Very happy to be part of this event in Belfast, organised by Joe Webster:

The Morality of Millenarianism: A One Day Workshop at Queen’s University Belfast

Friday 28th August 2015
Senate Room, Lanyon Building, QUB

All welcome. Free to attend. To register, email Joseph Webster at

The study of millenarianism and millennial movements has long been a key interest of scholars working in Anthropology, History, Geography, Religious Studies, and Theology. Under what condition and with what effects do religious groups predict the end of the world? What happens when their prophecies fail? As important as such questions have been, beyond the foundational case studies that inform them lies a growing body of historical and anthropological literature that is beginning to ask rather different questions.

These new questions are focused less upon the chronology of date setting and ‘failed prophecy’ and more upon understanding the politics and ethics of millenarianism as expressed in multiple temporalities. How does the near future (Guyer 2007) relate to the distant past and distant future? How do these temporalities find moral expressions in the present? What does ‘the good’ look like for those who live out the apocalypse in their everyday lives in the here-and-now (Robbins 2004, 2012)? How do apocalyptic histories inform contemporary debates about freedom, responsibility and virtue (Laidlaw 2014)? How do the social processes of ‘othering’ take shape within apocalyptic cultures? It is questions such as these that this workshop will explore.

For over a decade, scholars have been pointing to how – in our ‘post-9/11 world’ – the ‘return of religion’ has continually spilled over into domains of human experience that have come to be thought of as thoroughly secular. Thus, ancient biblical myths of a global flood find themselves replayed in environmentalist concerns about apocalyptic climate change. Apocalyptic outbreaks of plague during the Reformation period find contemporary eschatological resonance in the salvationist governmentality of international NGOs driven by bio-anxieties about new global pandemics. Asking questions about these emerging issues in the history and anthropology of apocalypse need not be focused on religion per se, but might still be helpfully framed in terms of morality. How do expectations of radical change intensify, suspend and otherwise transform the moral understandings by which people usually live? What, in short, is the morality of millenarianism?

Zoe Hyman (History, QUB)
“Must America be destroyed?” White Supremacists and the Battle against Integration in the United States

Crawford Gribben (History, QUB)
Theonomy and Libertarianism: Millennialism, Ethics and Christian Reconstruction

David Robertson (Religious Studies, University of Edinburgh)
Them: The Morality of the Other in Millennial Conspiracism

Joe Webster (Anthropology, QUB)
Eschatological Agency: Moral Freedom and Prophecy Fulfilment on Land and at Sea

Steve Knowles (Religious Studies, Chester)
Apocalyptic Catastrophe, and the Intensity of Information in the Mediapolis

Stefan Skrimshire (Theology and Religious Studies, Leeds)
Millenarian Ideology and Temporality in Climate Politics

Tristan Sturm (Geography, QUB)
Archaeological Past, Architectural Present, Apocalyptic Future

Jacob Hickman (Anthropology, BYU)
The Fifth Pillar of World Religions: Moral Agency over Time in Hmong Millenarianism

Public Monograph: Day 11

It is done. Quad scripsi, scripsi.

It feels like a time of big changes. Rex is out of nappies AT LAST, so no more nappy bags or high chairs or prams or any of the accoutrements of life with pre-schoolers cluttering up my house and my life. Today is the first day of the school holidays, and when they’re done, both boys will be at school. And that means pretty much double the number of working hours in my week.

With that are three big publications in the coming six months – After World Religions (January), my Millennial Conspiracism monograph (February) and the special issue of Nova Religio on “Conspiracy theories in Alternative and Emergent Religions” (November). At the same time, it’s clear that I won’t be walking into a tenure-track job in the foreseeable future, so there’s that.  This weekend, I’m going on a writing retreat for three days to Upland Shepherd Huts in the Lammermuir Hills – my 40th birthday present from my beloved. I will have a wood burner, a barbeque and no internet or phone. I will be attempting to finish a draft of a novel, and plan out what my next few projects will be.

Public Monograph: Day 9

UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New AgeSo it’s crunch time. I am due to submit this week, but there are still a few things to do and little time to do them in. I have finished checking the references, and will make the changes to the bibliography on friday when I have access to a PC with a recent copy of Word. I need to sit down with my various folders of journal papers and bring some references up to date. I have also lost the dedications I wrote, so I’ll have to do that again. And I’ve been putting off adding a couple of paragraphs to chapter 6… Can I do all of this by 3:30 on friday? I can try!

Then I got an email saying that the Bloomsbury had put the book’s web page online. And when I saw the cover, I felt very proud of myself.

Public Monograph: Day 6

A good, solid day’s writing, if unremarkable. Managed about three and a half hours, and got to the end of chapter 2. This is good progress, as most of the rewriting is in those two chapters. There’s bits and pieces to add or change throughout, and the whole thing needs worked over for readability, but those were the biggest challenge.

On top of this, I have been powering through the other projects which have been taking up my time, and I think I’m in good shape all round. The BASR Bulletin is done, pending proofing; the problems with the IAHR are resolved; and After World Religions awaits a couple of signatures before full submission. Tonight is also the first class in my new Alternative Religions night class. I have some extra time this weekend, so I intend to power through the current draft to the end, and then put it aside for a week or so. During that time, I’ll be finishing off an overdue chapter for another book, and will try to get on top of the more mundane aspects – clearing the photographs and newspaper stories, and contacting a few of the people who are mentioned in it. This will also give me time to think what else the final draft needs.

Talking of After World Religions, I took delivery of the artwork this week:


Public Monograph: Day 5

What’s the real difference between conspiracists and a popularized, that is a teachable version of social critique inspired by a too quick reading of… Pierre Bourdieu…? … in both cases again it is the same appeal to powerful agents hidden in the dark acting always consistently, continuously, relentlessly… I find something troublingly similar in the structure of the explanation, in the first movement of disbelief and, then, in the wheeling of causal explanations… it worries me to detect… many of the weapons of social critique (Latour 2004, 229-30).

I spent the morning dealing with other thing which demanded my attention, and I managed to get about three hours on the book in the afternoon. I went back to the start of the book and started working through it on a micro level. And today felt like hard work for the first time in the process. After the big structural changes, I am working through sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word, and each little change seems to spread out and require other changes before or after it. Other paragraphs don’t seem so neccessary any more. Reducing one section changes the balance of the overall composition. But I can see it starting to take on a different character now.

But frankly, its been a shitty week, and I’m burned out. Instead I went to toast my friend Ethan Quillen having submitted his thesis. I was supposed to go back to work after that, but I couldn’t be bothered and went to see Mad Max: Fury Road instead. It’s really something.


Public Monograph: Day 5

My first of two full days of work for this week. I got a flurry of emails yesterday and this morning regarding my IAHR panels, the journal issue I am guest-editing and the BASR Bulletin which I needed to deal with straight off this morning. But at 1PM, I managed to sit down at last to hash my way through the draft for the first time. I did all of the big structural changes needed, and worked my way through the comments I’d noted down as I read through. To be completely honest, it took me a good while to get going, and I skipped a good number of the text-level changes at the beginning, but I will pick it up there on Friday. I stopped then to do some work on my Alternative Religions class for Wednesday, and to practise for my Birthday recording session in two weeks (more on that later).

I thought you might like this, from the concluding chapter:

Millennial and alternative archaeological narratives present sweeping accounts of the present—as framed by the ancient past and anticipating a prophetic future—unavailable to those of us informed only by our socially-constructed knowledge, lacking the channelled, synthetic or experiential knowledge they have access to. For the conspiracist sees subjects inside history and society as constructs of ‘alien’ information systems in which thoughts, values, and beliefs do not originate with the subject. In contrast to the limited and impoverished ‘everyday subject’, the metaphysical conspiracist is constructed as “a perfect autonomous subject who, despite being one of the majority outside the conspiracy’s elite, remains unaffected by the conspiracy’s operations and untouched by its disinformation—unlike the rest of society” (Maton 2003, 28).

However, the accounts of Strieber, Wilcock and in particular Icke ascribe a remarkable lack of personal agency to the majority of individuals, who are constructed as a sleeping, aquiescent majority whose every thought and action is determined by the conspiratorial agents. The irony then, is that these discourses simultaneously seek to empower the individuality of the subject while disempowering the masses. In claiming to address disempowerment, they in fact remove agency from the majority and restrict it for a special class: an epistemic elect.

Now go watch David Icke on Alex Jones yesterday:

Public Monograph: Day 4

Monday was a right-off because of a Dentist’s appointment and an appointment at Rex’s soon-to-be Primary School, so I wangled myself a couple of hours to catch up today by pretending to be working at the Scottish Parliament and putting Rex in the creche. I finished my close reading, ready to start writing in earnest tomorrow.


Am considering using the following quote from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes as an epigraph:

“Dad, will they ever come back?”

“No. And yes.” Dad tucked away his harmonica. “No not them. But yes, other people like them. Not in a carnival. God knows what shape they’ll come in next. But sunrise, noon, or at the latest, sunset tomorrow they’ll show. They’re on the road.”

“Oh, no,” said Will.

“Oh, yes, said Dad. “We got to watch out the rest of our lives. The fight’s just begun.”

They moved around the carousel slowly.

“What will they look like? How will we know them?”

“Why,” said Dad, quietly, “maybe they’re already here.”

Both boys looked around swiftly.

But there was only the meadow, the machine, and themselves.

Also, this arrived:


Public Monograph: Day 3

A slow start due to a late night watching the election results. Read Chapters 5 and 6, continuing to add items to the index. I stopped before tackling the conclusion, however, as I was utterly knackered and I had a recording session that evening, so I went for a walk instead.

At this point, I am rather happy with the manuscript, and see less rewriting than I would have thought. Some questions that are arising:

  • Do I update these chapters to include the events since I originally wrote them, or leave as is, reflecting a particular time period, and revisit the subjects in a future work? Alternatively, do I add a post-script, mirroring the prologue?
  • Some issues of privacy are different now. I’ll have to anonymise anyone I cited without asking if I could, because being named in thesis and being named in a published book are not the same thing at all.
  • At the same time, I wonder if I should get in contact with those I can for further comment? This is problematic in itself… Some people I am more friendly with thn I was, while others have dropped of my radar for whatever reason. Some I don’t want to contact because I know they have more important concerns and I don’t want to waste their time; others (like Icke) I worry that at this late stage might see the whole thing combatitively.
  • I’ll have to contact all the sources for images again. Have thought of some new possibilities, however…

Public Monograph: Day 2

9:30 – Took kids to school. Determined to finish marking and get back to the book. Done by 11:15 so edited next week’s RSP podcast to get ahead of the game and did my digital ablutions for the morning, before heading to pick Rex up again. Kind of a hectic start to the day, I know, but I find these intense hours invaluable for getting through my less creative and more repetitive tasks.

2:15 – Back to the book. A flurry of emails and back to the close reading. Started a new Evernote file to become a draft Index – I’ll add keywords to this as I reread and redraft, so the final index will be easier to produce. Ran out of steam by 5. Got to the end of chapter 4, and started to worry how long this is taking. Index is now about 300 words though, which is pretty cool.


6:10 – Moved to main library where for a change I opened a new word document, copied the first draft in, formatted in line with Bloomsbury’s style and made a few global changes. It now seems like a real thing. Went home at 7. Won’t get much done tomorrow because I’ll have the kids all day as it’s a general election tomorrow so the schools are out.

Here’s what we’re going for on the back cover and publicity. Any comments welcome:

Placing UFO phenomena and related conspiracy theories in their socio-religious context, this book is an innovative investigation as to why conspiracy theories became so prevalent in the New Age milieu. David Robertson argues that UFOs formed a bridge between conspiracy theories and popular millennial ideas in the post Cold War period. Through case studies mixing historical discourse analysis with ethnographic fieldwork, Robertson examines the work of three writers: the religious overtones of horror novelist Whitley Strieber; David Icke, who theorises that reptilian ETs covertly control the affairs of the world; and David Wilcock, Ancient Aliens regular and alleged reincarnation of Edgar Cayce.
The investigation reveals that UFOs are a symbol for uncertainty concerning the boundaries between scientific and other strategies for the legitimisation of knowledge, encouraging their adoption in both conspiracist and popular millennial discourses. Robertson argues that millennial conspiracism therefore reconciles the utopian vision of popular millennialism with the apocalyptic critique of modern global society offered by conspiracists. At the same time, metaphysical conspiracism offers millennialists a theodicy which argues that the prophesied New Age did not fail, but was prevented from arriving by malevolent, hidden others.
An overview of the development of UFO subcultures from the perspective of religious studies, UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New Age is an innovative application of discourse analysis to the study of present day alternative religion.



Public Monograph: Day 1

Screenshot_2015-05-05-21-18-31Day 1 of the process of putting together my monograph, Millennial Conspiracism: UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New Age, was somewhat stymied by a stack of 91 essay papers to mark and printer trouble. But I eventually managed to get started. I made a project in Todoist (on the right), and printed the draft out and started reading. I got a chapter and a half into it (out of seven), but in my defence, these were the parts which require the most rewriting, and I had to make a lot of decisions about how I would deal with terminology and such which will carry on through the rest of the book. I retitled all the chapters to sound less like a thesis. I also took a look at the last book in the Bloomsbury Advances in Religious Studies series, Mika Lassander’s Post-Materialist Religionto get an idea of the referencing, formatting, length and so on.


IMG_20150504_120043Somewhere towards the end of that pint, I paused to reconsider the wisdom of doing this publicly.