Connected histories? Expectations of the Last Days in Islam, Judaism and Christianity from the 15th to the 17th centuries

Halle an der Saale
PD Dr. Damien Tricoire (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg)
05.07.2018 - 07.07.2018
PD Dr. Damien Tricoire

From the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, numerous apocalyptical and messianic movements came to the fore across Eurasia and North Africa (a region sometimes called Afro-Eurasia): Bohemia, Germany, France, Britain, Lithuania or Muscovite Russia experienced the blossoming of reformation movements which propagated the idea that the Last Days were near, or were even millenarian (the Taborites and the Levellers, e. g.). Generally speaking, the belief that the Last Days were near or had come was central to some streams of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Catholicism (especially in the mendicant orders), Protestantism (especially in the radical Reformation), and Sufism. It was also present in Jewish mysticism and kabbalah. It played a great role in Savonarola’s Florence, in the French wars or religion or at the court of Shah Ismail in Iran, Dom Manuel in Portugal, Muhammad al-Shaik in Morocco, Ivan the Terrible in Muscovite Russia, the moriscos of Spain, or the Mughal emperor Akbar in India.
Almost twenty years ago, Sanjay Subrahmanyam suggested that there may be a connection between these phenomena in Islam and Christendom. This thesis did not go unnoticed, and some historians have begun to explore the history of cross-religious apocalyptics. For example, Maria Green-Mercado has shown that prophecies circulated in the Mediterranean and reached Spanish Moriscos.
The aim of the conference is to check to what extent we can write a connected history of messianism and apocalyptics in the monotheistic religions from the 15th to the 17th centuries. The conference is conceived as a framework for discussing hypotheses and exploring possible connections between Islamic, Jewish and Christian believes about the Last Days.
Such connections can be threefold:
First, there can be transreligious transfers. Within the realm of Christendom, Judaism and Islamdom, transfers of apocalyptic ideas are evident. But people living in bireligious environment or reading texts from another religious context might also have adapted some ideas or images to their religious background.
Second, the perception of messianic and apocalyptical movements can prompt the idea that the Last Days have come. In this case, the apocalyptical ideas of one group of actors are not taken over by others, but the emergence of one apocalyptical movement is interpreted in a millenarian and apocalyptical framework. In this sense, one movement propagating the idea that the Last Days had come prompts the emergence of another. Such a tendency is observable in sixteenth-century Europe: the enemies of Protestant Reformation have often interpreted the emergence of “heresies” as a sign that the Last Days were near. Whether the emergence of heterodox movements in one religion could suggest to the followers of another that the Last Days were coming should be studied more thoroughly.
Third, common causes can provoke similar responses in different religious contexts because phenomena are interpreted with recourse to messianic and apocalyptical patterns equally present (if not identical) in the monotheistic religions. Such an approach is common in scholarship about world history. For example, some historians consider that global cooling accounts partly for the frequency of wars and revolts across seventeenth-century Eurasia. Others, like Bernd Hamm, see the deep roots of religious destabilisation in the growing luxury and social differentiation in medieval urban societies, which caused religious fears because they contrasted with the ideal of simplicity and humbleness. Some scholars have also pointed out that the global diffusion of luxury commodities could prompt fears of moral decay. Economic, demographic and commercial growth might have been thus partly responsible for the emergence of expectations that the Last Days were near.
The workshop will bring together specialists of Islamic, Jewish and Christian history in order to explore possible entanglements in the early modern history of the monotheistic religions. The aim is to work out the outlines the geography of the dynamics of apocalyptical and messianic movements. It will take place in Halle (Germany) on the 5th-8th July 2018. The conference language will be English.


Please send your proposals until August 15th to the following address:


Damien Tricoire

Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Philosophische Fakultät I, Institut für Geschichte
06099 Halle

Connected histories? Expectations of the Last Days in Islam, Judaism and Christianity from the 15th to the 17th centuries, 05.07.2018 – 07.07.2018 Halle an der Saale, in: H-Soz-Kult, 12.07.2017, <>.
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