The annual conference of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University in early November was relatively low key at a time when one might think speculation about millennial fervor would be at its peak.
The speakers, mostly prominent academics of millennialist groups and phenomenon both past and present, confirmed the impression that there has been a “major downshifting” of end-times expectations compared to a year or even a few months ago. Ministries with a strong end-times message have not found a high demand for their tapes and other material; Jerry Falwell’s tapes on the subject are no longer for sale.
Stephen O’Leary of the University of Southern California said that there has been a good deal of “back-peddling” among those making predictions concerning Y2K and the millennium, as the prospects of a catastrophe have been downplayed by the media. “What we’re seeing is a counter-reaction before the millennium happens. It’s not only Y2K, but other forms of millennialism also,” O’Leary says. Some end-times ministries, such as Midnight Cry, even say that the alarm over Y2K was a “counterfeit” designed to “catch the unwary.”
Meanwhile, conspiracy theories involving the New World Order are in no short supply and have increasingly gone mainstream, according to Michael Barkun of Syracuse University. Barkun says that while these conspiracies have moved into the mainstream through the popular media, such as the “X Files,” they touch on age-old themes.
Conspiracies of world domination and deception using the standard anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic and anti-Masonic themes are finding new adherents among Christian, the Nation of Islam, militias, New Age and particularly UFO groups. These groups can hold to these conspiracies and also claim that they are not actually anti-Semitic or anti-Catholic since they target the “elites” (such as the pope or the Rothchilds) rather than the rank-and file Jews or Catholics, Barkun adds.
So are there any religious groups expecting the end to come at the dawn of the new millennium? Spiritual Human Yoga (SHY), a little-known group that emerged from the Vietnamese community in the U.S. in the 1980s, is one of the few large movements to assign major millennial significance to the year 2000. Founded by Luong Minh Dang in St. Louis, the group has drawn American and European followers to its mix of Eastern Yoga, esoteric and apocalyptic teachings.
A paper presented on SHY by Jean Francois Mayer of Fribourg University notes that over 50,000 people in 60 countries have taken the group’s courses, which are presented to initiates on six levels. In gaining access to the group’s high level teachings, Mayer found that Dang’s teachings progress from personal healing (by the use of spiritual energy through Yoga) to encompass collective healing and millennial and apocalyptic predictions. Dang sees the year 2000 as ushering in a new era of spiritual enlightenment and powers for his followers, although there will also be cataclysmic earth changes and diseases around the world.
Mayer concludes that by making such imminent predictions, Dang runs the risk of “disconfirmation” of his millennial teachings, as well as charges of stirring apocalyptic passions and violence by authorities (which Mayer discounts). But the fact that Dang has already issued failed prophesies and did not suffer a large loss of followers suggests that SHY will continue to prosper after 2000. Speaking of 2000, RW wondered what will happen to the field of millennial studies, such as the Center for Millennial Studies, after the new year.
Historian Richard Landes, director of CMS, says that millennium studies is still a “marginal field considered to be irrelevant” in academia and public policy. But Landes says that it is often after the millennium arrives, and disappointment about failed prophesies sets in among end-times groups, that the potential for violence and other forms of unrest ae at their greatest. (CMS plans to have the papers presented at the conference on their web site, which is: www.mille.org.)