An Economy of Gnosticism in Los Angeles — Contemporary religion in historical perspective

In case you missed it, here’s a piece about my recent trip to Los Angeles to do fieldwork with various Gnostic groups, which was published on the Open University’s Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective blog a couple of months ago.

If I were a certain kind of scholar, I might speculate that there is so much gnosticism in LA because Hollywood is the symbolic centre of the archonic media matrix where the illusory world of the demiurge is created. More prosaically, LA has long been a centre for religious innovation due to being multicultural, liberal and relatively cheap. People were going West in search of new ways of life long before the Hippies emerged from Haight-Ashbury to catalyse the spiritual revolution of the New Age movement. Moreover, contemporary gnostics mix esoteric ideas with Christianity, and so appeal much more to American Baby Boomers than to their relatively secularised European counterparts.

Being back at davidgrobertson for the first time in months, I see an update / refresh is in order…

New Review in Nova Religio

Very pleased (and surprised) by Kelly E. Hayes’ review of UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New Age in the most recent issue of Nova Religio. I face an uphill battle to convince most of my colleagues why the work I do is even valid in the first place, so comments like these are most welcome indeed!

With its concise prose and engaging style, Robertson’s book offers not only a compelling analysis of contemporary millennialism, but an equally compelling model of critical rigor.

Real People, on the Ground | Studying Religion in Culture

A blog post for the University of Alabama about how critical studies in religion need to do more to demonstrate their practical utility, and how my editorship of Implicit Religion aims to help in doing that.

https://religion.ua.edu/blog/2019/03/27/real-people-on-the-ground/


The fact is that what gets counted as religion in specific contexts is perhaps the most impactful question we can ask as social scientists. Far from being merely discourse-about-discourse in some Ivory Tower, the critical approach shows what the category is actually doing in the real world – both to those whom it constrains, and those for whom it is useful.

The Claypool Lennon Delirium – ‘Blood And Rockets’

This combines many of my deepest passions – prog rock, the Beatles, and 20th century Magic(k). Hearing Les Claypool sing “Do What Thy Will” in 5/4 rings a lot of bells for me.

Sean Lennon is obviously interested in Magick – he talked about it in an interview with Billboard recently – but it sounds like a passing interest rather than something he is actively engaged with. I also would quibble with “he belonged to a magical cult”. The interview is pretty light but I enjoyed the brief description of how he and Les Claypool work together. The album’s up on Spotify now and I like it. I’ll buy it if I see it on vinyl.

New Publication | Brill Handbook of Conspiracy Theory and Contemporary Religion

I am very pleased to see the book I’ve been working on for the last couple of years finally published (online, at least). The Handbook of Conspiracy Theory and Contemporary Religion was co-edited with Asbjorn Dyrendal and Egil Asprem, and it was a real pleasure to work with them – we all contributed actively and collaboratively, and I learned a great deal from them both. I think this will be an agenda-setting volume in this little subfield, and part of a group of new publications looking at CTs critically and interdisciplinarily.

Conspiracy theories are a ubiquitous feature of our times. The Handbook of Conspiracy Theories and Contemporary Religion is the first reference work to offer a comprehensive, transnational overview of this phenomenon along with in-depth discussions of how conspiracy theories relate to religion(s). Bringing together experts from a wide range of disciplines, from psychology and philosophy to political science and the history of religions, the book sets the standard for the interdisciplinary study of religion and conspiracy theories.

Chapters include methodological overviews from sociology, psychology and philosophy; regional case studies on Sri Lanka, Albania, Greece, Japan and elsewhere; thematic chapters on popular music, Esotericism, Church of the SubGenius, neo-Nazism, the Internet; and more. If you have institutional access, you should check it out. Please!

Recent Interviews

It’s been a busy year for the Religious Studies Project. We’ve just broadcast our last podcast (until September, at least), and are making plans for next year already. Now that we have two people to help me with the audio editing, I’ve been having fun getting back to interviewing again. Here’s three interviews I had broadcast in the last few months.

First up, ‘Spirituality’ – a term with enormous currency in contemporary discourse on religion, but frustratingly under-theorised. Little consideration is given to its development, and most scholarly work simply dismisses ‘spirituality’ as shallow and commercialised. I spoke to Boaz Huss and Steven Sutcliffe, to discuss the genealogy of ‘spirituality’, and its contemporary significance, with particular reference to the New Age movement. The second half focuses on how spirituality may trouble the religion / secular distinction, and its implications for the critical study of religion.

Ann Taves spoke to me about her work on “worldviews” and “ways of life”. This ambitious interdisciplinary project aims to place a micro-level analysis of individual worldviews into a broader evolutionary perspective. Through case-studies (including ‘secular’ worldviews like Alcoholics Anonymous alongside more traditional ‘religions’), she explains how worldviews form in response to existential ‘Big Questions’ – here understood as core biological needs and goals, rather than theological or moral concerns – and are enacted in Ways of Life, individually or collectively.

Finally, it’s always a pleasure to talk to A. Dave Lewis, this time for a discussion of representations of Muslims in superhero comics. We talk about some positive representations, like Kamala Khan, Marvel’s new Ms Marvel, and some less-than-positive portrayals, like Frank Millar’s Holy Terror! We talk about American comics as a product of the immigrant experience, and how comics made by Muslims play with the conventions of the genre. And we talk about how to use these texts in the classroom, as a powerful tool for exploring representation, media and religion. And what is the “wormhole sacred”?

 

New film from Richard D. Hall, ‘Kill Jill’

Richard D Hall of RichPlanet fame has a new film out, Kill Jill: The Dando Assassination Explained. It’s the follow-up to his I think 10 hours of investigation into the Madeline McCann case. Again, it’s an in-depth investigative piece featuring a fair bit of speculation, but like his other work, it does have original research, and it is definitely at the saner end of the conspiracy spectrum. While I don’t think he has anything like enough evidence to back up his conclusion, there could well be some truth in the collusion between the security forces and the media, particularly the BBC, in the case of the Brixton nail-bomber. And as he says, his work is more about analyzing how the media manufactures consent, although he pushes that further than Chomsky will, publicly at least.

That is the YouTube link. I wanted to link to the original video on richplanet.net, only to see this:

Suspended

Coincidence? I don’t know. (Update: it’s back now. Maybe it was just a bandwidth issue.)

I once referred to Richard Hall as “the Vic Reeves of conspiracy theorists”, because he’s from the North and is genuinely funny (see if you can find his statement about the People’s Voice). But there’s also a transparency and self-awareness that you don’t often see in this sort of milieu, and I have to respect him for that. In a milieu that is increasingly mainstream and commercialised, his dedication to a DIY challenge to hegemony is pretty punk rock.

A Telephone to the Other Side

My colleague Marion Bowman sent me a link to a new product, The Dragonfly:

a brand new, empowering technology that allows you to communicate with your departed loved ones. It’s a safe and simple device that acts as a phone, so you can talk to the other side. Those who love you are always with you, guiding and helping you in your journey. Through them, you can access a universe of knowledge and understanding. This technology opens a “spiritual internet” of information.

I love the steampunky wood finish. It also reminds me of Derren Brown’s Dream Machine:

Fact is, there’s nothing new about devices like this – in fact this one is based on ideas from the 1950s. But the nexus between technology, supernatural or spiritual ideas and commerce has been a feature of the cultic milieu since at least the 1800s, with Mesmerism in Europe and then Spiritualism coming out of the US. (Rafale Natale’s Supernatural Entertainments is a good exploration of this relationship.)

To me, this makes as little sense as speaking to a loved one at their grave, or praying for that matter. Some might find the use of technological or scientific language troubling, but the underlying presupposition – of an undetectable realm of existence containing agents which can affect this world – should be much more problematic epistemologically.

Find out more at http://www.whatisthedragonfly.com/index.html