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.
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…