November 17, 2009
Posted: 03:24 PM ET
(CNN) - This is how the world ends - at least at the multiplex this month.
Last weekend's box-office champ "2012" primarily uses an ancient Mayan prophecy to spin a tale of world destruction. "The Road," due out November 25, showcases a father and son navigating a post-apocalyptic world of ash, cold and cannibals. And the indie documentary "Collapse" gives voice to one man's belief that, as we exhaust natural resources, civilization is ready to crumble.
Such concerns have always been with us, says Alexander Riley, a sociology professor at Bucknell University who's incorporated eschatology (the study of the end times) into his courses.
"It's been a constant part of the landscape in the Western world for a long time," he says, though it's been particularly present in recent times, perhaps driven by ever-quickening social and technological change, he adds.
Examples can be found through the centuries. At the end of the year 999, pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem, convinced that the Last Judgment was at hand. In 1843, thousands of followers of the religious leader William Miller gathered on New England hilltops, waiting for ascension. In 1982, some believed the "Jupiter Effect" - the rough alignment of several celestial bodies - would cause catastrophe.
And the coming of the year 2000 led to fears about technological collapse - in the form of the Y2K bug - and rumblings about the return of Jesus.
Filed under: Religion
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