Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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The term has a diversity of sociological implications and usages encompassing millennarianism, utopian studies, teleology, the secularization of thought since the Enlightenment, and religious movements and sects concerned with the end of time (or the end of the world, sometimes referred to as "end time"). The term also has a significance in relation to New Age religions.

Eschatology refers to the study of the ultimate, of last things, and to prophecies of judgment and the restoration of a kingdom (e.g., of Judah, of Israel, of Christ, of God). The term relates to the inevitability of the future, the Apocalypse, and to the unveiling of a final truth. Its most important biblical reference is in the Book of Revelation.

Since the nineteenth century, the term has come to exemplify the tension between religion and revelation over ideas and understandings of progress. Eschatology has particular importance in relation to treatments of the secularization of modernity (Blumenberg 1985, Falk 1988, Tiryakian 1978). The term has had a revival of interest in the context of liberation theology and Vatican II. The change can be related to contrasting approaches to the issue of hope and redemption between theology and politics (Bloch 1985, Moltmann 1967, 1977).

Concerns with the fin-de-siècle and the chaos of postmodernity also have led to a stress on enchantment and issues of hope (Flanagan 1996). This stress emerges from a sense of unsettlement at the end of the millennium. It also reflects a response to issues of Armageddon. Eschatology has arisen in the case of sects such as the Jehovah's Witnesses (Beckford 1975) but also has emerged in response to the happenings at Waco, where millennial expectations and American federal law collided with tragic consequences (Tabor and Gallagher 1995, Wright 1995).

See also Apocalyptic

Kieran Flanagan


J.A. Beckford, The Trumpet of Prophecy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1975)

M. Bloch, The Principle of Hope (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985)

H. Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985)

P. Falk, "The Past to Come," Economy and Society 17(1988):374-394

K. Flanagan, The Enchantment of Sociology (New York: St. Martin's, 1996)

J. Moltmann, Theologies of Hope (London: SCM, 1967)

J. Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit (London: SCM, 1977)

J.A. Tabor and E. V. Gallagher, Why Waco Cults (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995)

E. A. Tiryakian, "The Time Perspectives of Modernity," Society and Leisure 1(1978):125-156

S.A. Wright (ed.), Armageddon in Waco (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

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