The conspiracy theory label: Not as powerful as you might think

An interesting post from Mike Wood. The rhetorical function of the term “Conspiracy Theory” may be more complex than many scholars (myself included) have considered. Perhaps the “stigma” is only effective in those who haven’t constructed an identity which is in opposition to certain “norms”. What do you think?

The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories

Calling something a conspiracy theory is basically an intellectual scarlet letter. It’s a way of dismissing something you don’t like, of placing something outside the bounds of reasonable discourse. “That’s just a conspiracy theory” is a depressingly effective way of getting someone to plug their ears and turn their brains off. Right?

Wrong, apparently!

A series of experiments I did last year came up with an interesting little finding – labeling something a conspiracy theory doesn’t make someone believe it any less than if you call it something more neutral. This goes against conventional wisdom that I’ve heard repeated quite a few times online and among people who study conspiracy theories. The journal Political Psychology has just published a paper describing these studies – you can read the whole thing free here (the article is open-access thanks to a generous payment by the University of Winchester).

It’s not like I…

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IAHR 2015 Congress in Erfurt

iahr2015Some money has come through, and I’m very pleased to be confirming I’ll be going to the 2015 World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions in Erfurt, Germany, this August. The full line-up has just been announced, and I’m giving papers in two panels.

First, Conspiracy Theories in Contemporary Religious Discourse, with Mattias Gardell, Asbjorn Dyrendal and Beth Singler (and although I’m listed as Chair, Egil Asprem will actually be doing the honours):

Academic interest in conspiracy theories has grown in recent years, as it has become apparent that they are a central locus for contemporary debates over power, democracy and rationality. Some scholars have noted the intersection between conspiracy theories and contemporary religious narratives (Goodrick-Clarke 2002; Barkun 2003), but there has been no sustained critical analysis of the field, nor theoretical models through which to interpret the multiple and complex interrelations. This panel is intended to help define the boundaries of this developing field and outline avenues for future research. How is conspiracy discourse promoted and/or combated within religious communities? Which resources are drawn upon in such struggles over meaning and influence? What are the common epistemological features of religion and conspiracism, e.g. belief in occluded agencies? Might we usefully analyse conspiracy theories as a modality of religious thought and practice, e.g. as soteriology, theodicy or esoteric hermeneutics?

Second, After World Religions, with Chris Cotter, Craig Martin, Teemu Taira and Russell McCutcheon:

The World Religions Paradigm (WRP) has been subjected to sustained and rigorous critique in the academic study of religion for many years. However, in spite of this critique becoming an established part of the Religious Studies (RS) corpus, one area in which the WRP has proven especially resilient is in pedagogy, and in particular in introductory courses on ‘religion’. This panel brings together the editors and three contributing authors of the forthcoming volume After ‘World Religions’: Reconstructing Religious Studies (Routledge 2015), to operationalize this critique and offer concrete, practical alternatives for use in pedagogical contexts. In addition to presenting viable approaches which avoid, problematize and subvert the WRP, these papers offer a broad range of innovative theoretical and methodological strategies, and directly address the pedagogical challenges presented in different departmental, institutional and geographical contexts.

On top of that, I’ll be recording interviews and taking part in all sorts of other activities for the Religious Studies Project, and other things which I’ve yet to finalise. But most exciting is the chance too socialise with people I’ve only met online, and to present my research to the global academic community.

BREAKING NEWS: What’s this…?


Benjamin Fulford: Do top Western leaders work for hostile aliens or are they just evil?

Benjamin Fulford addresses the Reptilian hypothesis – and rejects it. “However, while invoking otherworldly reasons for the nasty situation we find ourselves in is fascinating, it will not solve the problems we face. We need to start with what we can actually see and do.”


Benjamin Fulford 10-13-2014

What passes as the leadership of the Western world, especially the United States, is acting in such a stupid and downright evil manner that we have to ask the question of who they really work for. As this article is being written, the secret government of the West is continuing to spread bio-weapons, yet again threatening nuclear terror, trying to start World War 3 in the Middle East or Europe and otherwise behaving like a bunch of psychopaths.

Then there is what appears to be some sort of secret weather warfare going on. As this story goes to press, supposed super typhoon Vongfong

is directly over Tokyo and yet it is hardly even raining and there is no wind. A look at the Japanese infrared and visual weather satellite photographs of this typhoon over the past 48 hours show some very unnatural goings on. On the…

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Cameron tells UN conspiracy theories are “extremism”

In a speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York last week (24/9/2014), David Cameron stated that he intends to defeat not only violent “extremists”, but “all extremism”, in which he includes alternative narratives about the cause of 9-11 and 7-7. Although he does not use the term “conspiracy theory”, in this, deliberately or not – echoed George W. Bush’s famous quote following 9-11, “Let us not tolerate absurd conspiracy theories”, underlining that “conspiracy theory” is a rhetorical term employed by those with power to silence dissent from the “official line”.

As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by preachers who claim not to encourage violence, but whose world view can be used as a justification for it.

The peddling of lies: that 9/11 was a Jewish plot and the 7/7 London attacks were staged.

The idea that Muslims are persecuted all over the world as a deliberate act of Western policy.

The concept of an inevitable clash of civilisations.

We must be clear: to defeat the ideology of extremism we need to deal with all forms of extremism – not just violent extremism.

For governments, there are some obvious ways we can do this.

We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries.

We must proscribe organisations that incite terrorism against people at home and abroad.

We must work together to take down illegal online material like the recent videos of Isil murdering hostages.

And we must stop so called non-violent extremists from inciting hatred and intolerance in our schools, universities and prisons.

Of course some will argue that this is not compatible with free speech and intellectual inquiry.

But I say: would we sit back and allow right-wing extremists, Nazis or Klu Klux Klansmen to recruit on our university campuses?

So we shouldn’t stand by and just allow any form of non-violent extremism.

We need to argue that prophecies of a global war of religion pitting Muslims against the rest of the world are nonsense.

We need Muslims and their governments around the world to reclaim their religion from these sick terrorists.

We all need to help them with programmes that channel young people away from these poisonous ideologues.

And we need the strongest possible international focus on tackling this ideology… which is why here at the United Nations, the UK is calling for a new Special Representative on extremism.

Watch further, however, and you will see Paul Joseph Watson, Alex Jones’ UK representative, relate this clip to Jones’ larger narrative of the immanent takeover of the West by the New World Order. While I agree with Watson’s questioning how Cameron’s words can be reconciled with the freedom of speech enshrined by democracies, I think the claim that he is criminalising all dissension is a bit of a stretch.

Footage of Jim Jones preaching

Some interesting footage of Jim Jones preaching at the People’s Temple in Redwood, California, in the 1970s. I’m presuming that, as you’re reading this blog, you’re aware of Jim Jones. Or the Jonestown Massacre, at least.

Some interesting things here; that god is socialism, and the God of the Christians is a sky god; the open admission that he is using religion to destroy religion; and an obvious and somewhat contrary deification of Jones himself. But the singing is great – he’s like a young Marxist brainwashy Johnny Cash.