David G. Robertson
How is authority built up and maintained in a milieu in which all information is treated with distrust? How is charisma institutionalised in fields which reject institutions? This chapter attempts to answer these questions through examining two prominent conspiracist authorities with different geographical and political positions, David Icke and Alex Jones. Drawing on Max Weber’s (1964) concept of “charisma”, Matthew Wood’s description of multiple and relative “non-formative” authorities, and my own model of “epistemic capital”, I will argue that in this field authority is accumulated through a strategic mobilisation of a range of both mainstream and alternative sources of knowledge, drawing from traditional, scientific, channelled, experiential, and synthetic epistemic strategies.
Falun Gong emerged in the aftermath of the Qigong Boom of the 1980s and 1990s. Founded by the charismatic Li Hongzhi, the organisation was soon to attract the unwelcome attentions of the government of the People’s Republic of China. By the last year of the twentieth century, Falun Gong was banned in China, just ahead of Li’s flight to the United States. In the years that have followed, a number of conspiracy theories have been proffered by both sides of the debate, each making an impassioned plea to a Western audience to legitimise their actions. This chapter examines some of those theories, along with the possible reasons for their existence. It also features a brief account of the author’s unwitting participation as an actor in one such conspiracy.
This chapter explores some versions of a popular and religiously flexible conspiracy theory that is popular among ethnic Albanians in the Balkans and in the diaspora, which combines speculations about religion, society, politics and cosmos in intricate ways. A tenet is that a proto-Albanian people in antiquity, a superior race that created civilisation and everything valuable. However, the story goes, other nations have appropriated everything valuable, denied the Albanians their rights and suppressed the Truth, namely that the key to social justice and perennial wisdom has been preserved in Albanian language, blood and culture. Such fringe theories give old nationalist myths a new metaphysical twist and provide a framework for the reinterpretation of religious pluralism in a post-totalitarian, fragmented and globalised context.
This chapter analyses the popular anti-Semitic conspiratorial rhetoric in Turkey and argues that the conspiratorial accounts are proposed in accordance with political perspectives and interests. In particular, the research focuses on the best-selling conspiracy theory book series, Efendi. These series is about a secret Judaic society called Dönmes (Converts), a real religious group that has been the subject of various conspiratorial accounts since the early twentieth century. Analysing the content of the Efendi series and the discussion it created in the Turkish media, the study shows the transformation of a right-wing conspiracy account into a left-wing one. It illustrates that the conspiratorial account is in line with the left-wing political perspective of the book series’ author, the journalist Soner Yalçın.
David G. Robertson, Egil Asprem and Asbjørn Dyrendal
Conspiracy theory and religion are complex phenomena. The relationship between them varies. This chapter introduces some of these relations, highlighting conspiracy theory in, about, and as religion. Conspiracy theory as religion highlights conspiracy thinking as worldview – conspiracism – and the parallels and differences between religion and conspiracism in modes of thinking and organizing collective action. Conspiracy theory in religion highlights religions as organized collectives, the content of and the roles more specific conspiracy theories play in different regions for different groups. Conspiracy theory about religion highlights the varied uses of conspiracy theories in demonizing religious collectives.
Brian L. Keeley
A common element of Western theism is a belief in Providence, in the sense of some kind of (perhaps unknown or inscrutable) Divine Plan for creation, especially if it involves Divine intervention in the world to see to it that His will be done. This positioning of God as a behind-the-scenes agent acting so as to bring about some end of His own desire has the flavor of conspiracy theory. Where some secular conspiracy theorists posit a cabal of powerful individuals (bankers, Freemasons, etc.) “pulling the strings” behind current events, belief in Providence posits God in a similar role (or perhaps God in conflict with a powerful, supernatural force of evil). But is this a fair comparison? Prima facie, there are a number of differences between the two cases, for example, God is posited as beneficent, whereas most conspiracy theories involve more self-serving goals or conspiracy theorists believe they have rational reason for their belief, not mere faith. This paper explores the relationship between these two cases in an attempt to more clearly define the epistemological features of each and to help understand how conclusions about the epistemic virtue of one might (or might not) apply to the other.
Willow J. Berridge
This chapter challenges narratives that posit Islamist conspiracism as the product of a purely irrational mode of politics, contending that while Islamist conspiracy narratives are often offer both reductive and antagonistic socio-political visions, those that produce them often do so for quite rational purposes. Conspiracy narratives have served well Islamists seeking to delegitimize their opponents and justify questionable political methods. Following Gray (2010), it contends that they are able to serve this function not because conspiracism manifests an inherent character of Muslim politics, but because of the particular impact of colonialism on Muslim politics – long histories of divide and rule, as well as the manipulation of state elites by external actors, have created a political environment in which the simplistic narratives that conspiracism offers can gain credence.