While few intellectuals today accept the notion that the world is literally about to end through a prophesied supernatural act, between 1500 and 1800 many of Europe's and America's most creative minds did believe it. Perhaps most surprisingly, apocalyptic expectations played a central role during this period in creating secular culture—arguably the signal achievement of the post-medieval West. The topic is much with us still, as many on the religious right look to the end of days, a goal that seems closer than ever.
Apocalyptic ideas and expectations shaped the world in profound and enduring ways. In the Early Modern era, a deeply religious set of ideas proved instrumental in enabling people to see their world through prisms other than that of religion. The apocalypse underwrote the Reformation in the 16th century, the English Revolution in the 17th century, and the American Revolution in the 18th century. This book explores such themes through an examination of a range of major figures and events from the period. Why was the apocalypse—so alien to us today—so pivotal to the creation of our culture and to what we are? Only by seeing its central and often creative role historically within western civilizations can we meaningfully assess its significance to the current world. Only by grasping apocalypse then, can we truly understand apocalypse now.
- Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Encountering the Beast
Chapter 2 Apocalypse Revived: The Reformation
Chapter 3 The Last World Empire and Its Competitors
Chapter 4 Prophecy and Nature: Science, Sex, and Salvation
Chapter 5 The British Revolutions: The Rise of Modern Politics
Chapter 6 Prophecy and Science II: Physics, Geology, and the Eschaton
Chapter 7 Apocalyptic Conscience in Crisis: Quakers, Jews, and Other Subversives
Chapter 8 Prophecy, Enlightenment, and the Democratic Revolutions
Chapter 9 Novus Ordo Saeculorum: The Rise of the Redeemer Republic
Chapter 10 Antichrist in the Post-Apocalyptic Age
"The apocalypse, Sacramento State history professor Williamson informs us, is not just a 'creed for cranks.' In his inimitable style, he weaves the phenomenon of end-times theology into the tapestry of modern history to demonstrate there's more to the apocalypse than fire and brimstone. The way our ancestors thought about 'apocalypse then' has profoundly affected out lives today, often in ways we'd never suspect."
"Seeking 'to understand the foundations of modernity,' Williamson (California State Univ., Sacramento) focuses on profound shifts in attitude toward time and nature effected by Protestant apocalypticism. . . . Recommended. Undergraduate and general collections."
"This work is a tour de force, a clear testimony to the author's amazing range of interests and the depth of his research. It is a welcome, unique contribution to the puzzle of the relationship between apocalypse and history, modes of persuasion and modes of conduct. The book clearly succeeds in demonstrating the central role of ideological, apocalyptic considerations in the history of early modernity. Scholars and students alike will greatly benefit from the discussion and analysis of Williamson's most valuable work.'