Rational enchantments: Conspiracy theories between secular scepticism and religious salvation

21 January 2014, 17:00 - 19:00

SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road (CRASSH)

A Public Lecture by Conspiracy & Democracy Visiting Fellow Stef Aupers (Erasmus University of Rotterdam).

In the social sciences, a conspiracy theory is often disqualified as ‘irrational’ superstition or religious belief. In defense, conspiracy theorists present their methods of inquiry as utterly rational – often even more scientific than ‘dogmatic’ institutionalized science. In this lecture, it is argued that both definitions of conspiracy theories are inadequate: they are basically moral labels and informed by a power struggle over ‘true’ knowledge. At closer empirical  inspection, conspiracy theorists combine aspects of science and religion to find the ‘truth out there’. On the one hand, they embrace modern skepticism about contemporary institutions, experts and the knowledge they produce. On the other, they are motivated by a desire to believe in a progressively ‘disenchanted world’: by making claims about invisible, yet powerful forces operating beyond the empirical surface of everyday life, they attribute ultimate meaning to a modern, rationalized and globalized society. Conspiracy culture is a complex constellation of skepticism and belief – a rational form of re-enchantment. 

Photo credit:
Forest Light, Scott Wylie, Flickr, via Creative Commons