The workshop will explore the usefulness of the concept of millenarism for the study of postsocialist change across Eastern Europe.
The workshop will explore the usefulness of the concept of millenarism for explaining the valorization of consumerism and individualism in East European societies. A key dynamic of colonial millenarian movements is that they entail a wholesale rejection of the old and a radical embracing of the cultural symbols and practices of the new as symbolized and embodied in the practices and behaviors of the colonizers with "the expectation of and preparation for ... a period of supernatural bliss" (Worsley 1957:12). While there are obvious, sharp differences between the events that occurred in Melanesia during periods of millenarian movements and those that have occurred since the 1990s in Eastern Europe, there are also some intriguing correspondences. For instance, in both situations, there was a sudden radical, if not revolutionary, change in the social, economic, political, and cultural systems coupled with an expectation that a turn to the West would lead to a new world - one of surplus goods, wealth, and a new life. The defining features of postsocialist millenarism involve a conscious, intentional project to transform oneself into a "modern European" by means of (1) the acquisition of wealth; (2) the consumption of western-style goods and lifestyle; and (3) developing a seamless hybrid western-eastern mental disposition. While most East Europeans have such millenarian dreams, only some are able to realize them.
The workshop's objective is to use the millenarian concept to gain fresh insight and help explain some of the cultural events and processes that have occurred in Eastern Europe since the demise of socialism.