Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Millennial New World

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Millennial New World

Article excerpt

The Millennial New World. By Frank Graziano. (New York: Oxford University Press. 1999. Pp. x, 366. $45.00.)

This book is a compendium of detailed descriptions of millennialism in Latin America since the Conquest. For Graziano, the term "millennialism" does not refer to the thousand-year reign of Christ or the Saints, but rather to religious and political movements led by charismatic, utopian reformers. Graziano does not offer conclusions regarding the significance of millennialism; neither does he put forward a thesis. Instead, he offers an "exposition more than an argument." Accordingly, he outlines several characteristics of millennialism, defines his terms, and then presents a variety of case studies illustrating each attribute and representing a range of cultures and time periods.

Graziano remains consistent in regarding as millennialist those religious and secular movements that are spurred by the search for salvation, cultural revival, and earthly paradise. The desired regeneration is characteristically spearheaded by a charismatic outsider who confers the status of chosen people on the degraded population, thereby inverting the existing social hierarchy. The messiah figure, almost always male, claims to unify and heal the fragmented, ailing social body, promising cultural renewal and a restoration of morality and traditional values. This leader offers connectedness to the past and a vision for the future; that is, hope for those who are hopeless in the present, but only, of course, if they submit to his authority.

Graziano views millennialism as a response to imperial impositions, religious and political. His chapter on nativist rebellions deals with, among other things, strategic borrowing by colonized peoples, that is, the selective use of aspects of the dominant culture, such as language, technology, and the addition of God to the indigenous pantheon while continuing clandestine worship of their idols. …

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