International conference in Brussels, 30 Nov.-1 Dec., 2000 – Organized by the Belgian Association of Africanists and the Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences
Location: International Association Center, rue Washingtonstraat 40, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium
MILLENARIAN MOVEMENTS IN AFRICA AND THE DIASPORA
Theme and scientific purposes
The theme of this interdisciplinary conference is African millenarianism on both sides of the Atlantic. Derived from the biblical notion of the “thousand-year reign” or “millennium”, the term “millenarianism” is used in social science to denote movements which aim at the realization of a better world. Expectations for this world are usually based on a combination of concrete and mythical elements, and often have political consequences.
Millenarian movements exist all over the world and take the most diverse forms. The Melanesian cargo-cult was the first of these movements to draw the attention of researchers to the religious dimensions of social distress. Indeed, the origin of such movements is often found in societies undergoing a crisis situation. In Africa, the first wave of millenarianism was linked especially to the crisis of colonialism; most of these early movements came into being just before and after independence, throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
The twofold aim of this conference is, on the one hand, to examine what transformations the phenomenon of millenarianism has undergone in the course of the past decades – and what analytical consequences this has for a better understanding of it. On the other hand, the organizers have striven for a highly comparative treatment of the subject. Millenarianism in Africa will be compared with African millenarianism of the Caribbean and in the United States, and both will be placed in an historical perspective. It is expected that this approach will bring forth new findings, at a time when independent African churches with millennial inspiration are on the increase everywhere and, as a social force, can no longer be ignored in any political analysis.
Situating the topic
In the first millennial movements in Africa and the diaspora, social protest and the yearning for a better, liberated world played an important role. Today, however, in the year 2000, it seems as if a number of these movements have become more and more self-centered. Paradoxically, this would be connected with an increasing and ever more general “globalization” in the world – in the fields of economic affairs, arms traffic, religious ideas, democratization efforts, deadly diseases, modern art, …
The study of this issue in today’s social sciences has become primordial; yet this conference proposes, instead of a macro-focus on globalization, a multidisciplinary approach of concrete case studies: the “witchcraft” of capitalism is compared to that of free elections; the role of the bible and of the Green Book in paramilitary millenarianisms is examined; the apocalyptic visions surrounding Aids are related to the visions of the end of times in popular painting. At the theoretical level, the conference will contribute to the development of post-Weberian and post-functionalist analyses of this complex, multifarious and ever changing phenomenon that touches a vast number of people and communities.
(1) Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers
Association Belge des Africanistes, c/o Afrika Museum, Leuvensesteenweg 13, B-3080 Tervuren
(2) Académie Royale des Sciences d’Outre-Mer/Koninklijke Academie voor Overzeese Wetenschappen, rue Defacqzstraat 1/3, B-1000 Brussel, Tel: 02-538.02.11 en 538.47.72
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