revitalization movement

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messianic movement The term is derived from the religious concept of the ‘Messiah’, from the Hebrew word for ‘anointed one’, who is sent to humanity to bring about a new age or the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ was regarded by the early Christian church as the Messiah. In the sociology of religion, the term is used more generally to refer to any social movement which is based on the expectation and anticipation of a coming Messiah, who will release people from their current misery. Messianic movements, especially in Third World societies, are typically associated therefore with deprivation; messianic beliefs offer hope for a better world. Messianic movements are often based on a synthesis of Christian and aboriginal belief systems, in which Christian themes of salvation are blended with indigenous world-views.

There is much debate in sociology about whether messianic beliefs are irrational. Some anthropologists claim that messianic movements are rational responses to a world which appears, from the point of view of native peoples, to be out of control and irrational. From a Marxist perspective, messianic movements are an effect of the alienation of aboriginal peoples, whose social reality has been destroyed by white colonialism and oppression. See also MILLENARIANISM; NEW RELIGIONS.

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revitalization movement, political-religious movements promising deliverance from deprivation, the elimination of foreign domination, and a new interpretation of the human condition based on traditional cultural values, common in societies undergoing severe stress associated with colonial conquest and intense class or racial exploitation. A prominent example is the Ghost Dance of Native Americans, who believed that their ritual would cause ancestors and bison herds to return and white people to leave. Although a nonviolent form of protest, it ended with the massacre of over 200 Sioux men, women, and children by the U.S. army at Wounded Knee, S.Dak., in 1890. Cargo cults are another form of revitalization movement found in New Guinea and other parts of Melanesia, especially after the intense movements of armies through the area during World War II. Followers believe that local governments prevent their ancestors from delivering an abundance of European or American goods. Their rituals reflect their sense of economic marginalization, belief that the world capitalist economy behaves irrationally, and alienation from state-level politics. These movements are also referred to as nativistic, revivalistic, millenarian, or messianic.

See J. Mooney, The Ghost Dance Religion (1965); P. Worsley, The Trumpet Shall Sound (1968); A. H. Shovers, Visions of Peace (1985).

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revitalization movement See MESSIANIC MOVEMENT; NEW RELIGIONS.