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.
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.
American friends – I am on the Paracast with Gene Steinberg on GCN right now! Here’s the link – http://www.theparacast.com/podcast/now-playing-april-17-2016-david-g-robertson/
Everyone else, I’ll have a link up to the podcast soon. It’s a two hour show, so I’m a little less guarded than is sometimes the case… But it was a lot of fun.
Press for UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New Age has begun!
Firstly, if you are in the US, you can catch me talking about UFO conspiracies and David Icke on Wisconsin’s Public Radio tonight. The show is To The Best of Our Knowledge and is syndicated on two hundred stations across the US – check local press for details. Alternatively, you can listen to it here.
I’m delighted that the first review of the book is from the excellent Magonia blog. Their focus is on UFOs, though they take an interest in Forteana and conspiracies too, and they have a skeptical but not dismissive approach. You can read it here – I’m pleased with it, and agree with Peter Rogerson’s criticisms. This book won’t be my last word on the subject, however.
If there is a notable omission in this book it is the lack of a detailed treatment of the likes of Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs. The latter in particular merges traditional American far right tropes of the alien-other seeking to infiltrate society and a bring about the downfall of rugged American individualism, and to pollute the pure white blood line. In Jacobs’ ideology the ‘others’ are designated as hybrids and could be anybody (your neighbour might be a witch/Satanist/communist etc.) The hybrids are envisaged as sexually voracious and the greys replace the ‘communist conspiracy’ or the United Nations as bringers of the monolithic New World Order.
This book is written by an academic for academics but the core chapters are easily accessible and should be of interest to a wider readership, although readers might want to skip the section on ‘the critical study of religion’ in chapter two.
Nova Religio 19.2, a special issue on “Conspiracy Theories in New and Emergent Religions” guest edited by your humble author, has just been published. It features an introduction and article by myself (Silver Bullets and Seed Banks: A Material Analysis of Conspiracist Millennialism), plus articles by Beth Singler (Big Bad Pharma: The Indigo Child Concept and Biomedical Conspiracy Theories), Kevin Whitesides (2012 Millennialism Becomes Conspiracist Teleology: Overlapping Alternatives in the Late Twentieth Century Cultic Milieu), Carole Cusack (The Messiah is a Salesman, Yet Consumerism is a Con(spiracy): The Church of the SubGenius, Work, and the Pursuit of Slack as a Spiritual Ideal) and Spencer Dew (Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah: Counterfactual Religious Readings of the Law). I am very proud of the issue and extend my gratitude to the authors and the general editors of Nova Religio. I hope you enjoy it.
This is the abstract from my introduction, which sets up the approach of the issue:
This introduction addresses a number of approaches to the emerging field of the study of conspiracy theories and new and alternative religions. Scholars can examine how certain religious groups have been the subject of conspiracy narratives created by the wider culture, and how conspiracy narratives are mobilized within religious groups such as Aum Shinrikyo, Scientology or others. Moreover, we can fruitfully examine secular conspiracy theories through ideas typically applied to religions, such as theodicy, millenarianism, and esoteric claims to higher knowledge. Most studies assume that conspiracy theories indicate pathology—paranoia or simply stupidity. Increasingly however, scholars have begun to interpret the term “conspiracy theory” as operating polemically to stigmatize certain beliefs and ideas. The field therefore offers a microcosm of broader trends in the interplay of knowledge and power. The study of both new and emergent religions and conspiracy theories comes of age only when we cease to think of them as necessarily deviant and irrational.
More to come later this week, as I finally get my head above water with work again…
Routledge have just put up the official page for my other book of 2016, After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies, co-edited with my good friend and Religious Studies Project collaborator, Christopher Cotter. To be published in January, the book is a manifesto and guide to teaching “religion” without simply trotting through the usual cliches about the “big six” – the real religions, right? – in terminology drawn from Victorian theologians. Here’s the blurb:
The World Religions Paradigm has been the subject of critique and controversy in Religious Studies for many years. After World Religions provides a rationale for overhauling the World Religions curriculum, as well as a roadmap for doing so. The volume offers concise and practical introductions to cutting-edge Religious Studies method and theory, introducing a wide range of pedagogical situations and innovative solutions. An international team of scholars addresses the challenges presented in their different departmental, institutional, and geographical contexts. Instructors developing syllabi will find supplementary reading lists and specific suggestions to help guide their teaching. Students at all levels will find the book an invaluable entry point into an area of ongoing scholarly debate.
Tim Fitzgerald says:
“This book will give a fresh impetus to debate in religious studies and religious education journals, and further volumes exploring the issues will appear as a result.”
I am very proud of how the book has turned out. It features a great line-up of international scholars, including James Cox, Russell McCutcheon, Steven Ramey, Teemu Taira, Suzanne Owen, Carole Cusack, Brad Stoddart and many others. And the cover! Wait – that’s another post…
From the roof of the University of the Sorbonne, the gargoyles heard the insistent, contented sound that drifted up from the cafés and restaurants. They had watched the city destroyed and rebuilt, time and again; the bloodshed of the Terror, the anarchy of the Commune, the industrial destruction of the Great War. The streets changed, but the spirit of the city remained, the noise a consistent background. They kept their own stony, silent council.
But tonight, among the frozen poses of the statuary, a figure is moving. As the bright full moon grinned indulgently down, it approaches a stained glass window which, at a casual glance, looks firmly closed. Yet there is just enough of a gap to get a finger in, and he swings it slowly, carefully, open, and enters. From the window, the top of a bookshelf is just reachable. With his back against the wall, gripping the mounting of an inoperative gas-lamp, he leans out across the gap, straining with his left foot towards the shelf. He knows that, if he stumbles, the guards will be on him like lightning. There is a brief moment of panic as he releases his weight from the lamp, but then his foot found purchase on the shelf. Releasing a breath he doesn’t even know he was holding in, he shimmies easily down the shelves like climbing a ladder, to the floor.
“Fortune and glory, Rene,” it whispers.