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Edited by Moshe Sluhovsky

The French mystic Jean-Joseph Surin (1600–65) was the chief exorcist during the infamous demonic possession in Loudun in 1634–37. During the exorcism, a demon entered Surin’s own soul, and the exorcist became demoniac. He spent the following eighteen years of his life mute and paralyzed. All the while his troubled mind conversed with God, and he composed hymns and poems that tried to comprehend his agony. Surin left detailed descriptions of the dramatic events that shaped his life and fascinated his fellow Jesuits. But Surin was also an author of spiritual texts, a spiritual director of souls, a poet, and a prolific correspondent. This volume is the first to offer English readers a comprehensive selection of Surin’s mystical writings.
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Edited by Andrew Village and Ralph W. Hood

The general papers in Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, Volume 29 cover a range of topics including psychological type, prayer, nature and well-being, psychobiography, coping with addiction, and the role of place in spirituality. The first special section on congregational studies draws on a range of large datasets from the National Church Life Surveys in Australia. Papers examine the factors that predict individual sense of belonging in Catholic parishes as well as congregational-level aspects of vitality, collective confidence, and innovativeness. The second special section examines the Ideological Surround Model and how it can help to better understand expressions of faith related to psychological constructs such as mindfulness, fundamentalism, and the ‘Dark Triad’ of Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy.
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Edited by Asbjørn Dyrendal, David G. Robertson and Egil Asprem

Conspiracy theories are a ubiquitous feature of our times. The Handbook of Conspiracy Theories and Contemporary Religion is the first reference work to offer a comprehensive, transnational overview of this phenomenon along with in-depth discussions of how conspiracy theories relate to religion(s). Bringing together experts from a wide range of disciplines, from psychology and philosophy to political science and the history of religions, the book sets the standard for the interdisciplinary study of religion and conspiracy theories.
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Joseph E. Uscinski, Darin DeWitt and Matthew D. Atkinson

Scholars, journalists, and pundits claim that the internet is the cause of conspiracy theorizing. However, the arguments linking the internet to conspiracy theorizing are often underspecified and there is little empirical evidence linking the internet to conspiracy theorizing. Does the internet drive the spread of conspiracy theories and how so? In this chapter, we contend that the Internet has not done as much for conspiracy theorizing as many otherwise assume. While the Internet allows conspiracy theories to travel farther and faster than before, our evidence does not suggest that more people believe in conspiracy theories because of its introduction. Further, while many often assume that the internet allows people to spread ideas indiscriminately via social media, people tend to selectively choose their internet conspiracy theories based upon their existing dispositions, rather than by following the online herd as is often assumed.

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Tao T. Makeeff

This chapter investigates points of convergence between anti-Semitism, nationalism, and conspiracy theory in contemporary Greece by narrowing in on a marginal subset of Greek anti-Semitic conspiracy theories concerning the so-called Epsilon Team, a secret society that some actors within the Greek cultic milieu and extreme right wing circles believe originated in ancient Greece as well as in outer space. After a short introduction to some important aspects in understanding Greek nationalism, and thus the context of Greek anti-Semitism, namely the construction of pseudo-historiographic accounts about religious homogeneity and cultural continuity, the chapter outlines the historical development of the Epsilon Team conspiracy theory and its contemporary reception. Finally, in an analysis of the origins of the two main components of this conspiracy theory – the idea of an evil Jewish conspiracy, and that of a secret group that protects what subscriber to the theory view as ‘true Greeks’ against this threat, I suggest that both of these ideas originate in a Christian world view and have been influenced by a particular Orthodox Christian national myth.

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Amanda van Eck Duymaer van Twist and Suzanne Newcombe

This chapter explores the sociology of conspiracy theory in areas of the contemporary cultic milieu, identifying rational social reasons for allegiance to a particular theory as often being more compelling for individuals than the apparent ‘empirical’ truth or falsity of the theory itself. Those who hold non-mainstream theories often work actively to reinforce these beliefs with bonds of social identity. From the perspective of marginal religious groups, belief in conspiracy theories might be very rational and come with social benefits of group solidarity, as well as identification with a clear moral and belief-based community. The point of the theory is not necessarily about its truth – but about the effects of the belief for individuals within socially marginalized networks.

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Michael Hagemeister

The experience of crises and fear of catastrophe have led to a boom of conspiratorial patterns of interpretation in post-Soviet Russia. Based on a long tradition of apocalyptic prophecies and speculations, Holy Russia is presented as the eschatological “Third Rome”, as Katechon, called upon and chosen to withstand the Antichrist (who will take his seat in the third temple in Jerusalem) and his agents. These agents are identified predominantly with the Jews, the alleged supporters and beneficiaries of the modern “West”. In ecclesiastical and nationalist circles the infamous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” are perceived as Apokalypsis, i.e. the unveiling of the hidden strategy of the satanic forces of darkness in their unremitting struggle against the Divine forces of light. The “apocalyptic matrix” with its eschatologically defined proponents of doom and salvation offers orientation, separation, solidarity and compensation all in one.

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Nicky Falkof

During the last years of apartheid the white South African press fell victim to a powerful Satanic panic which suggested that white Satanists were infiltrating the nation, endangering its youth and threatening its moral fibre. Although no evidence of satanic cult activity was ever uncovered, police, politicians, editors, teachers and other moral entrepreneurs were deeply committed to the idea that organised Satanists were attacking the nation from within. This chapter argues that the conspiracy theories that developed around fear of Satanism were in fact an act of collective deferral: they allowed white people to express potent anxieties about social change without having to acknowledge black South Africans’ legitimate demands for justice, which were becoming increasingly difficult to evade. Far from being just an episode of mass hysteria, white fears of Satanist conspiracy were an important element of the paranoid, reactive psychic landscape of whiteness at the end of apartheid.

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Tsuji Ryutaro

Studies of Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese new religious movement responsible for the 1994 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo metro and whose leader, Shoko Asahara, was executed in July 2018, have often focused on the group’s apocalypticism. This chapter argues that Aum’s increasing interest in conspiracy theories forms a central part in explaining why the group turned violent. Two key questions about Aum’s conspiracy theories are explored: First, how does Aum’s conspiracism relate to the broader context of Japanese conspiracy culture? Second, how do we understand the group’s conspiracy theories in the context of its activities as a religious organization? The chapter argues that the development of Aum’s apocalyptic beliefs into conspiracy theories that demonize outside society pushed the group towards physical violence.

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Stef Aupers and Jaron Harambam

In the social sciences, conspiracy theory is often morally debunked as pathological, irrational and dangerous and, essentially, considered a form of ‘religious superstition’. Arguing that this simplistic labelling of conspiracy theory as ‘religious belief’ is primarily a form of ‘boundary work’ to legitimate the epistemic authority of the social sciences, this chapter studies the hybrid character of contemporary conspiracy theory based on the self-understanding of its advocates. The analysis shows that conspiracy culture is an unstable, multi-faced phenomenon that is situated at the intersection of three discourses: secular scepticism, popular sociology, and spiritual salvation. Mixing up secular science and spiritual salvation and simultaneously assessing how the world ‘is’ and how it ‘ought’ to be, may be a horror to academics; for conspiracy theorists it is having the best of both worlds.