Podcast: End of the World Cults

Podcast

Author: Professor Penelope Corfield. Produced by Simon Brown, last updated: 15th July 2000

The History of End of the World Cults

In this podcast Professor Penelope Corfield looks at the history of 'End of the World Cults'. 

1. Why do people at times become urgently convinced that 'the End of the World is Nigh?'
2. Are there any particular triggers in history that make such beliefs become widespread?
3. And are there particular times in history when End of the World prophecies multiply very notably?
4. What do church leaders say about religious prophesies of the imminent end of the world?
5. What effects do 'End of the World' beliefs have upon people who hold them?
6. Why do prophetic cults sometimes turn violent?
7. What happens when the world doesn't end?
8. How long do groups of people continue to wait for the End of the World to arrive?
9. Have there been any positive contributions from End of the World beliefs in history?
10. What is the long-term future of End of the World beliefs?
11. What attracts people to End of the World cults? 

 

Short Reading list for End-of-the-World Cults:

Two wide-ranging introductions: R. Kyle, Awaiting the Millennium: A History of End-Time Thinking (Leicester, 1998)

E. Weber, Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages (Toronto, 1999)

Other useful general studies:

A. Amanat and M. Bernhardsson (eds.), Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse from the Ancient Middle East to Modern America (London, 2001)

N. Campion, The Great Year: Astrology, Millenarianism and History in the Western Tradition (London, 1994)

S. Gerson, Nostradamus: How an Obscure Renaissance Astrologer became the Modern Prophet of Doom (Basingstoke, 2013)

Case histories within the Russian national tradition:

P.J.S. Duncan, Russian Messianism: Third Rome, Revolution, Communism and After (London, 2000)

And millennial cults in western Europe, from early times to later revivals:

N. Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium [A History of Popular Religious and Social Movements in Europe from the Eleventh to the Sixteenth Century] (London, 1957)

W. Gould and M. Reeves, Joachim of Fiore and the Myth of the Eternal Evangel in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 2001)

M. Reeves, The Prophetic Sense of History in Medieval and Renaissance Europe (Aldershot, 1999)

 

Our Author:

With thanks to our author Professor Penelope Corfield!

Penelope Corfield served as President of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and is currently the elected Vice-President of the International Society of the same name.

She pursued her academic career in London University, firstly at Bedford College and then at Royal Holloway (with which Bedford merged in the mid-1980s). She is now an Emeritus Professor, attached to the History Department of Royal Holloway. She is also a Visiting Professor at Newcastle University, with links to the 'London Electoral History 1700-1850' project, which can be consulted on its own special website.

At various times, she has held Visiting Professorships in Australia, Hungary and Japan, as well as Visiting Fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and at the University of Oxford (Nuffield College; All Souls College). In addition, she has taught courses in British history for the Yale-in-London programme; and, throughout her career, she has given many lectures to history societies, student groups, and academic gatherings around the world.

Penelope is now completing a study of Eighteenth-Century Britain; and then plans to write a history of Meritocracy. 

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