"It is a very ancient pattern in human thought. It is rooted in ancient, even pre-biblical Middle Eastern myths of ultimate chaos and ultimate struggle between the forces of order and chaos," says cultural historian Paul S Boyer, author of When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture.
"It is deeply appealing at a psychological level because the idea of meaninglessness is deeply threatening. Human societies have always tried to create some kind of framework of meaning to give history and our own personal lives some kind of significance."
And although end of the world thinking crops up in many religions, those in the West are probably most aware of Christian eschatology. ...
...And for all it is easy to mock those who have tried and failed, thinking about the ways the world might end, or the timing, may be fulfilling a basic human need.
"It comes down to an issue of power," says Michael Molcher, editor of the magazine The End is Nigh. "What you get during times of particular discontent or war or famine or during general bad times is a rise in apocalyptic preaching and ideas.
"It is a way for people to control the way their world works. The one thing we can never predict is the time and manner of our own deaths."
The great periods of millenarianism - Europe around the year 1000, the English Civil War, the Industrial Revolution on both sides of the Atlantic, and the 20th Century - have been periods of intense turbulence. Putting an eschatological spin on current events is extremely tempting. ...