If you want to hear me talking about my work in podcasting, I took part in the AAR and Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute’s Public Scholars Project back in December. You can watch the video at the link:
Here’s a rundown of what I’ve been up to over the last week or so.
First, and as always, check out my news roundup of The Week in Conspiracy – published every Friday.
I published a post over at CenSAMM, the Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements, on the function of conspiracy narratives in Heaven’s Gate. Check it out here.
One function of conspiracy theories is to deal with uncertainty, which includes theological uncertainty, particularly failed prophecy. These challenges to the truth-claims of such groups can be sidestepped by positing a conspiracy against them, which shifts the blame from the group itself to an external force. In effect, it would explain that Nettle’s death did not lead immediately to TELAH not because it was wrong, but because it was prevented from happening by these “negative forces”. Such a move can even make a potentially divisive ideological issue into a source of group cohesion, by heightening the impression of an existential threat against them.
I also have a chapter in Fabricating Identities, edited by Russell McCutcheon. The book’s a spin-off from the Culture on the Edge blog, and explores identity not as a thing we possess, but as a thing we enact. My chapter is about academic identities, and how in becoming specialists (in my case, a religious studies scholar), we actually help maintain and reify those categories. The book is an entertaining collection of short, accessible essays, and because it’s Equinox, it’s cheap too. Have a look here.
Read the latest The Week in Conspiracy
I wrote a piece for the Open University Religious Studies blog on the 70th anniversary of the first Flying Saucer sighting, and the relevance for thinking about religions. You can read it here.
The historian rarely gets to see a narrative of this type as it develops. Compared to the origin stories of Christianity or Islam or almost any other religion, the UFO narrative is well documented and its development can be charted quite clearly. Yet there may be illuminating parallels: 70 years after Jesus’ death, Matthew and Luke were just written, new elaborations on claims of inexplicable sightings, now a generation removed from eyewitnesses.
My article, The hidden hand: Why religious studies need to take conspiracy theories seriously, was published in Religion Compass this week, and you can read it here (if you have access). It’s an introduction to the field, and a summary of my work in this area to date.
Here’s the abstract:
What seemed like fringe concerns to most then have, with Trump’s election and Brexit and the growth of the alt-right across Europe, become of concerns of mainstream commentators. Moreover, the rise of ISIS and the increasingly overt religious language being employed in the political sphere have made the powerful combination of religion and conspiracy plain. This emerging subdiscipline cuts to the very core of some of the most pressing issues in the academic study of religion––and indeed, the social sciences more generally in this postcolonial environment. This article is intended to set out its scope and some of its future directions.
Not only is it important to consider contemporary religion in its historical context, but we need to consider the study of contemporary religion in its historical context too. Arrarnte elders, Alice Springs, 1896. Via Wikimedia commons. I recently attended a talk by Professor James Cox on cultural memory among the Australian Aboriginal people. In particular,…
On 7th April, I presented a paper at the CenSAMM conference, Violence and Millenarian Movements, at the Panacea Trust in Bedford. My paper was entitled Pizzagate and the Luciferian Agenda, and you can watch the whole thing below. Here’s the abstract:
In November and December 2016, online accusations of a paedophile ring operating out of a Washington pizza restaurant led to the arrest of Edgar Welch (28) after threatening staff and firing several shots in an apparent attempt to liberate “child sex slaves”. This panic, known as pizzagate, began when leaked emails from Hillary Clinton’s aide, Mike Podesta, were suggested to contain coded language by a number of users on web forums, who began to elaborate upon the narrative until it was widely taken as evidence of a nationwide satanic paedophile ring involving numerous politicians and other power brokers. It is rare is for a conspiracy theory such as this to escalate into violence so quickly, but two things are of particular interest here. First, this ties into the satanic ritual abuse scare of the early 1990s – a phenomenon intimately tied to a Manichaean understanding of the world promoted by certain evangelical millenarian Christians. These ideas have been nurtured and promoted by high-profile independent broadcasters such as Alex Jones, for whom they are part of a sweeping millennial narrative in which a global (and sometimes cosmic) cabal of Luciferians seek to decimate the world’s population and enslave the remains.
I recorded three interviews which will appear on the Religious Studies Project in future, and a full report will appear in the BASR Bulletin next month.
[Updated 28/04/2017 – higher quality video added.]