend on what are known as millennial or millenarian beliefs-the idea that the world can, and will, be transformed or improved or saved. They look to the supernatural or spiritual world-whether to a god or to aliens from another galaxy-for assistance and guidance.

Throughout history and across cultures millennial movements have been a common form of social protest and a mechanism for seeking societal change. In fact, all of the major world religions, with the exception of Hinduism, began as millennial movements. And even when they are small-like the Ghost Dance or the Branch Davidians millennial movements often draw considerable attention from society in general. Such movements often draw much attention because they are perceived by those in power to be a threat to the existing social and political order. In part motivated by such perceptions, the United States government sent more than half of its cavalry forces in pursuit of a few thousand Plains Indian Ghost Dancers in 1890; similarly, heavily armed federal agents attacked the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas in 1993.

Many millennial movements have, naturally enough, been triggered by calendar dates considered of spiritual or magical significance. The concept of the millennium has long fascinated people in the Christian world. But a millennial time or moment can be determined by non-European calendars, by signs in the stars or in nature, by numerology, or by particular events that a group considers to be millennial. Some, for example, considers the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union in 1986, a millennial event.

The desire for magical transformation-of individual lives, of communities and groups, of entire societies, or of the whole world-is not new. Nor is it fading in this age of technological and scientific advance. Even as technology influences every aspect of our lives, and science explains and alters human genes and human behavior, technology and science inspire new anxieties and fears. Social change-such as women and minority groups achieving greater rights and more significant roles in private and public life-can lead to millennialism in others threatened by these changes. Readers who seek a general introduction to millennialism and millennial movements should consult the article "Millennialism in the Western World," which provides a broad overview of the rise, spread, and various manifestations of millennialism.

The encyclopedia is historical, cross-cultural, and interdisciplinary, covering movements in the Western World and also in Africa, Asia, and Oceania, and among North and South Americans. It draws upon the work of anthropologists, historians, sociologists, political scientists, religious scholars, and others who study millennial movements. Millennial studies is still a young field. First launched by the anthropologists who studied cargo cults in the post-World War 11 period, developed by medievalists like Norman Cohn and Marjorie Reeves, and theoretically refined by sociologists like Leon Festinger, it has, in the past generation, become an international field of research. Because of the unusual dynamics of millennial manifestations-the brief intensity, the seemingly irrational passions, the range of responses to apocalyptic disappointment-the study of them often demands counterintuitive thinking and calls for a multidisciplinary approach that engages a wide range of fields and specialties. At the approach of the third millennium, however, the field is popular not only among scholars, but also among policymakers.

The Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements covers dozens of movements, including many associated with Christianity and the Western World as well with other world religions including Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Baha'i, Mormonism, and Zoroastrianism. It also gives much attention to non-Western movements including those among indigenous peoples in the Americas, the cargo cults of Melanesia, and indigenous churches in sub-Saharan Africa. Although much attention is given to the history of millennialism, equal attention is given to movements in the modern world, including Seventh-Day Adventism, Christian Identity, Heaven's Gate, Peoples Temple, Davidians, numerous UFO cults, and millennial thinking connected with the technological threat known as Year 2000, the Millennial Bug, or Y2K.

In addition to descriptions of specific movements, there are also articles covering the concepts and theories that guide the scholarly study of millenarianism, such as utopia, cult, and end signs; articles on general topics such as charismatic leadership, the role of women, and markers of millennial moments; and articles on relevant theological topics such as dispensationalism, premillennialism, and defilement. By including articles on this broad range of topics we have tried to provide a full summary of the state of our knowledge of millennialism at the year 2000 and to enhance the reader's understanding of the interaction of religion and society. While most of the articles were written prior to the beginning of the year 2000, articles have been updated and the article "Year 2000 Celebrations" was added after the beginning of the year 2000 to make the volume as up to date as possible.

Adventism and the American Republic: The Public Involvement of a Major Apocalyptic Movement
by Douglas Morgan (University of Tennessee Press) "Faith-based organizations?" The odd term had not yet entered the media lexicon. American politicians had only seen a glimmer of the power offered by open alliances with conservative religious groups. But, in this adventurous probe of the odd-couple pairing of Seventh-day Adventism, a quintessentially American institution, and the Republican Party, Dr. Morgan opens a clear panoramic view of one church's struggle with these reformationesque issues.
Separation of Church and State? Money to do "good" things? Where do well-meaning people draw the lines? How do they decide? What goes on behind closed doors - in the cloistered halls of power on Capitol Hill and in the hushed offices of ecclesiastical politics?
Doug Morgan's "Adventism and the American Republic" is a scrupulously documented look at one church's awkward lurching toward civic engagement. The view ranges from sweet to painful and back again. But Doug's description carries the reader through the arc with a sense of being there -- in the rooms, reading the letters and watching the frustrating twists, embarrassing turns, and occasional successes in this theological/political pretzel.
If you've every wondered what "Faith Based" means for the future of American social or religious institutions, this book is a must read. If you don't care about church and state, but like a curious American tale, it's even better.

A POSTMODERN REVELATION: Signs of Astrology and the Apocalypse (University of Toronto Press

$22.95, paper, 414 pages, notes, bibliography, index; 0-8020-7976-8

This exceptional study, a romp full of learned word play and fabulous analogies, is one of the best accounts of the cultural underpinnings of the millennium. It explores the confrontation between and downfall of two modes of storytelling in Western history: astrology and eschatology — hence, divination and prophecy, or the cult of stars and the visions of Revelation. While both modes of discourse on time have profoundly marked Western history, they are now excluded from dominant concerns of the modern and postmodern world, having been reduced to pale reflections of the hegemonic signs they used to be. The author’s intention is to bring both grand narratives back to life, if only through a postmodern dialogue with history. The journey begins with an overview of the history of astrology spanning antiquity and the modern and postmodern era, in an endeavor to understand the gradual demise of sidereal divination in the West. We see that Christian notions of spirituality and prophetic revelation played an important role in downgrading the spheres of heaven, reducing star-gods to the level of mere signs and subaltern spirits dwelling in the visible heavens, below the immaterial Lord ruling from above. Here, John’s Revelation is read in that light, as a contrapuntal scheme launched against astrological time. In its own prophetic way, the New Testament Apocalypse is Christianity’s response to cults that dare to assimilate the divine (immaterial, atemporal) to the visible and the tangible - to celestial bodies and the signs of heavenly desire governing the cosmos and the wheels of time. In the Book of Revelation, Christian prophecy superimposes itself on the language of ‘pagan’ divination, disassembling and recomposing it in such ways as to satisfy the higher rule of Logos. Like an old city, Revelation consists of several layers, and ‘down at the bottom is a pagan substratum’ .In the ancient heavens lies the foundational material both used and ruined by John’s apocalyptic edifice.

Two basic questions are asked throughout this book. First, what relationship do John’s detailed imageries entertain with ancient expressions of astromythology? Second, what do twentieth-century scholars have to say about the New Testament Apocalypse, and how do their readings of Revelation betray a modern perspective on ancient teleological scripts (astrological and eschatological)? Both questions are answered against the background of two broader stories: the history of Western astrology and the evolution of readings of Revelation spanning late antiquity and the twentieth century. For some practical astrological aides see our calendar page.


Qualifications regarding the apparent death of astrology in Western culture are in order. Astrology has lost its religious status and has been debunked, banished from higher forms of modern learning. But divination still plays an active role in the mass production of countless little prophecies adjusted to the hopes and fears of ‘ordinary people’-- to expressions of industrial and postindustrial popular culture. While the apocalyptic language now appeals primarily to conservative segments of the population concerned about crises of the West, astrology continues to address the daily preoccupations of millions of individualized souls searching for meaning in a world that ignores all larger Ends…

Last but not least, astrology speaks to a basic contradiction of the nuclear age, an era where the ruling order perpetuates itself via industries that breed the seed of total destruction. In response to the floating anxieties and feelings of doom associated with this regime, stellar divination converts signs of the apocalypse into banal fears and threats of daily life (e.g., car accidents). Horoscopy is all the more reassuring as it professes relentless optimism, with immediate relief and remedies at hand and compulsive promises that in the end ‘everything will be fine’ .The end-result is a pseudo-rational discourse that makes ‘tine senseless appear as though it had some hidden and grandiose sense while at the same time corroborating that this sense can neither be sought in the realm of the human nor can be properly grasped by humans’ .

In retrospect, twentieth-century astrology is a late-modern and postmodern revival of ancient and medieval expressions of naturalism, a syncretic paganism after its time. Horoscopy combines computer mathematics and electronic media with a neo-archaic amalgam of Babylonian divination, Greek mathematics, and Empedoclean four-element cosmology. The outcome of this dialogue across time is a virtual reality where myths and facts constantly meet, a New Age spectacle of real events interwoven with diluted Hollywoodian fantasy. To the extent that it mirrors the attributions of the modern subject (individuality, free will) and also the routine problems and short-term preoccupations of the laboring classes, as Barthes claims, astral divination serves to exorcise the real world by actually naming it; astrology is not an ‘ouverture au reve, elle est pur mirolr, pure institution de la realite’ .Yet astrology may also be seen as reifying and mystifying a petty view of the world, an outlook on life that elevates the fears and hopes of ‘shortsighted individuals’ to quintessential problems created and deliberated in the heavens. The industry of sidereal divination ‘prend place parmi routes les entreprises de semi-alienation (ou de semi-liberation) qui se donnent a tache d’objectiver le reel, sans pourtant le demystifier’ .By ignoring larger finalities and the imminence of tragic ends, signs and chronicles of mass-media astrology herald the end of all historical perspective - hence, the trivialization of all wondrous visions of an older prophetic imagination.

The modern and postmodern media industry has brought ancient and medieval paganism out from the sphere of the occult, the Dark Chamber where the Enlightenment confined all irrational thoughts that dare contravene the rule of Reason, Science, and Christianity. Paradoxically, archaic practices have reemerged, not from a remote past, but from the entrails and depths of late modernity. Through its adaptation to the ideals and rhetoric of liberal individualism, ‘primitive astronomy’ has come to reinforce the ruling order. But its popularity is also attributable to the exclusionary practices and endemic crises of Church, Capital, State, Science, and Culture--systems of domination that pit the damned against the elect, nature against culture, the poor against the wealthy, the powerless against the powerful, the ignorant against the cultivated. Albeit in digest form, signs of the stars allow all minds and souls to stand as equals before the wondrous heavens, forging plans of their own narrative future and a place in the sun.

But astrology is no more than a postmodern, tongue-in-cheek challenge against all the powers that be, a timid protest that never warrants a full-fledged repression. Neo-archaism is no threat to hegemonic institutions of the West, however conflict- and crisis-ridden they may be. Horoscopal paganism is a ‘virtual rebellion’ at best, a marginal belief system adopted with discretion and appropriate skepticism, expressed only occasionally and with constant flickers of doubt and well-behaved mimicries of the unconscious. Failing a firm commitment to either reason or faith, astrology is incapable of turning into a rigorous science (non-geocentric, non-anthropocentric), let alone a true religion or a compelling morality. As a neopaganism is an exercise in double-dealing, an expression of faith in the cosmos undermined by a constant detachment from larger struggles and Visions of history. Adepts of postmodern archaism are experts at playing double games, mixing, as they do, faith and doubt, science and fantasy, logic and wishful thinking.

Present-day horoscopy is a rejoinder to the West’s repudiation of its own astrological past. Albeit a weak plea, it is the diviner’s answer to Western schemes directed against the worldly, forward-looking languages of antiquity. Unlike cultural developments of the twentieth century, the mythical and the astrological traditions of the pre-Christian world converged on a tragic, future-oriented sense of time pervading the entire universe, affecting humans and their gods alike. Ancient Greece developed a mythology that was deeply concerned with the tragic and the erratic in life, epic stories of gods, demigods, messengers, and heroes who experienced unexpected joys and sufferings comparable with the blessings and misfortunes of the people they protected, though on a larger scale. Humans and their legendary gods were subject to hordes of untimely events. Narrative beginnings and endings were constantly divined but were not predictable in the sense of following the strict laws of Fate. Stoic philosophers of the Graeco-Roman period saw stability and constancy in a universe ruled by laws of celestial ‘mathematics’ (synonymous with astrology), yet the logic of the heavenly spheres did not preclude divinatory explorations and propitiatory manipulations of the future, towards fateful developments of the Stoics’ own choice. Nor did Stoicism preclude the idea of great floods and prophetic visions of chaos befalling the universe. Although Seneca and Lucan believed in the timeful logic of all things that come in due season, in accordance with the dictates of Fate, they also recognized the inevitability of world-scale catastrophes that play havoc with the universe and result in long astronomical cycles and regenerations of the cosmos (palingenesis) Judaeo-Christianity also expressed faith in a grand narrative telos that offered promises and warnings of the future. Unlike ‘pagan’ expressions of teleology, however, the language of prophecy proclaimed the end of time and the world as we know it. Opposed to horoscopy and astromythology, apocalyptic seers reported visions of the imminent End and the hereafter hence, the Day of Judgment, when`martyrs would be redeemed, and the earth destroyed and purged of all evil.

This brings us to ancient embattlements of myths of the End, or the struggle of Judaeo-Christian prophecy against astralism and sidereal divination. Anti-astrological schemes have a long history, dating back to the battle between ‘pagan’ divination and Judaeo-Christian prophecy, and culminating in the demise of visionary thought in the age of reason and science. This book deals with the latter struggle as it evolved through time, with an emphasis on the fate of astralism (defined as the worship of stars) and our worldly sense of telos — our capacity to project ourselves into future times that do not escape the worldliness and cyclical motions of Being. My contention is that the first sentencing of astromythology is written all over the prophecies of Revelation, a script dedicated to visions of the End time. In John’s visions, astral signs are reduced to subordinate spirits and mere metaphors, sign-manifestations of an otherworldly Spirit heralding the Day of Judgment. The New Testament Apocalypse downgrades the astral pantheon that once presided over the bodily motions of time and desire, turning star-gods into time markers, metaphors, messages, and ‘the hosts of heaven’ (messengers, soldiers, saints, angels, etc.) subserving an immaterial Sign Maker dwelling in eternity. Astralism is disassembled into fragments of itself, retributive manifestations and poetic metaphors harnessed to the Lord dwelling beyond the visible spheres…

John’s use of prophetic rhetoric is a polemical response to pagan divination. The apocalyptic answer to astralism is developed chiefly through a host of deceitful parallels: using imageries made ‘in the likeness of the appearances’ of the unspeakable star-gods, harnessing their powers to the Robson’s allusion to Hiroshima is evocative of the nuclear bomb and the Second World War, but also Auschwitz and the ‘final solution’ of Fascism, all of which herald the end of grand narratives of the West-- the end of ‘time Athenian "beautiful death," the exchange of the finite for the infinite, of the esclaton for the telos: the Die in order not to die’ .With the forward march of the apocalyptic storm or Angel of history’ that Benjamin calls Progress, names of the dead no longer lend themselves to the writings of monumental history.

Imageries of the apocalypse are central to the postmodern deconstruction of literature and the explosion of categories of history and the ‘real.’ According to Derrida, our era is characterized by the growth of the literary imagination and the ‘textual socius’ that comes with it, a specularized society driven by the psychagogic rhetoric of nuclear-war dissuasion and deterrence. Literature and apocalyptic signs and fears of the nuclear age have in common that they both thrive on speculative, fabulously textual events that have no referential reality. Both activities also rely on objective infrastructural conditions that are inherently self-destructive: a world system built around war efforts and the nuclear industry, and a stockpiling of original corpuses and archives arbitrarily assigned to authorial subjects.

All of these conditions are self-destructive. The nuclear-age socius grows in the shadow of a totally devastating Event, an absolute End time war that bears a unique name, the first and the last of its kind, a cataclysm that belongs to a class of its own. This rhetorical event is so absurd that it threatens to bring about a remainderless destruction that will annihilate all archives, and the human habitat as well. Nuclear rhetoric points to an End that leaves no trace whatsoever, eschewing and effacing all motions of survival and related works of sublime representation. Given its all-consuming character, the nuclear apocalypse threatens to foreclose the monumental history of typological naming, symbolic mourning, and mnemonic idealization.

Likewise, writing entails the epoche of absolute knowledge. Literature is a constant invitation to acts of interpretive Reconstruction, interventions that end up decomposing and undermining the archival foundations of writing. Literature and the nuclear epoch are both apocalyptic in the sense of installing humanity in a self-destructive condition of radical fictionality and precarious historicity. But even without Reconstruction, writing is subject to a prolonged big-bang effect that keeps scattering elements of signification in countless directions. Whatever the logical and intentional origins and ends of the script may be, the missile-like message of the missive can be counted on never to reach its final destination. Derrida refers to this chaotic dispersal effect as the wandering ways of la diff-errance.

The structure of truth itself is inherently apocalyptic in that it always comes as a grand finale, passing a ‘last’ judgment on all other contending truths that are brought to an End. Truth is essentially eschatological, as it is always the voice of the last human being, the one possessed with a light brighter than all other lights. This may be the voice that proclaims the death of God, the subject, or ‘man’ (substituted by the ‘overman’). Alternatively, the Voice may announce the end of Christian morality, Western metaphysics, philosophy, history, progress, class struggle, patriarchy, or literature. It could also choose to declare the end of astrology, heralding the triumph of a timeless Verb, as in John’s Apocalypse.

My reading of the Book of Revelation has a postmodern apocalyptic tone in that it purports to uncover the astrological derailment or delirium of Revelation. I am alluding to the parasitic indirections, intrusions, and deviations of John’s logocentric script, all of which converge on the ‘galactic under all the milky ways whose constellation’ fascinates the Derridean imagination en passant. A pagan understanding of the New Testament Apocalypse thus points to the ‘phenomena of Verstimming, of change of tone, of mixing of genres, of destinerrance, if I can say that, or of clandestination, so many signs of more or less bastard apocalyptic filiation’ Derrida continues to say that we know that apocalyptic writings increased the moment State censorship was very strong in the Roman Empire, and precisely to catch the censorship unaware … we could perhaps think that the apocalyptic discourse can also get round censorship thanks to its genre, and its cryptic ruses. By its very tone, the mixing of voices genres, and codes, apocalyptic discourse can also, in dislocating [detraquant] destinations, dismantle the dominant contract or concordat. It is a challenge to the established receivability recevability of messages and to the policing of destination, in short to the postal notice or the monopoly of posts.

1. Ends and Flickers of Doubt
2. Music of the Spheres
3. A History of Revelations
4. Apha and Omega
5. The Seven Churches of Asia
6. The Chariot of Fire
7. Seven Seals and Four Trumpets
8. The Last Three Trumpets
9. The Sun-Robed Woman
Conclusion: Signs of Logomachy
Postscript: In the Nearness of Evil


Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements

edited by Thomas Robbins and Susan J. Palmer


344 Pages, notes, bibliographies

$18.95 Paper, 0-415-91649-6

$69.95 (Cloth Library Edition) 0-415-91649-6

As we approach the Millennium, apocalyptic expectations are rising in North America and throughout the world. Beyond the symbolic aura of the Millennium, this fascination is fed by currents of unsettling social and cultural change. The "millennial myth" ingrained in American culture is continually generating new movements, which draw upon the myth and also reshape and reconstruct it MILLENNIUM, MESSIAHS, AND MAYHEM explores many secular forms of apocalypse, such as economic, environmental ant technological disasters, racialist and feminist movements, as well as those erupting from established churches - including Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, and contemporary Mormon - and cults. Many of these movements are volatile and potentially explosive.

It was once a common view of historians that as the year A.D. 1000 loomed, a wave of terror swept over Europe as the coming of Antichrist and the Last Judgment were anxiously awaited. Now as we move closer to the next Millennium, a new wave of pandemonium is sweeping around the world. Recent headlines ring of chaos. Will our computer systems bring the world of banking and finance to a screeching halt at midnight on December 31, 1999? Are recent natural disasters, such at the deadly earthquakes in Iran and the devastating floods in America's Midwest signs that the end is near? And what role did the upcoming Millennium play in the ritualistic mass suicide committed by the devout members of Heaven's Gate?

Both Thomas Robbins and Susan Palmer are noted sociologists of religion. They brings together scholars of apocalyptic and millennial groups to explore the many facets of the contemporary apocalyptic fervor that is rocking the world. This fascinating collection examines the many forms of apocalypse, such as economic. environmental, And technological disasters and takes a hard look at the explosive. new waves of racial, religious, and feminist movements that are on the rise as a response to the ever-looming presence of the year 2000. Opening with a discussion of various theories of apocalypticism, the editors then analyze how millennialist movements have gained ground in largely secular societal circles. Section three discusses the links between apocalypticism and established churches, while the final part of the book looks at examples of violence and confrontation, from Waco to Solar Temple to the Aum Shinri Kyo subway disaster in Japan The essays also examine how established religions such as Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, and Mormon churches are reacting to the Millennium and the possibility of apocalypse, as well as the frightening rise of religious cults.

MILLENNIUM, MESSIAHS AND MAYHEM covers everything from the evolving views of apocalypticism, the relationship between apocalypse and violence, the interplay of religious and secular movements in this age of hysteria, and the public's fascination with the Millennium that is fed by currents of unsettling social and cultural change.

Contributors in this timely and thought-provoking collection include: James Aho, Dick Anthony, Robert Balch, Michael Barkun, John Bozeman, David Bromley, Michael Cuneo, John Hall, Massimo Introvigne, Philip Lamy, Ronald Lawson, Martha Lee, Mark Mullins, Anson Shupe, Susan Palmer, Thomas Robbins, Philip Schuyler, Catherine Wessinger

Thomas Robbins is an independent sociologist of religion. He is the author of Cults, Converts, and Charisma (1988), and has co-edited numerous books among them In Gods We Trust (1990) and Between Sacred and Secular. Susan Palmer teaches at Dawson College and Concordia University and specializes in new religious movements. She is the author of Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers, and AIDS as an Apocalyptic Metaphor.

Report from a Culture on the Brink
by Mark Kingwell
Faber and Faber
$24.95, hardcover; 372 pages; notes, index

Journalist and assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, Kingwell writes with flare, not so much about our future or the possibility of doomsday. Our collective fears and anxieties have plenty of historical parallels. The decadence in the 1890s Paris and the extremism of Revolutionary France were full of the extremes of our own time. Even the plague of self-flagellation in the 1490s in Florence was fueled by hopes of the second coming.
Yes it is true that the year 2000 is expeditiously nearing and many of us are distressed about what the future holds.
Kingwell himself seems indifferent in forecasting but is willing to show that such anxiety is cyclical and centuries old.
He views the present with a backward glance to associate millennial disquiet to other apocalyptic periods in our western history.
Every previous historic millennial and often most centennial conclusions, has witnessed crises of leadership and a disposition for crossdressing.
Conspiracy theories, mistrust of government, reinvigorated religiosity, and sex and gender flux are also common to end-times throughout recorded history.
Kingwell draws on pop culture and current events such as bodypiercing, angel obsession, psychic fairs, “The X-Files,” “Star Trek,” “The Simpsons", Pulp Fiction, the Ebola virus, Waco, the Unabomber, to show how these form the collective substance of our private dread.
Whether or not we consider recent manifestations of end-time prophesies, doomsaying, and revelation as fact or farce, they nonetheless represent mighty cultural influences that we disregard only at our possible peril. Kingwell warns: Fear does not have to be yours to hurt you.
DREAMS OF MILLENNIUM is an eloquent and irreverent social history and pop commentary, full of wide-ranging wisdom and lighthearted humor.

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