The perpetual millennium: Narrative closure and the end of days

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Patricia Cox Miller


Millennium, Narrative, End of days, Nineteenth century

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Religion


This dissertation argues that millennialism is a religious phenomenon in which the participants seek to make sense of the events in the world by positing an end of time which will, retrospectively, imbue the past and present with meaning. This process of projecting a future end is analogous to the creation of plot in narrative: in each, the end will justify the difficulties of the present to culminate in a meaningful whole. Millennialism is a sense-making system in which epistemology is derived from the "plot" of history. However, by foregrounding imminent cosmic closure, millennialists must continually defer the closure which is their defining characteristic. This dissertation argues that the act of deferring closure is intrinsically an act of temporalization, and thus millennialists create alternative constructions of time to the norm. Narrative theory, focusing on closure and anti-closure, is brought to bear on nineteenth-century American millennialist movements as exempla of temporalization and the deferral of closure. The Mormons, the Spiritualists, and the Oneida Community are examined with a view to elucidating strategies for the deferral of closure. The first chapter examines the rise of the novel and the cultural imagination of the end in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. The second chapter examines the Mormon's construction of time and argues that it is mimetic of an earlier state of purity. Mimesis as a literary phenomenon is then explored with a view to arguing that it is simultaneously creative and closural. The third chapter looks at sexuality and desire in all three representative millennialist movements, and argues that their constructions of time are inscribed on their bodies in erotic praxis. The fourth chapter turns to Mormon and Spiritualist heavens, and argues that an individual's life is a microcosm of the millennialist project whereby epistemology is found in the relation to the end of a single life. The conclusion offers a theory of why some millennialist groups are able to move to institutionalization and the relation of this event to narrative. It also offers some future directions for the use of the model created herein.


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