Date of Award

2007

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours

Faculty

Faculty of Education & Arts

First Advisor

Peter Van Onselen

Second Advisor

Peter Bedford

Abstract

The relationship ·between death and the millennium is not an area of scholarship that has received adequate attention. Millenarian groups desire the creation of a paradise in the temporal world. The world is seen as corrupt and evil without hope of reform. This viewpoint leads millenarians to conclude that the temporal world must be completely destroyed and created a new, eliminating the corrupt and providing a utopia where the faithful can exist in peace. Hezbollah and Aum Shinrikyo are two terrorist groups which share this worldview, and believe that they can hasten the millennium by eliminating their enemies. This thesis explores the ways in which Hezbollah and Aum Shinrikyo understand death, not only as it relates to their enemies, but also as it relates to group members. Hezbollah uses suicide bombings as a tool for eliminating enemies and furthering their millenarian goals. Yet if suicide bombers no longer exist in the temporal world, they are unable to experience the millennium they are fighting for once it has been achieved. Similarly, when members of Aum Shinrikyo began to die unexpectedly, or were intentionally killed by other group members, Asahara (the group's leader) needed to explain such deaths within the context of Aum's millenarian worldview. In addition to locating the problem of 'death' within existing millenarian research, this thesis also questions the very nature of millenarian aspirations within Hezbollah and Aum Shinrikyo. In the case of Hezbollah, it is argued that establishing the millennium is not the ultimate goal of the group's terrorist activities. Whilst it claims to be fighting on behalf of the Shiite population in Lebanon, it is actually exploiting them to secure a somewhat different objective aimed at the personal salvation of Hezbollah's members in the afterlife. Although the study of 'death' does not contradict Aum's millenarian nature in the same manner as Hezbollah, it is clear that 'death' contributes to our understanding of millenarian groups in a way which should not be ignored to the extent that it has been in the existing literature.'· Millenarian research performs an important role when studying terrorism, illuminating the beliefs and motivations of such groups. Ignoring the element of 'death' when researching the millenarian nature of terrorist groups can, in some cases, lead to a misrepresentation of the groups' true character.

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