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Millennialism in Comparative Perspective (Review Article)

Author(s): Bryan Wilson


Source: Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Oct., 1963), pp. 93-114
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/177889
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MILLENNIALISMIN COMPARATIVEPERSPECTIVE

The contemporarystudy of religiouslyinspired 'revolutionism'- a term I


use temporarilyto cover a range of phenomenanormally describedby a
numberof others - representsa remarkableconvergenceof interestby his-
torians - both modern and mediaeval, ethnologists,anthropologists,theo-
logians and sociologists.The revolutionistmovementswith which they have
been variouslyconcernedhave been labelledin a numberof ways - 'millen-
nialism'andits variant,'millenarianism', derivefromthe specificallyChristian
tradition, but the terms are now applied without the implicationthat the new
dispensationmight be limited to a thousand years, and without suggesting
that Christianagencies are involved. 'Adventism'is generallyconfined to
belief in the second adventof Christ,but, curiously,the moder use of the
term 'messianism'tends generallyto relate only to the non-Christian- with
the implicationthat, for most Christians,the messianic aspect of their re-
ligion is either completelypast, or is thoroughlyindividualand personal.
'Nativism'has generally been restrictedto movements among pre-literate
peoples, even though very similar and completely secular equivalentsare
knownwithinindustrialsocieties;but it is a term whichhas not alwaysbeen
used with the same degree of precision. By terms such as 'acculturation
movements'or 'revitalizationmovements'the attempthas been made to dis-
cuss these movementsin relationto wider social processesand with a greater
degree of conceptualrigour,but these terms have been evolved in relation
to only one part of the field, and their applicationeven there is not perhaps
as general as might have once been supposed.The term 'chiliasm'has per-
haps been used most loosely, althoughmany movementsof this kind may
have been simply classed, in ignoranceor indifferenceconcerningthe cir-
cumstanceswhichgave rise to them, as 'rebellion'.The growthin the number
of studies of these movements,however, and the increasingawarenessof
the social similaritieswhich have hithertooften lain concealedbeneath spe-
cific historical,ideologicalor culturaldifferences,makes urgentthe task of
some clarificationof our usage. The urgencyis underscoredby the use of
differenttermsin discussionsof - in some cases identical,and in all cases of
comparable- movementsin the recent studies edited respectivelyby Pro-
fessor Thruppand ProfessorMiihlmann.'
1
Sylvia L. Thrupp (Ed.), Millennial Dreams in Action: Essays in Comparative Study
94 BRYAN A. WILSON

Religiouslyinspiredrevolutionistmovementsmight be classifiedin terms


of the goals which they seek and the meansby whichthey expect them to be
realized.Initiallywe need some delimitationof the phenomenawith which
we are concerned.The distinctionbetween religiousmovementson the one
hand, and political, culturaland other social movementson the other, ap-
pears broadlyto lie in the fact that religiousgoals are in some sense super-
natural,or that their attainmentinvolves supernaturaloperationin human
affairs.2The goals of religious movements,which I should link closely to
their 'responseto the world',may be distinguishedas this-worldlyor other-
worldly. I accept here ProfessorThrupp'spoint that those who look for a
terrestrialmillenniumcannot be regarded as other-worldly.Other-world-
liness cannot be a distinguishingcriterionof religiousmovements- many
have distinctlythis-worldlyhopes and ends. Traditionaland fully institution-
alized religionwe can expect to manifestother-worldlinessof some type or
another, since this has importantfunctions for the maintenanceof social
control. It directsmen's energiesinto acts conduciveto post-mortemglory,
and it sustains their morale by fostering that hope; it prescribessocially
valuable behaviouras one ground, condition or concomitantcircumstance
of that hope; all other expectationsof changeof social circumstanceit tends
to leave to secularagencies- which, of course,it mightresist.The shift from
intense expectationsof the millenniumin this world towardsa purely spir-
itualized other-worldlyeschatology occurred in the early developmentof
Christianity,and with it went a shift from rigoroussocial and ethical pre-
scriptions to ritualized devotions, from the primitive communismof the
church at Jerusalemto the hierarchicstructureof the Vatican.Ascetic atti-
tudes persist within the church, of course, but are matchedwith an other-
worldly orientation by rules which strictly separate those who practise
systematicasceticismfrom the things of this world.
This-worldlygoals tend to be expressedin new religious movements-
though not necessarilyin all of these. As new movementsthey seek some
fuller achievementof goals, and since institutionalizedreligion tends to
(The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1962). This work contains papers by Sylvia L. Thrupp,
Norman Cohn, George Shepperson,Rene Ribeiro, Eugene P. Boardman, Justus van der
Kroef, Jean Guiart, Mircea Eliade, George E. Simpson, Howard Kaminsky, Donald
Weinstein, Charles W. Jones, David F. Aberle, Marshall G. S. Hodgson, and Willson
Coates. References to their papers in the work under review are not specifically noted
hereafter,nor are those of the contributorsto the volume edited by Professor Miihlmann.
Wilhelm E. Miihlmann, Chiliasmus und Nativismus: Studien zur Psychologie, Soziologie
und historischenKasuistik der Umsturzbewegungen.Mit Beitragenvon Alfons M. Dauer,
Willi J. Knoob, Wolfgang H. Lindig, Ernst Wilhelm Miller, Udo Oberem, Erika Sulz-
mann und Helga Uplegger (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1961).
2 There are
clearly cases of religious movements which might not meet these criteria -
the Unitarians and Universalists for instance, who have long ago surrenderedtheir more
specific, and gradually even their more general, supernaturalgoals. We can allow for
such cases by suggesting that religious movements are movements which have, or have
had, supernaturalgoals, or goals which involved supernaturaloperation.
MILLENNIALISM 95

organizethe attainmentof transcendentalgoals, success in the achievement


of which is not open to empiricalevidence, it follows that, whatevertheir
ideologicalorientation,new movementstend to seek this-worldlygoals. The
function of new movementsis specificallyto provide more satisfactoryac-
commodation- psychic or social - for their adherents,and, in the case of
revolutionistmovements,to promisethis in terms of a completelynew dis-
pensation.The other-worldlyorientationof institutionalizedreligion readily
supports the social status quo, and affects to offer next-worldly prospects for
all classesand conditionsof men. But in circumstancesof rapidsocial change,
traditional religion is faced with the this-worldly orientation of newly-
emergingsocial groupswho seek, for theirworldlystatus,activitiesand ends,
transcendentaljustification.But this, because of its association with the
social status quo, it is difficult for institutionalized religion to provide -
whatevermay have been its pristinepotentialin this respect.Withoutwishing
to enter into the debate which has for long been focused in the framework
of discussionof the Protestantethic, I take it as axiomaticthat changing
social conditionsshould be regardedas the determiningcircumstancein the
success of new religiousinspiration.
Religiousmovementswhich seek to establisha new social dispensationin
this world may be individualistor collectivist.Those which expect this new
dispensation as a consequence of dramatic supernaturalinterventionin
human affairs - the revolutionistmovements- tend to be collectivist.We
might reasonablysuppose that movementswill tend towards individualist
conceptionsof salvation only in advancedsocieties, where the process of
individuationhas gone further. In some measure all the higher religions
illustratea degreeof individualism,but this is often limited- for instancein
the Jewish and Muslim cases by the restrictionto men of full religiousac-
tivities. Any religion in which men, or the heads of households, are the
religious agents for their kinsfolk, retains a familial, clan or tribal, rather
than a completelyindividualized,conceptionof salvation.Nor has the reli-
gion in which the good works of one redoundto the benefit of othersin the
assessmentof worthinessfor the next world, accepted a completely indi-
viduatedconceptionof salvation.One mightextendthis furtherby suggesting
that communitiesin which there is no religioustoleration- or in which it is
severely restricted,still retain somethingof a sense of collective salvation.
The communityfeels itself threatenedby the presenceof, or the practiceof,
an alien religion.It is a case similarto Hobhouse's'publichygiene',but it is
morethanthis:it is a reflectionof the extentto which alienreligiouspractices
do more than merely challengethe prevailingideology, but also challenge
the normalframeworkof the social order, the religiousbasis of social con-
trol, and the sense of collectivedestiny.This dimensionmay be depictedas
a - not necessarilyevolutionary- continuumfrom the extremecollectivism
of a savage society with its conceptionof an ancestorspiritworld operating
96 BRYAN A. WILSON

as a continuationof this one, to the highly individualisticexpressionsof


religious faith in contemporarywestern urban society, - some of which
manifestindividualismto the point of dispensingwith public worship alto-
gether,or accordingit a rathermarginalplace in theirconceptionof religious
practice.Despite the continuumone can suggesta broaddichotomybetween
those movementswhich concentrateon the continuanceof communitylife,
and those which emphasizepersonaland individualsalvation.
Applyingthese categoriesto the cases of primitiveand Christianreligion,
we find in traditionalreligionexamplesof other-worldlycollectivesalvation.
In new religious movementsin advancedindustrialsocieties, we have the
gradualextensionof individualisticsalvationism.The movementtowardsthis
type of individualismis seen in Puritanism,and is 'extended'in application
by evangelicalismin the eighteenthcentury in the developmentof more
'democratic'expression of salvationistideas. Thus Methodism, autocratic
as was Wesley'scontrol of the movementin this world, offered a prospect
of democraticsalvationin the next. Early Calvinism,on the other hand, had
had a democraticcongregationalpolity in this world - possible perhapsbe-
cause of the class basis of its clientele - but a distinctly aristocraticand
elitist conceptionof salvationin the life hereafter.The emphasison holiness
in Methodismprobablyhad a special appealfor classes who had previously
felt less secureabout the extensionto them of the prospectsof salvation:the
doctrine of assurancefulfilled a very real need for them. This then is the
example of other-worldlyindividualsalvation.In the highly individualistic,
gnostic sects - ChristianScience, Unity, Divine Science and the like - we
have this-worldlyorientations(most of them have little concern at all with
any kind of eschatologicalconsiderations)and these may be taken as ex-
amples of very complete religious adjustmentto the secularizedsociety.
They provide a combinationof this-worldlinessand individualisticsalvation.
There remainsthe case of the collectivistthis-worldlyreligiousmovements,
and it is with these that this paperis principallyconcerned.These are move-
ments which rejectthe collectivecontinuanceof their society in the termsin
which it is assumed and sanctifiedby traditionalreligion: they reject the
assumed permanenceof the existing social, political and economic order,
and expect its dramatictransformation.Typicallythey are millenarianmove-
ments. They occur, of course, in advanced as well as in simpler or tra-
ditionalsocieties. In advancedsociety they are less emphaticallycollectivist,
but the sect itself usually has the characterof a community.They are, re-
flecting the culturalcontext in which they exist, more individualistin point
of doctrine, usually allowing that not all members of the movement will
necessarilybe saved:even so, informallythey tend to regardthe sect itself as
a continuingcommunitywhich will share the new order to the exclusionof
all others, or at a much more privilegedlevel; they create new synthetic
kinshipsystems, and also tend, by endogamy,to producereal ones.
MILLENNIALISM 97
The criteria employed in the foregoing accept the characterizationof
millenarianmovementsmade by ProfessorNorman Cohn, and as we have
used them to distinguishmillenarianismfrom other forms of religious ex-
pression, they can be summarizedin the form of a fourfold table. These
categoriesobviously do not exhaust the richness of religiousdiversity,nor
is it suggestedthat these particularvariablesare of primaryimportancefor
all analyticalpurposes.There are other variables,for instance,which must
be employed to distinguishbetween movementswith differentgoal-orienta-
tions withineach of the boxes producedwith these particularitems.

Other-worldly This-worldly
Millenarian
Collectivist Traditionalreligion m ent
movements

Evangelical
Individualist sang
selict Gnosticsects
Christian sects

The use of these categoriesin this way does, however, provides a wider
sociologicalframeworkwithin which to considermillenarianism,and a basis
in termsof whichto classifythe sub-specieswhichexist withineach particular
category. In any comparativestudy of millenarianism,wider culturalcon-
siderationsmust be taken into account - a point which is repeatedlyem-
phasized in Miihlmann'swork. The millenniumis not a constant concept,
and even if the origin of the idea could be traced to only one source, its
variabilityin different social and cultural contexts would merit particular
study. It may be, as both Cohn and Miihlmannsuggest, that all men are
responsiveto the idea of an ultimatetotal salvation,and that the idea of a
blissful age to come or to be re-gainedis widespreadamong men, but it is
an idea always subject to re-interpretation,to new associationwith other
culturalelements and aspirations.
The goals of a millenarianmovementare the awakeningand preparation
of men - who may be a special and limitedgroup,distinguishedby any of a
wide range of social, cultural,ethnic, moral or other criteria- to the fact
that this world is to be transformed,often physically and always socially,
and that this transformationwill be sudden and soon. One excludes, there-
fore, that kind of post-millennialadventismwhich was popularin mid-nine-
teenth century America, and also the kind in which the millenniumis so
remote in time that its expectation becomes a matter of mere academic
doctrinewithout any particularconsequencesfor present social action. By
our definitionof religiousmovementswe have alreadyexcludedmovements
which would restrictthemselvesto strictlypracticaland rationalmeans to
create the new dispensationwhich they deem desirable.The supernatural
98 BRYAN A. WILSON

characterof the goals - in this case to facilitate the reception(if nothing


more) of a new supernaturally ordaineddispensation- distinguishedreligious
from political movements.There is an extra-rationalelement to the means
whichreligiousmovementsbelievewill operateto bringaboutthe millennium
(whetherthey believe that they can themselvesinducethis operationor not).
The distinctionmay be hard to press in certaincases, particularlyin move-
ments in which leaders acquire increasing understandingof the use of
rational means towards the attainmentof at least part of their goals, but
analyticallythe distinctionis clear enough.Miihlmann,in the wide sweep of
phenomenawhich he examines,considersthat the chiliastictraditionpassed
out of religion and into politics in eighteenthcenturyEurope, and that the
idea of progressbecame the secularizedversion of the chiliasticideal, even
to the extent of partially bringing about a reversal of roles by way of
redistributionof income and labour. He sees figures such as Lenin and
Hitler as political messiahs, and suggeststhat after Versaillesthe Germans
were a typical 'externalproletariat'amongwhom 'chosenpeople myths'and
intense in-groupspecial pleading could take root. But even in such a case
the irrationalelements are still in evidence- the relianceon charisma,and
the self-imageof the in-groupwhich is unconfirmedin the vision of out-
siders, for instance.What is evident in this type of political millenarianism
is the extensiverelianceon rationallycalculatedsocial action.
Not all millenarianmovementsare activist.But perhapsit is more useful
to distinguishtypesof actionratherthanto distinguishbetweensimplypassive
and active types. We should expect, of course, that in simple societies the
idea of collectivesalvationmight provide a more compellingspur to collec-
tive action of a dramatictype. 1. There are movementsin which activities
are confinedto little more than callingout a people in preparationfor events
divinely decreed and inevitable. 2. In other movementscertain arbitrarily
defined activitiesare regardedas necessaryto the individual,to ensure his
'prepared'condition - taboos, ordeals, initiations, oath-swearing,etc. 3.
Activities of an intense collectivekind which are not directlyand rationally
relatedto the creationof a new dispensation,but which are thoughtto be of
symbolicsignificance.4. Activitieswhich may imitaterationalsteps towards
the establishmentof a new dispensation,and which bringthe movementinto
conflict with the authorities.
Action of the first type is evident among the millenariansof advanced
society if they have evangelistictendencies:they are particularlyevident
among Jehovah'sWitnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, and in the off-
shoots of these movementsin underdevelopedsocieties - Kitawalain Rho-
desia, for example. Activities of the second type are also evident among
these movements,among Christadelphians in their demandsfor strict moral
behaviour,and amongSeventhDay Adventistsin relationto their particular
form of sabbatarianism: but these are essentiallydemandsof the individual
MILLENNIALISM 99
for his own preparationfor life in the millennialsociety. Baptismobviously
operatesas a kind of initiationrite in many Christianmovements,and oath-
swearingand taboos are widely observedamong millenarianmovementsin
simplersocieties.The activitiesof the thirdtype are exemplifiedin the Ghost
Dance activity of the North AmericanIndians - the attemptto dance the
new dispensationinto being, or rather,to restorethe old one. Activities of
these kinds might not bring movementsinto direct conflict with the secular
authorities,since they are not necessarilyintrinsicallyaggressive,and not
even anti-socialexcept in the extent to which they distractmen from their
ordinarywork activities. Such cult movements might not, of course, be
recognizedas millenarianat all by those who merely observefrom outside.
Finally, the fourth case exemplifies action such as drilling,marching,mi-
grating,and ultimatelyriotingand engagingin open warfare.It would seem
that most of the cases of millennialismabout which we have good informa-
tion have in fact involved action of this kind, and have thus drawn the
attentionof the administration,of missionariesand of investigators.In some
cases such action might be programmatic,designed to coincide with the
prophesiedsequenceof supernaturalevents.
The conceptionof the millenniumentertainedby movementswhich act in
either or both of the first two ways is governedby revelationand prophecy:
they expect somethingwhichit is beyondman'scapacityto realize.Men can
only put themselvesin the rightmoral,mentaland ritualconditionto receive
the new order.Movementswhich are active in either of the latter two ways,
have usuallya muchmore definiteexpectationof the characterof the millen-
nium, and may be classed as restorativeor innovatory.(These terms seem
preferableto 'nativist'and 'anti-nativist'.)That is to say they expect to see
restoreda former allegedconditionof bliss, or to see the creationof a new
and blissful society. Obviously, restorative movements imply a renewed
appreciationof traditionalculture and, usually, traditionalreligion. Both
types imply social circumstancesin which there has been culturalcontact
and disruption.Theoreticallyit shouldbe possible to correlatethese two re-
sponses with particulardegreesof culturalcontact and social development.
The expectation of, and this usually implies also the encouragementof,
culturalinnovation,suggeststhat some men have acquireda sense of cultural
relativity,and also some appreciationof western conceptionsof time. Its
most typical, and perhapsfirst, ideologicalexpressionappearsto be in the
prophecyof reversalof roles of natives and colonists,althoughit may have,
as in the case of Kimbangouism,emphaticpracticalexpressionin the de-
struction of the paraphernaliaof traditionalreligion.3Both nativism and
anti-nativismcan be regardedas forms of culturalrevitalization,but if we
are to establish any hypothesesconcerningextent of cultural contact and
3 Georges Balandier, Sociologie actuelle de
l'Afrique Noire (Paris: Presses Universi-
taires de Paris, 1955).
100 BRYAN A. WILSON

type of millenarianism- at least in this respect- it is importantto distinguish


betweenthe two, where the distinctioncan be made, for it must be allowed
that in some movementsboth tendenciescan be discerned.4The collectivist
this-worldlycharacterof millennialismis evidentin both tendencies- in the
emphasison a prospectivegroup culturedifferentfrom that of the present.
The culture which is to come is, however, emphaticallya way of life for
people who have alreadya sense of communityidentity.Even in the move-
mentswhichhave arisenin Christianhistory,wherethe identityof the group
has less commonlybeen reinforcedby distinctionsof ethnicityand culture,
the emphasison 'God'speople' within, and the 'alien'and 'stranger'without,
has been constantlyreiterated.It is not alwayseasy in such cases to decide
whetherthese movementsare restorativeor innovatory,since their concep-
tions of the millenniumare scriptural,and owe somethingto ideas drawn
from the paradisialpast, as well as prophecies concerningthe millennial
future.
The foregoingpreliminaryexplorationsare perhapspremature.The works
under review are more concernedwith empiricaldescription,the relationof
movementsto their historicaland culturalcontext, and specific causal ana-
lysis in each case. Before turningto the causal interpretationof millenarian-
ism, it might be useful to turn to severalfacets of these movementswhich
are necessarilydiscussed at length in these studies: charismaticleadership;
culturalcontinuitiesbetweenmovementsand their existentialand ideological
context; autochthonousmovementsand the role of culturaldiffusion.
Althoughmillenarianmovementsare frequentlyreferredto as 'messianic'
movements,thereis no necessarycoincidencebetweenthe two, in that whilst
a saviourusually implies some type of millennium,not all millennialistvi-
sions assume the operationof a messiah. The messiah who is looked for
might be a leader to take men forth into a land of greaterabundance,and
such migratorypursuitof the millenniumappearsmore escapist than revo-
lutionist.But if greaterabundanceimplies 'out of bondage'as it often does,
then there is implicithostilitybetweenthe expectedsaviourand the present
bond-masters.Would-be migrantsmay be involved in active revolutionist
activity, of which Ras Tafari, in the account presented here by George
Simpson, would provide an example, (althoughits chosen messiah, Haile
Selassie,would not, presumablywish to see himself as the leader of a revo-
lution against the Jamaicangovernment).The one case which would chal-
lenge such an interpretationappears to be the migratorymovements of
Braziliantribes, but this case, if the contemporaryinterpretationof these
movementsby NimuendajuUnkel is to be accepted,differsfrom all others
in involvingwhole societies:it thus qualifiesas a case of millennialism,but
4
Revitalization is a concept developed by A. F. C. Wallace, "Revitalization Move-
ments: Some Theoretical Considerationsfor their ComparativeStudy",A merican Anthro-
pologist, 58 (1956), pp. 264-281.
MILLENNIALISM 101
not perhaps as a millenarianmovement in the sense normallyemployed.
This type of millennialismis neither a challenge to the existing authority
structurenor a case of messianism.In the normalway we can safely assume
that belief in a messiah implies potential- if latent - conflict between his
votariesand the authoritiesof the society in which they live.
There is, of course, a distinctionto be made between the expectationof
the coming of a saviour- of whatevertype - and the actualleadershipof a
millenarianmovement.The presentday Christianmillenarianmovementac-
cepts the supernaturalleadershipof Christ, who is expected to return to
earth - with the millenniumas a post-adventualdevelopmentfollowing
battle. The authorityof the book itself, and its sufficiencyas a statementof
future developmentsmay make unnecessaryor obnoxiousany too well de-
fined role of prophetor even of leader within such movements.But, what-
ever the ideologicalinterpretationmay be, movementshave some more or
less articulatedleadershiproles. It is likely that this circumstanceis much
more evident in the more distinctlycollectivistmovements,and particularly
in those arising in simple or traditionalsocieties. Such a leader may, of
course, at some stage proclaimhis own messiahship,but the demandson
such messiahs,and sometimeseven on leaderswho claim to be no more than
prophets, to legitimatetheir claims by faith-inspiringacts, may limit their
pretensions.
At the level of supernaturalleadershipthere are clearlya numberof rec-
ognizabletypes: the returningculturalhero, who may be the sleepingwar-
rior, or the god-man;the ancestorspirits,who may be regardedas a collec-
tivized expressionof messianism;and the descendedGod, of whom Christ
would be a prototype,and who mightbe adoptedas the special saviourof a
sub-culturewithout relinquishingthe claim to universality.Ancestor spirits
certainly,and culturalheroes probably,we should expect to find associated
with essentially restorativemovements - whilst the Christ-typemessiah
would, at least in culturesnot traditionallyJewish, Christianor Muslim,be
more typicallyidentifiedwith innovationistmovements.What is not always
clear in the reports of millenarianmovementsis the exact claims of the
leader, and whetherhe claimsmessiahshiphimself,or has it claimedfor him
by others, or simply regardshimself as a prophet.In other cases we know
somethingabout the name and characterof the supernaturalmessiah- such
as John Frum on the island of Tanna - but rather less about the local
leadersof the movement.Whilstmillennialmovementscan often be analysed
as groupresponsesto social circumstances,it seems clear that at some level
there must be agents to promulgateand transmitideas and visions, even if
they do not claim these as their own. Social actionis not simply a matterof
a response - it is also summonedforth. Among believers some must be
more, and some less, strongly motivated and convicted, some must urge
action forward.
102 BRYAN A. WILSON

There are divergentexpectationsof a charismaticleader in differentcul-


tures, both in terms of his behaviourand of his origins. A not uncommon
case is the self-selectionof men who have had, or would have had, the
experienceof legitimate authorityhad their society not been experiencing
intense social change. Miiller instances a konor of Biak, who had been a
village chief before he proclaimedhimself a prophet.In this case the evi-
dence is strengthenedby the fact that, on failing as a prophethe succeeded
as a militaryleader against the Dutch, and finally succeededin being con-
firmedin a positionof chieftainshipby the Dutch authorities.Thus traditional
authoritywas transformedin a circumstanceof social unrestinto charismatic
authority,and ultimatelyresolved into the mixed type of bureaucratically
sanctionedtraditionalauthority,which was a particularfruit of the colonial
policy of 'indirectrule'. Knoob - at a more generallevel - suggeststhat the
leadersof millennialsects seek to improvetheir chancesof legitimatingtheir
authorityby adoptingculturallyestablishedstyles of leadership- thus, in
South Africa, modellingthemselveson traditionalchiefs or simulatingthe
leadershiprole of the missionary.The leadersof the Tuka movementin Fiji
were all priests of the old religion, and Miihlmannsuggeststhat where this
type of leadershipis found one will also find nativistictendencies,whereas
more innovationistmovementswill tend to have leaderswho are more typi-
cally alienated or entfremdetfrom their social context, as was Paliau in
Manus. Miihlmannstresses, too, the need to study the relationshipof the
institutionalizedroles of the shamanin a society, and the roles which the
prophetsassume, to discoverpoints of convergencein shamanisticpractice
and millennialmovementswhich arisein the same society. He considersthat
both shaman and prophets may be regardedas marginalmen. There is
doubtlesssome coincidenceof marginalmen and marginalroles, and it may
well be that in some societies the recruitmentof certainpersonalitytypes to
marginalroles may be thoroughlyinstitutionalized,but I do not think that
we can assumethat marginalroles are necessarilyoccupiedby marginalmen,
nor that they create such men, if by this latter term we mean men who are
personallyalienatedfrom their society in termsof theirfailureto accept- or
their confusion about - social values. Perhaps we should also distinguish
betweenthe marginalityof institutionalizedroles, and that inducedtenuous-
ness of circumstanceswhich occurs as certainactivities,r61esor institutions,
such as the practiceof traditionalreligion, are by-passedin the process of
social change. It is this last named circumstanceof marginalitywhich ap-
pears to be most at issue, since culturaldisplacementmightprovidea strong
incentive for some religious functionariesto seek transformationsof their
role. Where such traditionalroles are already selectively recruited from
particularpersonality-typeswe may indeed have social selectionof a some-
what refined type to bring forward marginalmen as leaders of millennial
movements.
MILLENNIALISM 103
That some leaders are men who compensatefor deprivationof authority
in other spheresseems clear, and perhapsthe style in which they seek com-
pensationis largely dictatedby culturaltraditionsand social circumstances.
In many societies specializationof role is virtuallyrestrictedto religiousor
shamanisticactivity,hence claimsto authoritymust be made in this sphere-
the only one in which any sort of social mobilityis possible.The very nature
of charismaticclaims in themselves make it almost inevitablethat super-
naturaljustificationshouldbe associatedwith religiousmovements(as distinct
from political,reformist,economicor other movements).The specificimpact
of culturallydiffused ideologies reinforcesthese factors. Thus Hung Hsiu-
ch'iian,the leader of the Taipingrebellion,appearsto have compensatedfor
his failure to pass his civil service examinationsafter repeated attempts,
though Boardmandoes not press this point. A similar circumstanceis re-
ported of the leadersof movementsnot discussedin these volumes, such as
Enoch Masinde of the Dina ya Misambwa,Kimbangouand a number of
leaders of separatistEthiopianchurchesin South Africa.5If the process of
social selection which we have outlined above operates, the experienceof
failure and loss of face may be sufficientto drawforwarddistinctlypsycho-
pathologicaltypes as prophetsand messiahs.No doubt, as in the case of the
Taiping movement,they often draw unto themselvesmen of much greater
organizationalability, and when this is so we see the combinationof cir-
cumstances- at least in regardto personnel- which help a movementto
emerge and to be sustained.
Accordingto van der Kroef the Indonesianculturalclimate is unusually
receptiveto the claimsof independent,self-declaredcharismaticleaders,and
in his study, as also by Miihlmannand his contributors,factors associated
with the culturalcontext are given specialattention.Whateverthe proclivities
of the culture one would expect that, in circumstancesof profoundsocial
change, there would be not only an increasein those claimingcharismatic
authority,but also an enhanceddispositionto respondto such claims, and
even to seek out those who might make them. The persistentrecrudescence
of millennialismin some societies suggests a sustained demand for char-
ismatic figures, which may exist before particularleaders arise. The ease
with which leadershipis transferredin some cases - amongthe Anabaptists
at Miinsteras well as among the Manserenon Biak - suggestsan effective
and persistentdemandfor charisma.The demandis undoubtedlystrongest
in circumstancesof culturaldistress.

Miihlmannsuggeststhat any millennialistmovementwill be stronglycharac-


terizedby the prevailingculturaltraditionof the society in which it occurs.
5 L. C. Usher-Wilson, "Dina ya Misambwa", Uganda Journal, 16 (1952),
pp. 125-9;
G. Balandier, op. cit.; Bengt Sundkler,Bantu Prophets in South Africa (London: Lutter-
worth Press, 1948).
104 BRYAN A. WILSON

The special forms which movementsfrequentlydisplayare often dictatedby


theiruse of the culturalstock of theirown society.This is particularlyevident
in the ideological content of millennialistmovements,which draw on the
stock of myth and expressthe accumulatedculturalanxietiesof the society,
and even the existing institutionalarrangementsassociatedwith them and
their reduction.Miihlmannillustratesthese ideologicalcontinuitieswith the
case of the similarity of the withdrawalmotive in the shamanisticsoul-
journeysand culturalwithdrawalfantasies,and the adventof sleepingheroes
among the Lapps and other Hyperboreanpeoples. He suggests that the
persistenceof these items is to be explainedin terms of basic neuro-physio-
logical elementswhich are themselvesa consequenceof the long processes
of inter-ethnicpressures.Thus traditionalfolk tales might provide informa-
tion about the ideologicalelementsof millennialismin any particularculture.
The continuities,however, are not only ideological.In additionto the per-
sistenceof mythicalthemes,patternsof action, institutionalizedresponsesto
circumstancesof tension, anxiety and danger, also persist. These cultural
responsesare often re-structuredin the contextof millennialism;they acquire
new significanceand are associatedwith new situations,but they constitute
distinctculturalcontinuitiesnonetheless.They are broughtout nowheremore
strikinglyin these studiesthan by J. van der Kroef in his study of the mejapi
action of the Toradjasof the CentralCelebes.The mejapiresponsewas one
well institutionalizedin Toradjasociety, as a withdrawalfrom the constituted
authorityof a village headmanby those who disagreedwith him, and it
providedan occasionin which the power and prestigein the society was re-
allocated.Van der Kroef describesthe disruptionof Toradjasociety by the
impactof Dutch administratorsand missionaries,and in particularhe shows
how the sense of associationwith the ancestorswas destroyedby the pro-
hibitionof head-huntingand other practices.The reactionto this disruption,
which focused on the relationshipwith the ancestors,was organizedby a
prophetess,whose activitywas modelledon the traditionalrole of the female
shaman.The cult did not - and this reflectsthe influenceof culturaltradi-
tions - seek a returnof the ancestorsin the patterncommonamongnativistic
movements,but soughtratherthe withdrawalof all true believersto join the
ancestors in the upper-world.Later, when the movement recrudesced,it
sought to induce men to withdrawfrom the area of Dutch authority,in a
rathersimilarway. Both stages of the movementreconstructedin new cir-
cumstancesa typicalpatternof social response- that of withdrawal.
The syncretismwhich typifies most millennialmovementsis thus more
than a mere syncretismof ideological elements, which frequentlyreceive
most attention,but is also the applicationof existing culturalresponsesto
new circumstances.The evolution of a movementcan be understoodonly
in terms of the inheritanceit has from the traditionalculturalcontext, but
the meaningof traditionalelementsobviouslychangesonce they are incor-
MILLENNIALISM 105

poratedinto new movements.Thus the adaptationto new circumstancesim-


plies a re-workingof the past, and, as Miihlmannemphasizes,a re-interpre-
tation of traditionalitems. Such mythsand practicesmay acquiresignificance
in a restorativemovementwhich they never enjoyed in the culture itself;
they become exaggeratedsymbols of the old order - as did clitoridectomy
amongthe Kikuyuin the Mau-Maumovement.
The cultural continuitiesin the new movementsin traditionalsocieties
need emphasisonly because culturaldiffusionreceivesmuch more attention,
particularlyat the ideologicallevel. Myths are transmittedfrom one society
to another,and Miihlmannsuggeststhat the dualismof the northernSiberian
Samojedenmay have its roots in Iranian dualism, and that of European
movementsfrom the eleventh to the fourteenthcenturies may have been
transmittedfromAsia via the Bogomils.Whatis difficulthere is to gain some
impressionof culturalresistanceto transmission:just as there are traditional
ideas which are now rejected,there may be diffusedideas which, although
introducedare not taken up. The issue is made more difficultby the inter-
pretationof new ideas and their amalgamationwith existingstock.
The studieswe have of the spreadof the Ghost Dance, discussedhere by
WolfgangH. Lindig and Alfons M. Dauer, illustratethe process of selection
as well as of culturaldiffusion,but in general our informationtends to be
limitedto the positive instances.Diffusionis obviouslynot confinedto ideo-
logical items any more than is inheritance,although,short of indigenous
millennialmyths, ideologicaldiffusionin clearly a focal problem, and one
to which we shall return,since importedmillennialismoffers a ready-made
patternfor social protest. But patternsof action and organizationare also
transmitted.One sees that in Africa the work of the missions provided a
pattern for social protest, as did the "AmicaleBalali" of Matswa Andre,
which Knoob discusses.Such movementsoffered new organizationfor self-
expressionfor indigenouspeoples, and they quicklytook over, or imitated,
their style. They became importantnew social forms for peoples faced with
the breakdownof kinship structure,and they offered greater viability to
contendwith the influencesand pressuresof westerncivilizationon its own
terms. Thus the missions provided not only ideological expression, but
they also providedthe model for social re-organization.
But if there are continuitiesbetween traditionalculturesand new move-
ments, and also importantprocessesof diffusion,there are equally develop-
ments within movements.Miihlmannsuggests a typical evolutionfrom the
religiousto the politico-economic,along the lines proposedby Worsleyand
others.6From cults there develop movements,Miihlmanntells us, and from
prophetsthere emerge demagogues.Religious elements,visions, rituals and
6 Peter Worsley, The Trumpet Shall Sound (London: McGibbon & Kee, 1957);
T. Bodrogi, "Colonizationand Religious Movements in Melanesia",Acta Ethnographica
Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, II (1951), pp. 259-290.
106 BRYANA. WILSON

prophecies,once the very core of the movements,are thrown over-board.


Miihlmanndraws these conclusionsfrom the examinationof cults on Fiji,
in New Guinea and on Manus. He is, of course, looking at movementsat
advancing stages of cultural developmentand culture contact, and they
display a shift from nativism- perhapsthe first response to culturalcon-
fusion - to a type of ethnically-basedincipientnationalism.In this nation-
alism there persist many elements closely akin to millennialism:'inde-
pendence' becomes a type of millennial goal, a solution for all prob-
lems, as Miihlmanncomments of Melanesia and Kenya, and Shepperson
of Nyasaland. The expectation is unrealistic,but the shift reflects some
increasein a belief in rationalsocial organization.The term 'acculturative'
is easily used in this connection,as with the searchfor new forms of social
organizationrepresentedby sects and 'Ethiopian'churches,commentedon
by Knoob. But it is not easy to regardall movementsas acculturativein the
sense of moving towards a genuinely realistic appraisalof social circum-
stances. Certainlythey all seek adjustment,but, in a way analogousto a
neurosisin the individual,the adjustmentis at a false level - and it is difficult
to see how it can be otherwise.The idea of acculturationis also employed
by Lindig and Dauer, but one must acknowledgethat movements pass
through sequences which reflect the difference of cultural contexts. The
successorsto the Ghost Dance in North America were the spread of the
Peyote religion7 and Shakerism.These were introversionistreactionsof a
minoritypeople in circumstancesin which revolutionistresponses to their
situation had brought only tragedy. The developmentsin Africa, where
indigenouspeoples have remaineda majority,show a more typicalevolution
from religious millennialismto political millennialism,and even political
messianism,along the lines which Miihlmannsuggests.Both mightin a sense
be termed'acculturative',but the developmentof politicaltendenciesclearly
dependson circumstances.In WesternEuropemillenarianismbecamepoliti-
cal among the Anabaptists,the Taboritesand Fifth Monarchymen, but it
does not now becomeso amongJehovah'sWitnesses,SeventhDay Adventists
or Christadelphians.
In accordancewith his interestin the developmentof religiousinto political
millennialism,Miihlmannlooks for the social origins of millenarianismin
those groupsfor which such a developmentmight be regardedas the logic
of a more realistic appreciationof their circumstances(always allowing of
course, since the millenniumis alwaysa delusion,that this is only a relative
advancein rationalityconcerningthe appropriateness of means).He believes
that millennialismis the typical ideology of pariah peoples, thus, following
Weber and Troeltsch,he attributesto such groups a significantr61ein reli-
7 This point seems to be true in the general sense in which it is intended here, but it
is not accepted without some qualification in detail by J. S. Slotkin, The Peyote Religion
(Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press, 1956).
MILLENNIALISM 107

gious innovation.The millennium,and the chosen people myth which often


accompaniesit, has a special attractionfor groups who are constrainedto
undertake,perhaps on groundsof ethnic distinctions,menial and despised
occupations,and whose pariahstatus is thus affirmedin terms of ethnicity,
occupationand the distinctiveculturewhich necessarilyaccompaniessegre-
gation. Such classes - engaged as smiths, metal workersand carpenters,as
well as in more obviouslydespisedoccupations- are widespreadthroughout
the East and Africa. They constitutean 'externalproletariat',landlesspeas-
ants, exploitedhand-workers,underprivilegedaboriginals,groups subjectto
special taxes, and deniednormalsocial rightsand privileges.To such groups
there is a special appeal in the reversalof roles, and the phantasyof their
rightfulclaim to elite status. A theory of relativedeprivation,similarto the
one advancedby Aberle, is implicitin Miihlmann'sdiscussion.He uses this
analysis,however,ratherto supportthe diffusionisttheories.Pariah groups
were frequentlymigrantgroups, and pariahoccupationswere often those of
itinerant workmen. If they were disposed to chiliastic versions (the first
versions) of Christianity,their circumstancesand activities would help to
explain the spread of that religionin the Roman world. The same circum-
stanceswould,of course,explainthe spreadof chiliasticheresiesin mediaeval
Europe.As itinerantssuch craftsmenwere able to escape controland detec-
tion of their opinions by local authorities.The very circumstanceof being
itinerantmay well have fosteredthe idea of seeking a millennium,and one
must remarkon the extentto which manymediaevalmovementswere move-
ments in a very literal sense.
The emphasison pariah groups permitsMiihlmannto adopt an eclectic
approachto his subject. Such groups may be seen in terms of economic
factors, as a consequenceof culturecontact,or in terms of inter-ethnichos-
tility, and, as we have seen, this theory can be attractivelyassociatedwith
theoriesof culturaldiffusion.Obviouslythese factorscan, at times, reinforce
each other. Thus there are classes who resist conquerors,but who also resist
and oppose those in their own society - the upper strata- who necessarily
collaboratewith the conquerors:thus the Maccabeanrevolt was not merely
againstthe Greeks,but also againstthose Jews who were preparedto accept
the hellenizationof Israel. But a case of this kind illustratessome of the
difficultiesof determiningthe developmentof movements.A movementof
this kind is essentially anti-acculturative,but it is also political. Political
millennialistsare more likely to be innovatoryratherthan restorative,but
circumstancessuch as conquestmay alter this alignment.It is not altogether
clear,however,how the tendencytowardsthe developmentof politicalmillen-
nialismis associatedwith tendenciesof an acculturativekind, which some of
the investigatorsassume to be the way in which millennialistmovements
develop. It seems prima facie more likely that these are alternativelines of
development.Nor need we suppose that nativist or restorativetendencies
108 BRYAN A. WILSON

are confinedto very early stages of millennialism,or to relativelyprimitive


societies. There is a distinct restorativeelement, involving the 'cleansing'
idea which Miihlmannassociates with xenophobia,in that type of millen-
nialism involved, for instance, in Anglo-Israelism,which would readily be
associatedwith campaignssuch as 'KeepBritainWhite',or with the activities
of Ku Klux Klan.
One of the most common semi-politicalideals of religiousmillennialism
is undoubtedlyin the widespreadexpectationof a 'reversalof roles' - a
typical chosen people myth, and one which is at once suggestiveof a par-
ticularset of social circumstances.The abolitionof taxes and the redistribu-
tion of land has sometimesbeen part of the millennialprogramme,as among
the Taborites,for instance,but a vaguer expectationof the last being first,
and the first last, is typical of many movements.Miihlmannmakes an im-
portantdistinctionbetweentwo forms of this idea, and shows each in terms
of culturalcontinuities.In the myths of many societies there are examples
of men of divergentstatus assumingeach other's roles. But there is also a
commoninstitutionalizedpracticeof reversal- on the occasion of carnivals,
fairs and the establishmentof a king of fools, days of license and the aban-
donmentof normal statuses and the acceptanceof a playful re-distribution
of social privileges.This practicehas roots which are obviouslybeyond any
simpleeconomicdeterministinterpretationof the reversalof roles. The other
phenomenonis that whichis associatedwith an acceptanceof oppositeposi-
tions ratherthan reversalof roles. In such a case the Devil might be wor-
shippedinsteadof God: the Christianfaith mightbe regardedas that of the
enemy, appropriateenoughfor him - but the oppositeof what is appropriate
for us. This, too, has an institutionalizedexpressionin the witchcraftand
magicalpracticesof Europe. There are cases of this type of acceptanceof
an oppositeposition amongsome of the Hyperboreanpeoples, but the more
typicalcase is that of the expectedreversalof r6les betweenupperand lower
classes,white and indigenouspeoples, aristocratsand pariahs- whateverthe
in-groupand out-groupcomprise.
The question of the autochthonyof millennialistmovementslooms large
in neitherof the volumesunderreview,but is totallyignoredby neither.The
evidencefor autochthonyis by no means easy to assess, and much depends
on the importancewhich is to be attachedto the various elements which
occur in millennialism:the expectationof a messiah;resurrectionismor ad-
ventism;the idea of the reversalof roles; the restorativeor innovatoryex-
pectations of the millennium.These are the ideational factors, but it is
importantto recognizethat these factors figure largelyin our definitionof
the movements with which we are concerned - it is on the basis of a
knowledgeof men'sbeliefs that we can distinguishtheirbehaviourfrom riot,
rebellionor insanity.The culturalhero who is expectedto returnappearsto
be the ideationalitem whichis most likely to be autochthonous.Shepperson,
MILLENNIALISM 109
whilstacknowledgingthe importanceof Christianagenciesin the development
of millennialismin Nyasaland- the informationconcerningwhich he has
himselfso largelydocumentedelsewhere- pays attentionto accountsof both
Islamic and tribal millennialinfluences.The Islamic case we can dismiss as
part of the Judeo-Christianinheritanceof millennialism,but this does not
rule out the possibilityof an indigenoustribal millennialismassociatedwith
the last Malawihero, chief Kinkhamba.Have we reasonto supposethat the
myth of the returningculturalhero or warriorchief might be part of the
morale-sustainingmythologyof warlike peoples? Rene Ribeiro'sreport on
the Brazilian tribes accepts the theory advanced by NimuendajuUnkel,
that the pre-colonialmigrationsof the Tupi-Guaraniwere movementsin
searchof an entirelynative conceptionof a 'LandWithoutEvil'. The same
materials,from the same sources, are discussedby WolfgangLindig, who,
however,is less convincedthat this type of ethnologicalreconstructioncan
establishwith certaintythe characterof Indianideas in the sixteenthcentury
or the causes of particularmigrations.The case of the Korerimovementsof
the Manserenon Biak in the SchoutenIslandsis by no means clearlya case
of an autochtonousmillennialistmovement. This type of movement ap-
pears to have arisen on the island before much Europeanmissionaryin-
fluence occurred:on the other hand, there has been a strong Indonesian
influenceover a long period, and also the persistentactionon these coasts of
pirates.In its earlierstages the movementappearsto have been more typi-
cally an ancestorresurrectionistmyth than a cargo cult, accordingto Miiller,
to which were addedxenophobiaand nativismas circumstanceschanged.
Miihlmannsuggeststhat the expectationof the ancient Mexicans of the
return of Quetzacoatlbefore the arrival of Columbusis evidence that a
parousiais not an exclusivelyJudeo-Christianidea. He believes, too, that
all people have looked for an earthlyparadise,either as a distantland or in
a distanttime, and he suggeststhat in the Brahministmyth of Kalki, as an
incarnationof Vishnu in a period of abundance,there is evidencethat even
Hinduismis not withoutmillennialelements.FollowingMannheim,he thinks
that the idea of a golden age of the past is essentiallyan aristocraticmyth,
and that of a utopia in the future is the myth of the lower classes. This
interpretation,however, limits the propositionto stratified societies. One
might look at the matterin a differentway, and one which does not carry
the implicationthat millennialismis restrictedto class societies, or is a first
manifestationin those societies of 'false consciousness'.One might suggest
that traditionalsocieties which have experiencedrelativelylittle, and only
gradual,social change, are more likely to identifywith the past becausefor
such societies the past has meaning- not in any historicalsense, of course,
but in the sense of the persistenceof customs,associationwith the ancestors,
and the actualsocial dominanceof the older generation.This orientationhas
clear social functionsfor the maintenanceof social order and social control.
110 BRYAN A. WILSON

Dynamic societies, or societies experiencingsocial change and social dis-


organization,however, are more readily drawn to the idea of an eventual
restorationof peace and happiness(althoughits previousexistencemay be a
myth) as a terminationof present woes - hence they tend to project their
dream into the future, even if in the first instance the future is seen as a
return to the past. Graduallytheir point of referencechanges as cultural
disruptionincreases- from the restorationof the golden past - to the ac-
quisitionof the benefitsof those cultureswith which they have now been in
contact. It is at this point that a theory of relativedeprivationseems most
cogent - as the referencegroup of the culturechangesfrom 'our people in
formertimes' to 'the white man' or 'the conquerors'or 'the upper class'. It
follows that the lower classes have more to gain from some future redistri-
butionof abundancethanhave any othergroup,and that they are most likely
to be disposedto such an idea. Not only have they most to gain, but usually
they have least sophisticationto inhibit the pleasure of phantasy. Thus,
whereas past golden ages become models for social behaviour,and even
informthe educationalpracticeof a society,futuremillenniaare more likely
to stimulateunrest and revolution.
To establishthe proclivityof certaintypes of societyor of particularstrata
to particulartypes of millennial myth is not, however, to establish their
universality,nor even the independenceof such myths from the Judeo-
Christiantradition.But favourableas the circumstancesof the Jews were for
the emergenceof a chosenpeople ethos, the belief in a messiahand a prom-
ised land, and frequentas is the evidencefor the diffusionof ideas from this
ultimatesource into millennialismin all parts of the world, it is difficultto
suppose that messianismand millennialismwere a unique product of this
one set of historicalcircumstances,or even that this was necessarilythe first
circumstancein which these ideas found expression.
Millenarianismis a phenomenonwithin which there are obviously sub-
types which might be distinguishedin terms of a variety of criteria.The
distinctionof actionpatterns;innovatoryor restorativetendencies;proneness
to, and type of, messianism,might provide the criteriawe seek. Once we
have such a morphologywe might discover correlationsof particularsub-
types with particularstages of culturalgrowth;differentdegreesof cultural
contact;the recruitmentof particularstrata.The data, however,are elusive.
Not only the paucity of information,but the differenceof emphasis and
perspectiveof investigatorsrenderssystematiccomparisondifficult- for we
have studies, among others, by cultural anthropologists,ethnologists,dif-
fusionists, psychologicalreductionists,intellectualhistoriansand economic
determinists.
A comprehensiveanalysismight be in both functionaland causal terms.
We might begin with a close functionalanalysisof traditionalreligion,with
attentionto the needs it satisfies and the extent to which they persist in
MILLENNIALISM Ill
changedsocial circumstancesin which their fulfillmentis impaired.Impor-
tant featuresof the new movementsmightthen be explainedin termsof their
responsesto social needs otherwiseinadequatelyfulfilled. Not merely the
fact of the continuanceof culturalforms and institutionalizedr6les within
the new movements,but their functionalimportance,would then be exam-
ined. Obviouslysuch an analysis would have to be undertakenat various
stages of a movement'sdevelopment,since new responsesto unfulfilledneeds
are themselvessometimescreativeof new needs. Such a series of functional
analyseswould provide only a partial explanationof social change - it is
essentiallylimited to endogenousprocesses,as the need for a series of such
analysesitself implies, and becausethe inherentbias is towardsthe discovery
of equilibratingtendencies.Millenarianismcould not be explainedwholly in
these terms.The forces of disruptionand theirpersistence- and these would
include culturallydiffuseditems - must be recognized,and the pathological
characterof movements- which makes equilibriumever less likely - must
be taken into account.
Most studies have in fact attemptedcausal, historicalexplanation,often
taking the occurrenceof social strain as a departurepoint. Strainoccurs in
variousways, and it can be shownto operate- simultaneouslyor sequentially
- at manypoints of the social system.Miihlmann'sanalysisof the Mau-Mau
movement emphasizes the strain experienced in Kikuyu society: new con-
ceptions of property; interference with religious practices; conflict concerning
polygyny;the disruptioncaused by migratorylabour;the introductionof a
money economy and the individuationof motivation;the challengeof the
missions - all have some causal significancein addition to the colonists'
'purchase'of previouslyinalienableland, and the creationof a new squatter
class. Crucialdisruptionof values,life practices,comprehensionof the world,
and economic reality, are all evident. To these the purely incidentalfactors
of droughtand famine also occurredin the historicalsequencewhich led to
Mau-Mauism.
Social strain, and adaptationis implicitnot only in cases of conquestbut
even in circumstancesof only slight culture contact. New values, new au-
thority,new goods, must be accommodatedin the comprehensionand world-
view of the people concerned.But we must also considerthe case of millen-
nialismin literatesocietieswhere culturecontact is not a factor of the same
kind. The challengeto traditionalvalues which Cohn terms the "supposed
defection of the authoritytraditionallyresponsiblefor regulatingrelations
betweensociety and the powers governingthe cosmos"covers both types of
case. Put more generally,wheneverconstitutedauthorityfails in its claim to
legitimation,disruptionmust ensue, and althoughthis may not in itself be a
primaryitem, it appearsto be a significantpoint in the developmentof some
new claim to authority,of which millennialismwould be one type. The
phenomenonmay be recurrent- successivefailureof the claimsto legitimate
112 BRYANA. WILSON

authority,which is a patternthe movementsthemselvessometimesrecapitu-


late. This would appearto have occurredwith the missionsin manyplaces -
sometimes as natives have grown disenchanted,or have learned other
'truths',and often by the rivalryof the differentmissionsthemselves.Rivalry
occurredin Tanna when the SeventhDay Adventistsand Roman Catholics
arrivedto challengethe authority- religiousand secular- of the Presbyter-
ians, and this was one importantcircumstancein the backgroundof the
John Frum movement.8Successivefailure of authority,both traditionaland
'imported',may be highlyconduciveto the searchfor a transcendentauthority
- an unfailingand suprememessiah.
Certaingeneraltheories are examinedbriefly by ProfessorThrupp,prin-
cipal amongwhich is the relativedeprivationthesis which is propoundedby
ProfessorAberle, and which has recently been given a wider explanatory
role in the study of sect emergenceby C. Y. Glock.9For Aberle relative
deprivationis definedas "a negativediscrepancybetweenlegitimateexpecta-
tion and actuality".10 He does not consider that deprivationis necessarily
economic in origin, althoughit is so in the case of the Navaho which he
considers.In this case it leads subsequentlyto deprivation(in the present
when comparedto the past) of status and the deteriorationof moral be-
haviour, and, relativeto the white man, deprivationin the sense of worth.
But one must recall that all religious movements,not only millennialism,
tend to workin termsof a discrepancybetweenthe presentand the prospects
of the future: there is always a present relative deprivation,at least in all
the major religions.Aberle allows for deprivationfelt among categoriesof
people who are dispersedamonga widerpopulation(such as Negroes in the
United States), as well as among collectivitieswhich maintainsome sort of
group or communitylife. The emphasison relativedeprivationwould em-
brace the type of case passingly adumbratedby Professor Shepperson,of
millennial tendencies among gentlefolk in reduced circumstances.A case
which springsto mind is the millennialismof the British-Israelites.But is
their sense of deprivationpersonalor national?Their assertionof the ascen-
dant role which Britain is to play in the millenniummight reflect a strong
sense of relative deprivationof national status - but the movement was
thrivingin the last century,when Britonscould surelynot have felt any such
nationaldeprivation- relativeeither to others or to their own past. If they

8 Jean Guiart, "Culture Contact and the John Frum Movement on Tanna, New
Hebrides",SouthwesternJournal of Anthropology, 12 (1956), pp. 105-116.
9 C. Y. Glock, "On the Origins and Survival of Religious Groups" in Robert Lee (Ed.)
The Church and Social Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
10 It is not immediately apparent why expectation need be legitimate: frustration
can arise as easily from a discrepancy between persistent unrealistic expectations and
actuality - indeed the millennial movement is a capitalization of this circumstance, a
substitutionof more unreal expectation for whatever failed expectations were previously
entertained.
MILLENNIALISM 113

were, and are, gentlefolkin reducedcircumstances,what is the basis of the


strengthof their self-identificationwith the whole nation?But this may not
be their condition:may they even be upwardlymobile people who resent
national decline as a circumstancewhich reduces the fullest enjoymentof
their own newly acquiredstatus?All this remainsto be discoveredby em-
pirical investigation:whateverthe resultsof such enquirythe relativedepri-
vation thesis appearsto apply, which indicatesits weakness as well as its
strength."1The value of the thesis will be evident only when we have some
idea of the rangeof responseto each type of deprivationamongthe various
categoriesor communitieswhich experiencethem: the dangerof the theory,
as Aberle himself notes, is that deprivationmight be discoveredex poste
facto to explainparticularcases of millenarianism.
Professor Miihlmanndoes not attempt any systematic explanation,al-
though the discursivediscussion which he pursues is rich and suggestive.
What is most neededis a clear distinctionbetweenmillennialismin different
social contexts.Pariahpeoples are disposedto it, but they have no monopoly:
the phantasyof a land of glory and abundancehas special appeal to them,
but others have indulged the dream, too. Movements as divergentas the
Catholic Apostolics, the Christadelphians,the Pentecostalists,the British-
Israelites,the Jezreelitesand the Girlingites,among others and to take ex-
amplesfrom Britainalone, were, or are, all expectingthe Millennium- and
so were many orthodoxProtestantsin the late eighteenthcentury.But not
all of these groupswere under-privileged or even relativelydeprived:it is not
even easy to suggestto what distinctivetypes of social strainthey were ex-
posed. What is clear is that the idea of the millenniumhas widely divergent
culturalmeaningin differentperiods, for differentclasses and in different
movements.It promptsdifferentactivities,and the social responsesof those
who hold it range from complete withdrawal,and even escape, to intense
social involvement.The mere doctrine of the millennium,whateverplace it
occupies in a movement'sthought,mattersless, except for the historianof
ideas, than the social actionwhich millennialmovementsdisplay.Both these
volumes accept doctrinalmillennialismas their departurepoint, and thus
admitthe millenniumat many differentlevels of social significance:what we
lack is a clear typologyof what comprisesthe social phenomenawe wish to
explain.
Such a typology might begin with the categories tentatively proposed

1 It is also true that we find very different responses in the cases of downwardly and
upwardly mobile people. Deprivation and downward mobility we may expect to give
rise to a search for compensation: the new experience of abundance may sometimes
require confirmation and reassurance- which is the function of gnostic sects. Oddly, at
times there appears to be a coalescence of these functions of compensation and confir-
mation, as in the case of the British-Israelitetendencies which occurred among Christian
Scientists in the 1920s and 30s. Until we know more about the self-identification and
self-selection of groups our hypotheses must remain speculations.
114 BRYAN A. WILSON

above, or along the lines followed by Kobben.12The sequenceof causal cir-


cumstancesmight be examined accordingto the procedure suggested by
Smelser.13We might begin with a functionalanalysisof culture and social
structurebefore disruptionoccurs; cultural continuities and determinants
could then be more easily identifiedin the movementswhich followed. A
series of functionalanalyseswould preventus from arguingbackwardsfrom
the characteristicsof movementsto the deficiencieswhich we might then
impute to the originalsituationwhen in fact these deficiencieshad occurred
only at some subsequentstage in the process of disruptionand adaptation.
We mightthen also isolatethe influenceon movementsof diffusedideological
or materialitems which influencethem afterthey have begun- as Kaminsky
has attemptedfor the Taboritemovement.By this procedurewe shouldhave
some control of the significanceof changingorganizationalneeds of move-
ments, the changingassumptionsof the clientele (includingtheir own trans-
formed self-conception)as they respond to internal and external circum-
stances.Ourconcentrationon simplersocietieshas providedus with examples
of many movementswhich do not last, and which have few developedin-
stitutionalizedaspects,or whichmay indeedlast but which are observedonly
as 'recurrent'.The abundanceof such cases must not leave us unawareof
the mutationof responseswhich is often evident among movementswhich
are studied as continuingphenomena. From long-term and wide-ranging
factors of causationexaminedin sequencewe might then move to those of
ever more specificallylocal, and more specificallyrecent,operation.A stand-
ard procedureof this kind would not prevent our employmentof refined
hypotheses of relative deprivation, or even of frustration-aggression, as
suggestedby George Simpsonin his examinationof the Ras Tafari move-
ment in Jamaica, and it should provide a basis for more systematiccom-
parativestudy.
BRYAN WILSON
Oxford

12 A. J. F. Kobben, "PropheticMovements as an Expression of Social Protest", Inter-


national Archives of Ethnography, XLIX (1960), pp. 117-164.
13
Neil J. Smelser, Theory of Collective Behaviour (London: Routledge, 1962).