Eschatology is a branch of theology or philosophy that studies the end or final days of the world, the coming of God or gods, and the result for humans living at that time or humans who have already died. Eschatos means last or final, and logy translates to word or study of something. From a philosophical standpoint, people might compare the various eschatology theories in a dispassionate manner. For many religious groups, eschatology becomes the interest in the actual events that will occur when the world or people of the world live their final days and a “second coming” brings together people and the divine.
Many Christian, Jewish and Islamic beliefs hold that the world, when it ends, will begin with a sorting of the worthy from among all the people who have ever walked the earth. The worthy or those without sin will be given eternal life in paradise, while those who were evil will be damned for all eternity. Eschatology from a monotheistic viewpoint usually includes the tradition of the earth being truly destroyed, and the presence of the divine on earth to bring the righteous to paradise, thus escaping the wrath of God.
From a spiritual standpoint, a person studying eschatology of monotheistic religions might actually try to pinpoint the specific date of the end of the world, and many Christian sects have done this in the past. They will often point to what appears to be signs that the depravity of humans is worsening, thus “Judgment Day” is coming.
Hindu eschatology differs significantly from Judeo/Christian/Islamic beliefs. Since all life is viewed as cyclical, there are no “final days” for most Hindus. Instead the world cycles into periods of great depravity, and then is restored to righteousness by the appearance of an avatar or Supreme Being. The avatar’s goal is to cleanse the minds of the people inhabiting earth so that goodness and purity is reestablished.
Philosophical eschatology may take several forms. Some people who are not overtly religious or spiritual see the world as spiraling out of control and leading to an ultimate collapse of civilization, where most humans will die. In fact, for many the concept of eschatology focused during the Cold War years on the Judgment Day that would occur during a nuclear war. Today some hold that the end of the world is imminent and things like global warming, depletion of the environment and overdependence on science are features that predict an eventual end to humans.
Science fiction frequently deals in eschatological themes to imagine the “end of the world” or “the end of civilization.” Eschatological theory in science fiction often deals with total collapse of society as in films like Terminator 3: Judgment Day or The Matrix. In written work theories on the end of the word predominate novels like Brave New World, The Stand, and 1984. In science fiction eschatology tends to focus on the end of civilization through overuse of technology or through catastrophic events that deplete the world of most of its population.