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Sociology of End Times

The idea of history having an ‘end’ can be understood in two distinct ways. It can refer to either a destination or a simple termination: Do we make ever greater progress or do we inevitably fall into decline? More brutally: Are we saved or do we become extinct? Humanity, especially in the Western tradition, has been arguably defined in the struggle between these two options.

The topic acquires added urgency now amidst various cultural discussions about the ‘Anthropocene’, the term normally used to describe the period in geological time – starting roughly with the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century – when human beings became the primary source of change to the planet.

Again, the verdict is divided over this designation: Does it mean that we’ve taken control of our destiny or that we’re doomed to extinction?

In the past, the end times have been discussed in terms of varying degrees of finality. For example, it may be that the West’s hegemony simply comes to an end, but the East comes to provide world-historic direction. Or it may be that our species comes to an end but another one –perhaps superior – replaces it.

This module considers all these options, examining why talk of ‘end times’ is taken seriously, when and where it has been. Also, we shall consider what is at stake in conducting culture-wide discussions of ‘end times’. Finally, can any claims about ‘end times’ ever be validated – or even tested?