Strauss-Howe Generational Theory
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Strauss-Howe Generational Theory

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Introduction

The Strauss-Howe Generational Theory describes a recurring cycle of age cohorts called ‘generations’ with specific patterns of behaviour that are regarded as intertwined with the history of the United States of America. The millenarian theory inspired some speakers, authors, and bloggers to regard the 2016 election of President Donald Trump as a sign of a major societal transition.

This theory is not linked to any specific religious movement, but it could be seen as an example of secular millenarianism in the USA. It is a popular theory with political figures on the ‘alt-right’ of America, such as Steve Bannon, the executive chair of Breitbart News. Bannon wrote and directed a film called Generation Zero (2010) based on Strauss-Howe Generational Theory. Bannon is an influential figure in the ‘alt-right’ movement and helped promote Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. After Trump’s inauguration, Steve Bannon became White House Chief Strategist for the Trump Administration until August 2017.

The theory is based on the work of William Strauss (1947–2007) an American author, playwright, theatre director, and lecturer. His collaborator Neil Howe (b. 1951) has had a varied career as a consultant and popular historian. Together, they created and developed the theory over many publications, beginning with Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 (1991).

According to this theory, every 80 years is a crucial ‘fourth turning’ of generations in American history. The ‘fourth turning’ is necessarily marked by a crisis that has destroyed the social order and created a new one, after which a new cycle commences. According to contemporary proponents of this theory, we are currently in the (approximately) twenty-year period of ‘crisis’ which will determine a new social order.

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History/Origins

Despite some preceding work on the topic, Strauss and Howe are credited with having popularised the generational theory in the 1990s. However, theories about cohorts of generations have wide cultural resonance in the twentieth century.

Perhaps the origin of generational theory belongs to Karl Mannheim, in his 1923 essay, ‘The Problem of Generations.’ Mannheim explained that a generation is a social location that has the potential to affect an individual’s consciousness in much the same way as social class or culture does. He argued that generations are especially affected by major historical events. Mannheim, however, did not recognise cycles. Mannheim’s theory of generations focuses on the influence of history and social events, which in turn influence generations, who change in response to their social surrounding. Mannheim’s theory can be summarised by the idea that people resemble their times more than they resemble their parents (McCrindle, 2007)

Sociologist Norman Ryder (1965) also focused on cohorts seen as aggregates of individuals who could be viewed as independent variables in social change. However, he also specified that cohorts should be placed within other population parameters, such as geographical location, education, and race. Again, this is something Strauss and Howe do not discuss in detail. A criticism of their work is that it does not adequately consider differences in race, socio-economic class, or other social markers.

Another influence was Morris Massey, who identified the so-called Baby Boomers as the generation born immediately after WWII. A sociologist, Massey argued that our behaviours are driven by our value system and generational groups are likely to share value systems. Therefore, people within a generation are more likely to share what Massey called ‘value programming,’ and consequently ‘value systems.’ In contrast, different generation cohorts are more likely to be at odds as they have different ‘value programming.’ In short, Massey argued that values can be generalised based on generations.

Strauss and Howe credit Arthur Scheslinger Jr, an academic historian at Harvard and the City University of New York, as pioneering the cycle approach to American history. Scheslinger’s work on generational cycles appeared in essays before appearing in The Cycles of American History (1986). Strauss and Howe also make use of the generational theories developed by José Ortega Y Gasset and Julián Marías, Spanish philosophers who wrote on history as a system and Anthony Esler’s The Human Venture (2004).

Generational theories are more widely discussed in sociology and history. However, these ideas do not have the same kind of millenarian overtones as Strauss and Howe’s theories. In the European context, Pierre Bourdieu, Julius Peterson, and Willhelm Pinder have also been influential.

Perhaps one of the most popular versions of generational theory is Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991). This novel captured the generational differences of the so-called Baby Boomers and their children – ‘Generation X.’ Strauss and Howe describe the generation after the Baby Boomers as the ‘13th Generation,’ this being the thirteenth generation since American Independence in 1776.

In popular culture Generation X is followed by Generation Y, the members of which are more commonly termed ‘Millennials’ – a term coined by Strauss and Howe.

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Beliefs

Many descriptions of the human lifespan often include four stages, that of childhood, young adulthood, midlife, and old age. A social generation is a cohort group that shares an age location in history, meaning that members of the generation encounter similar historical events and social influences while in the same phase of life. Hence such people are likely to share common beliefs and behaviours and share a perceived social identity as being part of that generation.

Strauss and Howe generalise from these ideas to the concept of ‘generation identities.’ The Strauss-Howe theory emphasises generational archetypes that arise from turnings (pivotal generational events) of that particular era. They theorise that the mood and values of society (focused on the USA) changes according to the characteristics of the dominant generation.

Historical cycles, according to Strauss-Howe, consist of four turnings that repeat for each cycle. Each cycle has thematically similar turnings, which they typify as:

  • The High (which follows the crisis that ended the previous cycle). This period is typified by strong institutions and social collectivism, and weak individualism.
  • The Awakening. This period is typified by increasing personal and spiritual autonomy of people. During this period social institutions may be attacked, impeding public progress.
  • The Unravelling. This period is typified by weak institutions that are distrusted. During this period, individualism is strong and flourishing.
  • The Crisis. This is an era of destruction, e.g., through war, where institutional life is destroyed. However, as this period ends, institutions will be rebuilt. Society will rediscover the benefits of being part of a collective, and community purpose will take precedence again.

A single historical cycle of ‘four turnings’ is believed to typically take 80–90 years. Strauss-Howe term this period as a ‘Saeculum.’ This is a Latin word translated into English as ‘century,’ but which originally meant the span of a long human life. Its significance to generations and historical change was explored by Neil Howe and William Strauss in The Fourth Turning.

Strauss and Howe argue that within the cycles four-generational archetypes repeat sequentially. They argue that these archetypes, between cycles, share basic attitudes towards family, risk, culture and values, and civic engagement. In Generations (1991) these archetypes are identified as idealist, reactive, civic, and adaptive. In The Fourth Turning (1997) the terminology has changed to identifying generations as prophet, nomad, hero and artist.

  • Prophet generations are born near the end of a crisis, during a time of community cohesion and strong social order. Prophets are described as indulged children of a post-crisis era. Prophets are believed to grow up as young crusaders who in middle life become focused on morals and principles.
  • Nomad generations are born during an awakening, when crusader prophets are attacking the status quo and its institutions. Consequently, Nomads are described as growing up under-protected and alienated in social chaos. Nomads are believed to grow into pragmatic and resilient adults.
  • Hero generations are born after an awakening, during an unravelling, when social institutions are weak and individuals have to be self-reliant and pragmatic. They are more protected than the children born during the chaos of an awakening. Heroes are believed to grow up as young optimists, into energetic and over-confident and politically powerful adults.
  • Artist generations are born after the unravelling, during a crisis, when external dangers recreate a demand for strong social institutions. Artists are believed to be overprotected by parents who are pre-occupied with the dangers of the crisis. Artists grow up into conformists and process orientated yet thoughtful adults.

Strauss and Howe describe the turnings as the seasons of history. They have analysed that every 80-90 years in the history of the United States a national crisis has occurred, while halfway between crises, a cultural awakening has occurred.

The Strauss-Howe Generational Theory—last three saeculum and the turnings for each

Generation (years)

Type

Birth years

Formative era

Revolutionary Saeculum (90)

Awakening Generation

Prophet (Idealist)

1701–1723 (22)

High: Augustan Age of Empire

Liberty Generation

Nomad (Reactive)

1724–1741 (17)

Awakening: Great Awakening

Republican Generation

Hero (Civic)

1742–1766 (24)

Unravelling: French and Indian War

Compromise Generation

Artist (Adaptive)

1767–1791 (24)

Crisis: American Revolution

Civil War Saeculum (67)

Transcendental Generation

Prophet (Idealist)

1792–1821 (29)

High: Era of Good Feeling

Gilded Generation

Nomad (Reactive)

1822–1842 (20)

Awakening: Transcendental Awakening

Hero (Civic)

Progressive Generation

Artist (Adaptive)

1843–1859 (16)

Crisis: American Civil War

Great Power Saeculum (85)

Missionary Generation

Prophet (Idealist)

1860–1882 (22)

High: Reconstruction/Gilded Age

Lost Generation

Nomad (Reactive)

1883–1900 (17)

Awakening: Missionary Awakening

G.I. Generation

Hero (Civic)

1901–1924 (23)

Unravelling: World War I/Prohibition

Silent Generation

Artist (Adaptive)

1925–1942 (17)

Crisis: Great Depression/World War II

Millennial Saeculum (69+)

Baby Boom Generation

Prophet (Idealist)

1943–1960 (17)

High: Superpower America

Generation X

Nomad (Reactive)

1961–1981 (20)

Awakening: Consciousness Revolution

Millennial Generation

Hero (Civic)

1982–2004 (22)

Unravelling: Culture Wars, Postmodernism

Homeland Generation

Artist (Adaptive)

2005–present

Crisis: Great Recession, War on Terror


This theory of cycles puts generations in tension, battling for different cultural priorities. Strauss and Howe emphasise this alternation between eras of awakenings and crises, both of which radically alter the social environment. Awakenings are marked by individualism, inward-focused renewal with the focus on values. In contrast crises are marked by an external threat provoking social consensus, and an ethic of personal sacrifice in favour of institutional order and dominance.

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Millennial beliefs

Millennialism enters generational theory with the fourth turning. The cycle of turnings eventually lead to crises that destroy the status quo. After this a rebuilding is necessary to create a new beginning. Strauss-Howe theory sees ‘fourth turnings’ as challenging, but necessary stages. Through crisis is created national unity and a spirit of self-sacrifice for the greater good.

Some influenced by this theory believe we are currently in a crisis, perhaps at the beginning stages of a global conflict. This crisis is perceived by the undermining of Judeo-Christian values in American and Europe. The forces of secularism and Islam are perceived as threatening the underpinnings of moral order. For some, a war with Islamic extremists is believed to be inevitable. This is believed to be the crisis through which a new moral order and cultural renewal can emerge. The ‘War on Terror’ is believed to be part of the current ‘Crisis’ or ‘Fourth Turning’.

This ‘clash of civilisations’ worldview (Huntington 1996) is seen most prominently in the religious beliefs of Steve Bannon, formerly White House Chief Strategist. His public statements suggest the current time is a potentially a cataclysmic end to ‘Western civilisation’ because of the evils of Islam, state-regulation of capitalism, and secularism (Steve Bannon, 2014).


A belief that the current Millennial generation is fighting existential threats to ‘Western civilisation’ is central to ‘alt-right ideology’. It is an ideology that is promulgated strongly on Bannon’s website, Breitbart News.

Steve Bannon’s application of Strauss-Howe Generational Theory is particularly millenarian.

Urban (2017) suggests Bannon’s theology is not a coherent system of thought but a hybrid bricolage of different ideas. It is an economic, religious, and historical narrative of a dramatic transition period of the ‘fourth turning,’ marked by inevitable war of ‘the West’ and Islam in a struggle for survival.

Bannon has characterised opponents of the United States—from Bolshevism and the Soviet Union to Islam—as ‘the Beast’ in reference to the book of Revelation. Therefore, Islam is the latest threat in a long line of threats against America. It is the threat for this generation, who are currently facing a great crisis or ‘fourth turning’, and the possible collapse of the ‘Judeo-Christian West.’ In this worldview, a violent, radical transformation is inevitable.

Bannon argues for the reassertion of what he considers ‘traditional values’ over Islamic extremism and secularism. He creates a good versus evil narrative through opposing ‘the West’ against its enemies. Islam is depicted as inherently violent, with claims that the destruction of ‘the West’ is part of Islamic scripture. According to Bannon, immigration is an invasion, and he likens it to the Book of Revelation’s ‘camp of saints’ through references to an anti-immigration French novel of the same name published in 1973 (Blumenthal, 2017). Bannon also presents an idea of an economy based on ‘enlightened capitalism’ that is being weakened by secularism and state regulation. Christians are urged to band together as a new ‘church militant’ to defend themselves and ‘Western civilisation’ from these enemies (Guilford and Sonnad, 2017 and Fedder, 2016).

In Bannon’s production of Generation Zero (2010), the roots of the 2008 banking crisis and subsequent economic downturn are traced to the American social revolution of the 1960s. The 1960s are characterised as a narcissistic revolution of hippies–a generation, the Baby Boomers, who were spoilt by their parents. It is this attitude that, it is claimed, led to the irresponsible behaviour and risk-taking that led to the global financial meltdown. The spoilt Baby Boomers are described as the ruling elites who acted without moral guidance or ethics. These attitudes and events have heralded the current ‘fourth turning’ crisis.

Bannon’s use of Strauss-Howe Generational Theory echoes the narrative of the Last Battle against the Anti-Christ in the book of Revelation. In this narrative, history is guided by divine will and America is God’s agent on earth.

Despite the tone of the documentary being alarmist and apocalyptic, it is not defeatist. Bannon is clearly impressed with the young generation. There is hope that there will be a better world after the crisis. Yet there appears no doubt that the current crisis will continue to develop and bring about the downfall of society as we know it.

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Practices

It appears that there is a healthy market for grand theories of generational difference and archetypical identities. Howe and Strauss founded a consulting firm, LifeCourse Associates, and have made a living out of generalising and profiling based on their historical analysis and generational assessments. LifeCourse Associates has been a consultant for brands such as Nike, Cartoon Network, Viacom and the Ford Motor Company, for several US Universities, and for the US Army.

This is part of a more general trend reflecting the popularity of generational theory and future-planning. There are now many other consultancy and marketing firms who offer speakers, talks, training packages and management consultancy based on generational theories. As one example, Tomorrow Today is a consultancy centre that uses theories of generations and a current period of crisis in their publicity (Tomorrow Today, 2017 and Van Leeuwen, 2017).

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Controversies

Generational theory is contentious. It is based on grand generalisations. Each generation is typified as an archetype, leaving little room for dissent and diversity within generations. It not only analyses the past but seeks to explain the present and predict how the future is most likely to unfold.

The sociologist who developed cohort theory, Norman Ryder (1965) was particularly critical of those who over-generalise from cohorts. He argued that ‘The fact that social change produces inter-cohort differentiation and thus contributes to inter-generational conflict ... cannot justify a theory that social change is produced by that conflict’ (Ryder in Onion, 2015). Ryder argued for very specific perimeters for making cohort-based generalisations, taking into account the specifics of geographical location, education, gender, race, occupations, etc., as a way of more rigorously defining a cohort and its characteristics.

Many have criticised the timing of Strauss-Howe generational boundaries as being too culturally specific, and only considering American history. However, there are some who have applied the theory to other countries and have recognised similar patterns of awakenings and crises (e.g. see Xenakis, 2010 and Codrington, 2008). Critics of Strauss-Howe Theory also argue that there is a lack of rigorous empirical evidence for the claims, and real differences within the American population (such as race or socio-economic inequality) are glossed over. Additionally, critics argue that descriptions of the Millennial and Homeland generations is predictive, hence lacking in data.

The popularity of generational theory with those associated with the government of Donald Trump in the United States has caused concerns. Those who are sceptical of Strauss-Howe Generational Theory and its interpretations have worried that these ideas have had ‘unjustified’ influence on United States governmental policy.

Wider influence of Strauss-Howe-based millennial and generational ideas on the government of the United States can be seen through the association of Citizens United, a Political Action Committee founded in 1988. Citizens United Productions has produced 25 full-length documentaries including Bannon’s Generation Zero – The Inconceivable Truth (2010) but also films explicitly promoting Republican politicians such as Ronald Regan: Rendezvous with Destiny (2009) and ‘Tea Party Movement’ ideals such as Fire From The Heartland: The Awakening of the Conservative Woman (2010). The former president of Citizens United Productions, David Bossie left the organisation to be deputy manager of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, before moving to Fox News.

More generally, Citizens United aims to reassert what they consider to be ‘traditional American values’ of limited government, national sovereignty and strong families. It is widely known for being the plaintiff in Citizens United vs the Federal Election Commission (2010). This is the United States Supreme Court ruling that corporations are individuals with First Amendment rights. The result was a massive influx of corporate financing into American elections.

Strauss-Howe generational narrative can be used to justify military conflicts with Muslim-majority countries, bans on the entry of Muslims to the US, and domestic oppression of Muslim-Americans. While the influence of Bannon’s interpretation of these theories has already been discussed, Donald Trump’s placement of Bannon on the United States’ National Security Council was unusual for introducing a political operative with no military experience into the highest-level security briefings in the United States government. In the context of these beliefs, critics of these theories question the evidence-base upon which decision in these areas of policy might be made.

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References

Esler, Anthony. 1992. The Human Venture. New York: Prentice Hall.

Howe, Neil and Strauss, William. 1991. Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069. New York: William Morrow & Company.

Howe, Neil and Strauss, William. 1993. 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? London: Vintage Books.

Howe, Neil and Strauss, William. 1997. The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny. New York: Broadway Books.

Mannheim, Karl. 1952. “The Problem of Generations” In Kecskemeti, Paul (ed.) Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge: Collected Works, Volume 5. New York: Routledge: 276–322.

Ortega y Gasset, José. 1981. History as a System. : And Other Essays Toward a Philosophy of History. Greenwood Press.

Raspail, Jean. 1973. Le Camp des Saints. Éditions Robert Laffont.

Ryder, Norman. 1965. “The cohort as a concept in the study of social change,” American Sociological Review, 30 (6): 843–861.

Scheslinger, Arthur. 1986. The Cycles of American History. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Online Resources

Blumenthal, Paul and Rieger, J. M. 2017. “This Stunningly Racist French Novel Is How Steve Bannon Explains The World: The Camp of the Saints tells a grotesque tale about a migrant invasion to destroy Western civilization” The Huffington Post. 3 April. Available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/steve-bannon-camp-of-the-saints-immigration_us_58b75206e4b0284854b3dc03.

Branstetter, Gillian. 2017. “The Alt+Right is a Doomsday Cult.” Medium.com [Online]. 10 Feb. Available at: https://medium.com/@GillBranstetter/the-alt-right-is-a-doomsday-cult-b40edd66062a.

Citizens United. 2017. Citizens United Homepage. [Online] Available at: http://www.citizensunited.org/.

Codrington, Graeme. 2008. “Detailed Introduction to Generational Theory” Tomorrow Today. July. Available at http://www.tomorrowtoday.uk.com/articles/article001_intro_gens.htm.

Feder, J. Leister. 2016. “This Is How Steve Bannon Sees The Entire World” Buzz Feed News. 15 November. Available at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/this-is-how-steve-bannon-sees-the-entire-world?utm_term=.lm7o1yJA1#.mgEv20JN2.

Generation Zero. 2010. Directed by Steve Bannon [Film]. Citizens United Productions. Available at http://www.generationzeromovie.com.

Guilford, Gwynn and Sonnad, Nikhel. 2017. “Quartz: What Steve Bannon Really Wants” Breitbart News.com 5 Feb. Available at http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/02/05/quartz-steve-bannon-really-wants/.

Van Leeuwen. 2017. Dean Van Leeuwen Homepage [Online]. https://www.deanvanleeuwen.com/.

Onion, Rebecca. 2015. “Against Generations” Aeon, May [Online]. Available at https://aeon.co/essays/generational-labels-are-lazy-useless-and-just-plain-wrong and https://declara.com/content/D5OlwrKa

Stephen K. Bannon at Project GoPink Conference. 2011. YouTube Video, added by Stacy Drake [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zv-6seol2go.

Steve Bannon: Beginning Stages of a Very Brutal and Bloody Conflict. 2014. YouTube Video, added by greenmanbucket [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27joDucrCeM.

Tomorrow Today. 2017. Tomorrow Today Global Website [Online]. Available at http://www.tomorrowtodayglobal.com/.

Urban, Hugh. 2017. “The Theology of Stephen K. Bannon” ReligionandPolitics.org. 17 April. [Online]. Available at http://religionandpolitics.org/2017/04/17/the-theology-of-stephen-k-bannon/.

Xenakis, John J. 2010. “Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's” [Online]. Available at http://www.generationaldynamics.com/pg/xct.gd.e100222.htm.



© Amanda van Eck Duymaer van Twist 2021

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Note

This profile has been provided by Inform, an independent charity providing information on minority and alternative religious and/or spiritual movements. Inform aims to deliver accurate, balanced, and reliable data. It relies on social scientific research methods, primarily the sociology of religion. Inform welcomes feedback, comments, corrections, or further information at inform@kcl.ac.uk.

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Amanda van Eck Duymaer van Twist and Suzanne Newcombe. "Strauss-Howe Generational Theory." In James Crossley and Alastair Lockhart (eds.) Critical Dictionary of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements. 15 January 2021. Retrieved from www.cdamm.org/articles/strauss-howe. (First published 12 June 2017 censamm.org/resources/profiles/strauss-howe-generational-theory.)

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144,000

144,000 refers to a belief in an elect group, often at end times or in an imminent transformation of the world. The usage typically derives from the book of Revelation. In Revelation 7:1–8, 144,000 refers to the twelve tribes of Israel who have the seal of God on their foreheads. They are also presented as virgins, blameless, ‘redeemed from the earth’, and expected to sing a new song at Mount Zion (Revelation 14:1–5).

Apocalypticism

In popular usage, 'apocalypticism' refers to a belief in the likely or impending destruction of the world (or a general global catastrophe), usually associated with upheaval in the social, political, and religious order of human society—often referred to as an/the 'apocalypse'. Historically, the term has had religious connotations and the great destruction has traditionally been seen as part of a divine scheme, though it is increasingly used in secular contexts. See the Apocalypticism article for a more detailed discussion.

Armageddon

In popular use, ‘Armageddon’ involves ideas of great cataclysmic events or conflict. The term has long been used to refer to a future battle or ongoing war at the end of time or civilization, whether understood generally as a cataclysmic final battle or specifically as a battle at a place called Megiddo (a location in modern Israel), or a more flexible understanding of Megiddo as a coded reference to an alternative location. ‘Armageddon’ derives from the book of Revelation where it appears just once (Revelation 16:16) with reference to the location of a great cosmic battle associated with the end times. See the Armageddon article for a more detailed discussion.

Beast of the Apocalypse

In popular terms, the 'Beast' or the 'Beast of the Apocalypse' refer generally to a violent and destructive creature that emerges at end times. Such understandings of an end-time beast or beasts derive from the book of Revelation (also called the The Apocalypse) and its long and varied history of interpretation. Revelation refers to 'beasts' on different occasions, including beasts in opposition to God: one emerging from the sea or a pit (Revelation 11:7; 13:1; 17:8; cf. Daniel 7), one from the earth (Revelation 13:11), and another scarlet in colour (Revelation 17:3). The beast from the earth is also associated with the number 666 (alternatively: 616) (Revelation 13:18) and Revelation 19:20 claims that the beast will 'thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur' (New Revised Standard Version).

Eschatology

‘Eschatology’ concerns the study of end times and is derived from the Greek term ἔσχατος (eschatos), meaning ‘final, ‘last’, ‘end’, etc. Eschatology is a label that can incorporate a cluster of related beliefs which differ according to tradition (e.g., end of the world, resurrection, regeneration, Day of Judgment, Antichrist).

Kingdom of God

In the Bible, the ‘Kingdom of God’ (sometimes synonymous with the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’) refers to notions of ruling and kingship which are often understood to have a spatial or territorial dimension, whether in heaven or on earth. According to the book of Daniel, such ‘kingdom’ language is used to describe the claim that God rules the universe eternally (Daniel 4:34) but will also intervene in human history to establish a kingdom for his people (Daniel 2:44). According to the Gospels, Jesus predicted the coming Kingdom of God or Heaven and these predictions have been influential in the history of speculations about end times or the benefits of the kingdom being experienced in a present time and place. Across different traditions, such language has also been used to describe communities deemed holy or places deemed sacred, as well as being understood with reference to personal or ‘spiritual’ transformation.

Messianism

Messianism refers to ideas about a redeemer figure or figures who transform the fortunes of a given people or the world as a whole. The term ‘Messiah’ is derived from the Hebrew משיח (mashiach), meaning ‘anointed one’. In the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, it is a term used to denote people such as kings, priests and prophets anointed to carry out their duties on behalf of God. In early Judaism, the term took on a more precise meaning as a future redeemer figure, including a king in the line of David. New Testament texts made such clams about Jesus where a Greek equivalent of the Hebrew, Χριστός (christos), became part of his name: Jesus Christ.

Millenarianism

In popular and academic use, the term ‘millenarianism’ is often synonymous with the related terms ‘millennialism’, ‘chiliasm’ and ‘millenarism’. They refer to an end-times Golden Age of peace, on earth, for a long period, preceding a final cataclysm and judgement—sometimes referred to as the 'millennium'. The terms are used to describe both millenarian belief and the persons or social groups for whom that belief is central. ‘Millennialism’ or ‘chiliasm’ are chronological terms derived from the Latin and Greek words for ‘thousand’. They are commonly used to refer to a thousand-year period envisaged in the book of Revelation (20:4–6) during which Christ and resurrected martyrs reign prior to the final judgment. More recently the terms have been used to refer to secular formulas of salvation, from political visions of social transformation to UFO movements anticipating globally transformative extra-terrestrial intervention. See the Millenarianism article for a more detailed discussion.

Prophecy

‘Prophecy’ can be broadly understood as a cross-cultural phenomenon involving claims of supernatural or inspired knowledge transmitted or interpreted by an authoritative recipient, intermediary, or interpreter labelled a ‘prophet’. The term is also used in a more general and secular way to refer to individuals who simply predict or prognosticate future events, or those leading principled causes or in pursuit of a particular social or political vision without any special association with inspired or supernatural insight. The language of ‘prophet’ and ‘prophecy’ in English derives from the Greek προφητης (prophētēs) found in the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and in the New Testament. See the Prophets and Prophecy article for a more detailed discussion.

Son of Man

‘Son of man’ simply means ‘man’ in biblical Hebrew and Aramaic and is a title for Jesus in the Greek New Testament. While the ancient idiom is gendered, some scholars prefer to bring out the generic implications and reflect inclusive language today in their English translations (e.g., 'son of a human being', 'son of humanity'). The phrase sometimes took on a more titular function before Jesus because of the book of Daniel. In Daniel 7, Daniel is said to have had a vision of four destructive beasts representing four kingdoms and who stand in contrast to a human-like figure—‘one like a son of man’. The ‘Ancient of Days’ then takes away the power of the beasts and Daniel sees ‘one like a son of man’ approaching, ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’ (Daniel 7:13; New International Version). Daniel 7 claims that this ‘son of man’ figure will be given ‘authority, glory and sovereign power’, ‘all peoples’ will worship him, and his kingdom will be everlasting. The precise identification of the ‘one like a son of man’ in Daniel 7:13 is not made explicit and there has been a long history of identification with a variety of candidates in apocalyptic and millenarian movements, sometimes without reference to the book of Daniel.

Zion

‘Zion’ is an alternative name for Jerusalem and the ‘city of David’ (2 Samuel 5:7; 1 Kings 8:1; 1 Chronicles 11:5; 2 Chronicles 5:2), though it is also used with reference to Israel. Zion can also refer to ‘Mount Zion’, a hill located in Jerusalem which was the site of the Jewish Temple (destroyed 70 CE) and is the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque. Zion and Mount Zion are sometimes interpreted as coded references to an alternative geographical location or to something ‘spiritual’ and otherworldly. In some religious traditions, Zion plays a central role in expectations about end times or the benefits associated with end times being fulfilled in the present.