Reviews and Research

The Discordian chapter for the Brill Handbook of Religions and Cultural Production went in ahead of deadline, as I intended. As I’m still waiting to start the (paid) job of assembling a book for someone else (not sure what such a position is called – research assistant? Editorial assistant? Cut-and-paster?), I’m trying to squeeze in a couple of small things first. One is a book review for the International Journal of New Religions, on Graven Images, a volume of essays on religious themes and imagery in comic books. 1000 words, but a first step in a sideline that I’m very interested in pursuing.

First, though, I’m finishing up an outline of my PhD thesis for my supervisor, which will basically form the outline of the research for the next three years. The title is Metaphysical Conspiracism: Extra-terrestrials and the demythologisation of traditional religious symbols in the post-Cold War West, and the abstract currently goes like this:

Narratives concerning purportedly extra-terrestrial phenomena have inspired dramatically different interpretations, from angelic “space brothers” heralding a coming New Age, to demonic lizards who abduct sleeping humans and mutilate cattle. From the 1940s to the 1980s, ETs typically warned of coming nuclear cataclysm, but following the end of the Cold War, they began increasingly to bring messages of personal spiritual transformation in line with “New Age” discourses. In a secular and detraditionalised West, religious symbols have increasingly become detached from their traditional institutional moorings, and available for appropriation in contexts hitherto considered purely secular. Through detailed case-studies, I examine how these later ET narratives frequently took the form of a de-mythologisation of traditional religious symbols and narratives, a re-framing which makes religious ideas more viable in a scientific-materialist context. ETs become manifestations of angels and/or demons, and the earth literally becomes a battlefield between benevolent and evil forces. This, I argue, is typical of a broader metaphysical conspiracism, in which religious symbols and narratives have been absorbed into political conspiracy theories to produce a quasi-religious weltanschauung. Such a religious formation demonstrate what Simmel suggests: “Enlightenment does not destroy religiosity, merely rob it of its clothes.”

 

Much of my thinking time, however, has been absorbed with trying to find a way for a writing trip to Gladstone’s Library at St. Deiniol’s, the UK’s only residential library. I don’t think it can be done for less than a hundred and twenty pounds for one night,  but I will find a way, somehow, someday.

Metaphysical Conspiracism: Extra-terrestrials and the demythologisation of traditional religious symbols in post-Cold War culture
Ph.D research outline

David G Robertson
University of Edinburgh 

Abstract

Narratives concerning purportedly extra-terrestrial phenomena have inspired dramatically different interpretations, from angelic “space brothers” heralding a coming New Age, to demonic lizards who abduct sleeping humans and mutilate cattle. From the 1940s to the 1980s, ETs typically warned of coming nuclear cataclysm, but following the end of the Cold War, they began increasingly to bring messages of personal spiritual transformation in line with “New Age” discourses. In a secular and detraditionalised West, religious symbols have increasingly become detached from their traditional institutional moorings, and available for appropriation in contexts hitherto considered purely secular. Through detailed case-studies, I examine how these later ET narratives frequently took the form of a de-mythologisation of traditional religious symbols and narratives, a re-framing which makes religious ideas more viable in a scientific-materialist context. ETs become manifestations of angels and/or demons, and the earth literally becomes a battlefield between benevolent and evil forces. This, I argue, is typical of a broader metaphysical conspiracism, in which religious symbols and narratives have been absorbed into political conspiracy theories to produce a quasi-religious weltanschauung. Such a religious formation demonstrate what Simmel suggests: “Enlightenment does not destroy religiosity, merely rob it of its clothes.”

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