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Apocalypse Now! Christian Expectations on the End of the World, 1500-1800 (and Beyond)


Admission requirements

Open to all who are interested, and who have a basic knowledge of the history of Christianity in the West.


In 2019, the tiny Dutch village Ruinerwold made world-wide headlines. Awaiting the Day of Judgenent, a deeply religious father had held his children for years in seclusion, believing he was the Chosen One. Starting in apostolic times, in Christian societies expectations of the Second Coming of Christ and the Resurection of the Death have always been very prominent. Sometimes as an undercurrent, sometimes taking a very violent shape, as for example the Anabaptist resurection in Münster (1535) or the mass-suicide in Jonesstown (1978). In this course, we will study the spread and impact of various forms of millennialism and chiliasm in Early Modern Europe. After a survey of the biblical basis of milleniaristic ideas in the Bible, we will focus on the impact of the Reformation. We will discuss the importance of religious ideas in an age of great social, cultural and scientific changes. We will study the advance of sectarianism, the importance of the written and spoken word, charismatic leadership, and conversion. But we will also consider concepts on the age of the world, the meaning of monsters and celestial signs, and the rise of modern science. The year 1666 was eagerly anticipated, not only for its ominous number, but also for rumours about a Jewish Messiah, the return of the lost tribes of Israel, an outbreak of the plague, and the Great Fire of London. As we will see, many prominent scientists were fascinated by biblical prophesies and alchemy, Isaac Newton just being the most famous example. Chiliastic ideas not only gave rise to social unrest and violence, but also to the rise of utopian ideas and a great number of religious sects. These were not always led by charismatic men, but sometimes by women as well, as in the case of Antoinette Bourignon. In the last classes, we will look at similar movements in the 19th and 20th centuries.
During each week, we will discuss a specific topic on the basis of secondary literature. Students will read the relevant chapter or paper beforehand; submit a summeray, and prepare questions of topics for discussion. We will read capita selecta of
Approaching the apocalypse : a short history of christian millenarianism / John M. Court.
The pursuit of the millennium : revolutionary millenarians and mystical anarchists of the Middle Ages / Norman Cohn. + additional literature. A readinglist, program, and relevant PDF’s will be available before the course starts.

Course objectives

This course will critically reflect on the history of millenarianism in the Christian West, especially in the Early Modern period (ca 1500-1800). We will explore how the hope for an immanent Day of Judgement and the Second Coming of Christ, gave rise to political uproar and violence, but also to utopian ideas, the establishement of sects, and the rise of science. We will discuss the biblical basis of apocalyptic ideas, the permanent undercurrent in Western society of these ideas, as well as more recent manifestations of it.

Students will be trained in critical reading and thinking; in evaluating cultural and philosophical concepts; in formulating research-questions; and in properly presenting an argument, both in an oral presentation and in a final paper.

Students will be encouraged to reflect on the topics and issues brought forward in the seminar. Active participation in reading, presenting and discussion is a basic requirement.

Students will be trained in communicative skills, and in giving and receiving comments and feedback.

Students will be trained in basic researchs-kills, including heuristic skills.
-independent gathering and selecting scholarly literature, including digital tools and techniques.
-Studying and evaluating this literature.
-Formulating a research-question on the basis of this literature.
-Research a specific person, group or event.
-Delivering a coherent argument, including a conclusion.
-Giving an oral presentation (including PowerPoint) and a final paper.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Seminar (2 hours per week). If covid-regulations aloow it, we also have a hands-on session in the University Library; a visit to Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, and to the Spinoza-huis in Rijnsburg.

Assessment method

-Participation in the weekly seminar (including submitted summary of the literature each week; participation in the discussion, and oral presentation of research-subject in class): 20%
-Final paper (ca 4.000 words, ex. motes and literature): 80%

The final grade is the result of both results. Both have to be sufficient (= 5,5, or higher).

Students are obliged to read each week the prescribed literature in advance, and to submit a summary 1 day before class.

If the final paper is insufficient, the student is given one opportunity to submit a second version

To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following:

the final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average

Reading list

Relevant chapters from:
Approaching the Apocalypse : a short history of christian millenarianism / John M. Court.
The pursuit of the millennium : revolutionary millenarians and mystical anarchists of the Middle Ages / Norman Cohn. + additional literature. The program and readings for each week will be communicated before the start of the course.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte.
Registration Contractonderwijs.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof


The course will only be given if 10 students (or more) sign up