Looking to the Millennium: Mellon Foundation Funds Second Sawyer Seminar

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded $100,000 to Yale University in support of a Sawyer Seminar on “Millennium and Millennialism: Motifs and Movements,” Gustav Ranis, director of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies – YCIAS – has announced.

The Sawyer Seminar program, named in honor of John E. Sawyer, the Mellon Foundation’s third president, provides opportunities within university settings for serious inquiry into the historical and cultural origins of significant contemporary developments. The Mellon Foundation invited 15 institutions to submit proposals during 1996. Yale submitted two proposals and received funding for both. President Richard C. Levin was notified in December that the Mellon Foundation would fund the Sawyer Seminar on Comparative Genocide Studies, previously announced by YCIAS.

Abbas Amanat, professor of Middle Eastern History and chair of the Council on Middle East Studies of YCIAS, will organize and direct the Millennium Seminar, with the assistance of a multi-disciplinary faculty steering committee. The Mellon funding will support two graduate students, a post-doctoral fellow, and visiting scholars from the U.S. and abroad who will participate in the sessions. The seminar will meet on a bi-weekly basis during calendar year 1998 and will be open to faculty and graduate students.

“Millennium and Millennialism: Motifs and Movements” will address the complex symbolic significance of the impending millennium by examining past experiences in Middle Eastern and other societies. The seminar will identify common cultural paradigms and highlight some of the historical expressions these paradigms initiated in the form of social and political movements. Participants will also consider new dynamics that may emerge as a result of the interplay between past millennial experiences and religious and secular currents in the contemporary world.

From both historical and religious perspectives, the turn of the 21st century and the advent of the third Christian millennium is a moment of symbolic relevance for many societies, even those with different calendars and time reckonings. The seminar will explore these and related issues through the lens of religious and secular experiences in the Middle East, East and Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the West.

Participating members of Yale’s faculty have published extensive studies of millennialism and demonstrated interdisciplinary concern with contemporary currents. Recent works include Abbas Amanat’s “The Resurgence of Apocalyptic in Islam” in the forthcoming “Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism,” Jonathan Spence’s 1996 book, “God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan,” Harold Bloom’s “Omen’s of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection,” and Robert Wilson’s “Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel.”

Millennium Seminar topics will include chaos and order, apocalypse, messianic prophets and themes, resistance and reform, America as the promised land, Buddhist and Daoist legacies, Islamic and Christian influences, the sacred and the profane, scientific socialism, fundamentalism and new millennial conflicts. For further details please contact the Council on Middle East Studies at 203/432-6252.

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Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325