Modernity dismisses millenarianism as atavistic. Yet millenarianism is remarkable for its propensity for survival and resurgence in culturally dissimilar parts of the world, at different stages of socioeconomic development. This comparative study focuses on the Karen along the Thailand-Burma border (particularly the Khuba, Telakhon, and Luebaw) and the French West Indians of Martinique (with respect to Rastafarianism, Quimboiserie/Vodon, Seventh Day Adventism, and Evangelicalism). In both cases, some citizens have succumbed to the assimilating pressures of modernization and state development projects while others have stuck to older religious cults to preserve group distinctiveness. Both in Southeast Asia and the Lesser Antilles, Hegelian notions of forward-moving change and progress are encapsulated within cyclical understandings of amelioration and decay. Cross-cutting social and political issues requiring resolution in both cases include the tensions resulting in, and arising from, syncretism and assimilation, contested narratives regarding sacred places and ancestral origins, and the implications for citizenship among peoples who define themselves in epochal and transnational terms. Despite important differences arising from preindustrial vis-à-vis modernistic status of the two cases, the Karen-Martinican comparison highlights how group identification through religion transcends developmental change. The comparison also highlights the transcultural and transhistorical nature of millenarianism. Modernity provides one (nonexclusive) framework for understanding millenarianism in our times.
Millenarian Movements as Cultural Resistance: The Karen and Martinican Cases
William F. S. Miles; Millenarian Movements as Cultural Resistance: The Karen and Martinican Cases. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 December 2010; 30 (3): 644–659. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-2010-041
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