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apocalypticismdiscourse that refers to theological and secular theories of the end of the world. Beyond its origins in biblical scripture, apocalyptic thought is often related to significant dates or moments of great historical change. The years 999 and 1999 both saw an increase in theories surrounding the prophesied end of the world. At times of profound historical change groups like the Diggers, Levellers, and Luddites have all informed and reflected apocalyptic belief systems. Often this form of knowledge can be equated with an anxious fear about the nature of OTHERNESS. As later examples show, contemporary apocalypticism frequently mixes with conspiratorial thought to produce events such as the Waco massacre and the Heaven's Gate suicides. In these instances apocalypticism tends to overlap millenarian thought. In the latter, the idea of the absolute end of the world is replaced by the notion of a relative apocalyptic that will result in the rebirth of a better social order. Thus the tension between UTOPIA/DYSTOPIA is implicit in apocalyptic discourse. Some examples, such as the image of the nuclear apocalypse, tend to stress the idea of absolute dystopic destruction, while others, such as the Calvinist world-view discussed by Max Weber, reflect the concept of the relative apocalypse, i.e., the dystopic death of a rotten social order and rebirth of a new ‘just’ utopian world.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000