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.
This chapter considers the entanglement of UFOs, new religions, and conspiracy theory. In three case studies – the Nation of Islam, Heaven’s Gate and Scientology – the functional appeal of conspiracy theories is examined through their mitigation of uncertainty and failure by positing a malevolent, occluded counter-agency. Special attention is given to their epistemic appeal—in each case, special knowledge is gained through appeals to exclusive epistemic strategies, which challenge the dominant episteme and help to establish a counter-elite.
In 1974, Robert Fripp—leader of the progressive rock group King Crimson—had a spiritual experience in which “the top of [his] head blew off.” He became a student of J. G. Bennett, himself a former student of G. I. Gurdjieff, at Sherborne House in Gloucestershire, and remains a member of the Bennett Foundation to this day. When Fripp returned to the music industry, it was with an approach that favored disciplined and geometric compositions over the jagged improvisation of the earlier period. This article explores the influence of Gurdjieff and Bennett’s teaching upon Fripp and his work, and his apparent attempts to realize the former’s idea of “objective art” through his music. I pay particular attention to the development of Guitar Craft, in which Fripp applies Gurdjieff’s techniques through the teaching of the guitar. I argue that Fripp’s teaching is a little examined scion of the Gurdjieff lineage, and a case study of discrete cultural production.
April DeConick’s The Gnostic New Age demonstrates that scholarship of Gnosticism is still entrenched in an Eliadian phenomenological paradigm which essentializes an ahistorical sui generis “Gnosis”. This approach is traceable to the Eranos Circle, particularly Carl G. Jung and Gilles Quispel, and builds certain philosophical and psychoanalytical affinities into an ahistorical religious current. DeConick’ comparison with New Age is tenuous, and misses the important fact that Gnosticism and New Age share specific genealogical antecedents. Interdisciplinary work needs to pay more attention to the theological and colonial implications of categories, or such problematic categories will continue to take root in the gaps between academic specialisms.
This response builds on Wolfart’s observations on the theological underpinnings of the “religious literacy” paradigm in a North American context by reflecting on the situation in the United Kingdom. Here, it is even more apparent that institutional factors are a bigger driver than methodological factors, driven by the neo-liberalisation of the universities and the entrenched institutional dominance of confessional approaches to the study of religion. Yet it also provides a way for social-scientific scholars of religion to explain the instrumental value of the subject to policymakers and funding bodies. I conclude by sketching an approach to religious literacy more in keeping with post-phenomenological Religious Studies.