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Conspirituality Reconsidered: How Surprising and How New is the Confluence of Spirituality and Conspiracy Theory?

Authors:

Abstract

Those who have followed the development of online new religiosity over the past decade will not have failed to notice that conspiracy theories and ‘New Age’ ideas are thriving together. But how new and how surprising is the phenomenon of ‘conspirituality’? In the present article, we challenge the thesis put forward by Charlotte Ward and David Voas in their article of 2011, published in the Journal of Contemporary Religion, that a confluence of spirituality and conspiracism has emerged in the past two decades as a form of New Age theodicy. Instead, we argue, on theoretical grounds, that conspirituality can be viewed as a predictable result of structural elements in the cultic milieu and, on historical grounds, that its roots stretch deep into the history of Western esotericism. Together, these two considerations allow us not only to suggest that conspirituality is old and predictable, but also to identify a large potential for further research which will contribute to the study of conspiracy culture and enable a new line of comparative research in religious studies.
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Accepted for publication in Journal of Contemporary Religion
Conspirituality Reconsidered:
How surprising and how new is the confluence of spirituality and
conspiracy theory?!
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Conspirituality Reconsidered:
How surprising and how new is the confluence of spirituality and conspiracy
theory?!
!
Introduction%
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References:%
E%&'#(I!e,+*/!D=#;-.3!5@#!J#%5R!C-B$'3%!$!A#B!<-(&$'$5+:+%(!+.!5@#!8503;!-6!
e%-5#'+1+%(/F!E"))$'*"!6$!0$'R&F!%+!$&S"()!2%&7")&31$&:026$4+0&B3(6;&"7&
T$'3$)!&/'"3$)+0+'4!M/"!LMN"_OR!Z[ZZ/!
[[[!L1$&H)"8%$4&"7&O+'$!012!34$!3R&B0+$!3+7+0&923()2%+'4&2!6&/'"3$)+0&O+'0"()'$Q&
UVWWXUVYV/!i#+3#.R!='+**I!MN"_/!
[[[I!$.3!o#..#5!`'$.@-*(!L#3%/O/!E"!3$4*")2);&/'"3$)+0+'4/!8@#66+#*3R!em0+.-Y!
?02*+%@+.,I!MN"Z/!
[[[I!$.3!o#..#5!`'$.@-*(/!D<-.%5'015+.,!e%-5#'+1+%(%R!8-1+-*-,+1$*I!W+%5-'+1$*I!
$.3!<'+5+1$*!E&&'-$1@#%!5-!5@#!H.:#.5+-.!-6!C'$3+5+-./F!H.!E%&'#(!$.3!
`'$.@-*(!#3%/I!Ma[_U/!
=$'Q0.I!S+1@$#*/&:&E(%3()$&"7&E"!'*+)20;R&:*"02%;*3+0&Z+'+"!'&+!&E"!3$4*")2);&
:4$)+02[!=#'Q#*#;I!<ER!9!-6!<$*+6-'.+$!?I!MNNZ/!
=#',0.3#'I!S+1@$#*/!DJ@$5!+%!e%-5#'+1+%(G!<0*50'$*!8503+#%!E&&'-$1@#%!$.3!5@#!
?'-2*#(%!-6!4#6+.+5+-.!+.!7#*+,+-0%!8503+#%/F!C$31"6&2!6&L1$");&+!&31$&B3(6;&
"7&-$%+,+"!!MM!LMN"MOR!T[Zf/!
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... Charlotte Ward and David Voas (2011) were the first to analyse conspirituality in an academic article, arguing that it represented the merger of right-wing conspiracy theory and New Age spirituality at the turn of the twenty-first century. Egil Asprem and Asbjørn Dyrendal (2015) critiqued their framework, arguing that conspirituality was not new or surprising, as it had its roots in Western esotericism, what Colin Campbell (1972) called the 'cultic 5. Disinformation is the deliberate and deceptive spread of false information. Misinformation is the spread of false information without malicious intent. ...
... (Con)spiritual individuals and movements also identify themselves in opposition not just to elite authorities but to the mainstream more generally, including mainstream media, religious, medical, agricultural, scientific and political institutions, and the dominant culture of capitalism (Asprem and Dyrendal 2015;Bramadat 2017;Campbell 1972;Gauthier 2020; Harambam and Aupers 2021; Parmigiani 2021; Ward and Voas 2011). While these critiques of modernity and reason have historical antecedents in Romanticism and Western esotericism and occultism (Asprem and Dyrendal 2015), they intensified during the 1960s counter-culture movement, evident in the proliferation of new religious and spiritual movements, and again in the 1990s New Age. ...
... (Con)spiritual individuals and movements also identify themselves in opposition not just to elite authorities but to the mainstream more generally, including mainstream media, religious, medical, agricultural, scientific and political institutions, and the dominant culture of capitalism (Asprem and Dyrendal 2015;Bramadat 2017;Campbell 1972;Gauthier 2020; Harambam and Aupers 2021; Parmigiani 2021; Ward and Voas 2011). While these critiques of modernity and reason have historical antecedents in Romanticism and Western esotericism and occultism (Asprem and Dyrendal 2015), they intensified during the 1960s counter-culture movement, evident in the proliferation of new religious and spiritual movements, and again in the 1990s New Age. In this way they form a 'dissensus'-'both cognitive and affective'-of those who exclude themselves from the 'common sense' of the majority (Parmigiani 2021: 511 quoting Rancière 1999, relying more on post-secular, experiential, 'ways of knowing' than rational beliefs (Harambam and Aupers 2021; Parmigiani 2021). ...
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Conspirituality-the merger of conspiracy theories and spirituality-has attracted significant global media and scholarly attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. convictions proposed by Ward and Voas that '1) a secret group covertly controls , or is trying to control, the political and social order, and 2) humanity is undergoing a "paradigm shift" in consciousness'. We identify an additional ten key convictions central to (con)spirituality, including those that result in vaccine hesitancy and/or refusal. We chose to bracket the 'con' to prob-lematize the term, and to encompass a wider spectrum of spiritual beliefs and practices, including those that are non-controversial, those that may be deceptive cons, and/or those that draw on conspiracy theories. The article presents an analysis of these twelve (con)spiritual convictions, focusing on a sample of 'Aussie Warriors' selling (con)spirituality, and also on influencers attempting to counter the spread of dis/misinformation within wellness circles. In so doing, the article provides a more nuanced understanding of (con) spirituality and vaccine hesitancy, and a greater knowledge of the benefits and risks of spiritual practices and ideas during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
... Conspirituality umschreibt hybride Glaubenssysteme und Weltanschauungen wie auch eine politisch-spirituelle Philosophie, wonach davon ausgegangen wird, dass geheime Gruppen die politische und soziale Ordnung kontrollieren, wie auch steuern, und dass nichts zufällig passiert. Gleichzeitig -so die Autor:innen -gäbe es ein neues Paradigma des Bewusstseins, das sich in der New Age Spirituality manifestiert und eine problemlösende Rolle einnimmt (Ward und Voas 2011;Asprem und Dyrendal 2015). Ähnlichkeiten zwischen Spiritualität und Verschwörungsglauben scheinen daher gegeben, unter anderem aufgrund der unterstellten Annahme, dass nichts zufällig passiere respektive Ereignisse miteinander in Zusammenhang stehen und nichts so ist, wie es scheint (Gligoric et al. 2021 Die in Modell 1 signifikanten Prädiktoren Alter, Bildung und negative emotionale Betroffenheit während der COVID-19-Pandemie bleiben auch durch Zunahme weiterer Prädiktoren in den anderen Modellen hochsignifikant. ...
... Insbesondere die Abgrenzung zwischen Religiosität und alternativer Religiosität (Ladini 2021) respektive Spiritualität scheint im Kontext Verschwörungsaffinität von Bedeutung zu sein. So gibt es Befunde, dass Spiritualität den Glauben an Verschwörungsmythen positiv beeinflusst, gestützt durch die Annahme eines neuen Glaubenssystems der "Conspirituality" (Ward und Voas 2011;Asprem und Dyrendal 2015;Gligoric et al. 2021). ...
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Zusammenfassung In Krisenzeiten gewinnen alternative Weltdeutungen an Definitionsmacht, die Leitbilder der öffentlichen Sphäre in Frage stellen. Im Zuge der COVID-19-Pandemie verbreiten sich solche Narrative in Form von Verschwörungsmythen. Sie bieten Erklärungen für komplexe Sachverhalte, indem davon ausgegangen wird, dass gesellschaftliche Ereignisse von geheimen Eliten geplant und gesteuert werden. Darüber hinaus beruhen sie häufig auf pseudotranszendentalen Erklärungen, die sich einer Überprüfung entziehen, aber schicksalhafte Ereignisse mit Sinn füllen. In diesem Zusammenhang stellt sich die Frage, ob Verschwörungsmythen religiöse oder spirituelle Züge beinhalten. In dieser Studie untersuchen wir mit einer im April 2022 durchgeführten repräsentativen Bevölkerungsbefragung in der deutsch- und französischsprachigen Schweiz (n = 1221) den Zusammenhang zwischen Spiritualität, Religiosität und der Affinität gegenüber Verschwörungsmythen. Die Resultate zeigen zunächst, dass insbesondere die emotionale Betroffenheit während der COVID-19-Pandemie ein wichtiger Prädiktor im Zusammenhang mit Verschwörungsaffinität ist. Je negativer die emotionale Betroffenheit, umso höher ist die Affinität gegenüber Verschwörungsmythen. Umgekehrt wirken positive Emotionen während der Pandemie negativ auf die Verschwörungsaffinität. Während die Konfessionszugehörigkeit wie auch Religiosität kaum die Verschwörungsaffinität beeinflussen, erweist sich in unserer Studie Spiritualität als wichtigster Prädiktor. Wir schliessen daraus, dass in säkularisierten Gesellschaften Spiritualität ohne die Einbindung in traditionelle religiöse Gemeinschaften mit einer verstärkten Offenheit für Verschwörungsmythen als Ersatzreligion einhergeht.
... If we extend the idea of the external locus of control to the existence of external (even hidden) forces that can impact one's life, we naturally come to the possibility that believing in conspiracy theories represents a potential mediator of this relationship, from religiosity to beliefs in conspiracy theories, and from the latter to vaccine hesitancy. The idea of a relationship between religiosity and beliefs in conspiracy theories traces back to the seminal work of Ward and Voas (2011) and has been explored in several studies, both conceptually and empirically (Asprem & Dyrendal, 2015;Dyrendal & Hestad, 2021;Dyrendal et al., 2018;Frenken et al., 2022;Jasinskaja-Lahti & Jetten, 2019;Ladini, 2022). Conspiracy theories were even referred to as "quasi-religious beliefs" (Franks et al., 2013, p. 10). ...
... Our work followed the suggestion raised by Ward and Voas (2011) with the intriguing concept of "conspirituality." In this vein, further research could enrich our understanding by considering other dimensions of religiosity theoretically associated with these beliefs, such as forms of spirituality and alternative religiosity, which share the same cultic milieu (Asprem & Dyrendal, 2015). ...
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This article analyzes the relationship between religiosity and vaccine hesitancy by highlighting the role of a specific dimension of religiosity that makes some people more prone to explaining health conditions as a divine agency-the belief in the immanent presence of the divine in everyday life. Accordingly, these people may undervalue the role of vaccination as a solution to cope with a pandemic and may be more skeptical of vaccines. We suggest a mechanism explaining the relationship between religiosity and vaccine hesitancy by focusing on the mediating role of beliefs in conspiracy theories, given that belief in divine immanence and conspiracy theories share the common trait of attributing agency to hidden forces. Beliefs in conspiracy theories, in turn, have been shown to be among the strongest predictors of vaccine hesitancy. By using a moderated mediation analysis on Italian survey data collected during the Covid-19 pandemic, we show that such a mechanism helps explain the relationship between believing in divine immanence and vaccine hesitancy among people not adhering to institutional religiosity. In contrast, this mechanism does not apply when the immanent conception of the divine is framed within a system of beliefs belonging to institutional religion.
... Religiosity generally predicted conspiracy beliefs about Covid (Dyrendal and Hestad 2021;Jacobsen, Kühle, and Christensen 2021), and among participants from different religious groups, opposition to these measures was also made emblematic of religious identity. The early pandemic saw a "conspirituality" (Asprem and Dyrendal 2015) surge as many in the alternative spirituality milieu sought alternative explanations and presented government behavior as tyrannical (Lehrmann 2020). 5 Inspired by international networks, some of them took the unusual step (for them) and started public demonstrations (Faerseth 2021; Önnerfors 2021). ...
... The term, however, was first used almost a decade earlier in a scholarly article by Charlotte Ward and David Voas (2011) on 'The Emergence of Conspirituality' in the Journal of Contemporary Religion, to describe the nexus of right-wing conspiracy theory and New Age spirituality at the turn of the twentyfirst century. Egil Asprem and Asbjørn Dyrendal (2015) then disputed this claim in their article 'Conspirituality Reconsidered: How Surprising and How New Is the Confluence of Spirituality and Conspiracy Theory?' in the same journal. There is now widespread agreement that New Age conspirituality shared similarities with Western esotericism, the 'cultic milieu' (Campbell 1972) and 'occulture' (Partridge 2004), as Asprem and Dyrendal had argued. ...
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This article theorises and conceptualises the ambivalent role of religions and conspiracy theories in modern democracies. Based on a concise comparison of both phenomena, it elaborates the similar risks and functions of religions and conspiracy theories for the political community without neglecting the fact that, under secular conditions, the spread of conspiracy narratives might outweigh those of religious messages in the long run. That observation seems particularly relevant for contemporary governance and political science, as a tendency towards social anomie in the sense of Durkheim can be deduced from democratic theory, which significantly increases democracy’s need for compensatory moral and cognitive authorities.
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p>Conspiracism is a well‐known topos in the history of humankind. Cassius Dio wrote about it as did anti‐Judaic authors in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, from the dawn of modernity until today, we have faced the rise of a new phenomenon. Pretty much on the eve of the French Revolution, conspiracists began to tell anti‐Catholic and anti‐masonic narratives down to the last detail. Jews, later on, became a recurring foe in those anti‐modernist narratives. Conspiracism managed successfully to incorporate other forms of anti‐modernism to form a fairly new form of thinking that I call “conspiracist ideology.” While Enlightenment was the setting in which this amalgamation could take place, conspiracist ideology and its intellectual roots were characterized by a deep rejection of enlightenment thinking. The dialectical nature of conspiracist ideology is what makes it interesting from a historical perspective, in particular for the history of ideas.</p
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The flurry of recent interest in what scholars have dubbed ‘conspirituality’ has focused attention on the intersection between conspiracy theories and the overlapping subcultures of New Age, alternative, and esoteric spirituality. These important insights have also highlighted the extensive histories of cultures of conspiracy which exist within larger religious traditions and the related question of why adherents of specific varieties of religion appear to be highly susceptible to strains of conspiracist thinking. To further illustrate the ubiquity of conspiracy theory in contemporary spirituality, this article offers a historical overview of the intricate culture of conspiracy which has developed in the Roman Catholic Church since at least the French Revolution by outlining its five major permutations: anti-Masonry, antisemitism, anti-communism, anti-Satanism and anti-modernism. This article demonstrates the centrality of conspiracy theories in how a sizeable portion of Roman Catholics have responded to what they perceive as the threatening aspects of modernity as well as the renewed popularity of conspiracy theories within a Roman Catholic spiritual milieu during Pope Francis’s papacy.
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Today, in the era of the World Wide Web and globalisation, apocalypticism and millennialism are by definition ‘social media apocalypticism and millennialism’—in their form, in their content, and in their working alike. Just like any other cultural elements, apocalyptic and millenarian ideas are highly dependent on media; they spread and act through mediatisation. Being mediated messages, not only the form but also the content of apocalyptic discourse and—implicitly—millennialism are shaped by the media technologies used (McLuhan 1964), just as these messages themselves contribute in turn to shaping these media. A major technological breakthrough came with the emergence of the electronic global media of the post-Gutenberg galaxy (Harnad 1991) and, with it, social media, which has created an entirely new environment for apocalyptic and millenarian ideas.
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American society has changed dramatically since A Culture of Conspiracy was first published in 2001. In this revised and expanded edition, Michael Barkun delves deeper into America's conspiracy sub-culture, exploring the rise of 9/11 conspiracy theories, the "birther" controversy surrounding Barack Obama's American citizenship, and how the conspiracy landscape has changed with the rise of the Internet and other new media. What do UFO believers, Christian millennialists, and right-wing conspiracy theorists have in common? According to Michael Barkun in this fascinating yet disturbing book, quite a lot. It is well known that some Americans are obsessed with conspiracies. The Kennedy assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the 2001 terrorist attacks have all generated elaborate stories of hidden plots. What is far less known is the extent to which conspiracist worldviews have recently become linked in strange and unpredictable ways with other "fringe" notions such as a belief in UFOs, Nostradamus, and the Illuminati. Unraveling the extraordinary genealogies and permutations of these increasingly widespread ideas, Barkun shows how this web of urban legends has spread among subcultures on the Internet and through mass media, how a new style of conspiracy thinking has recently arisen, and how this phenomenon relates to larger changes in American culture. This book, written by a leading expert on the subject, is the most comprehensive and authoritative examination of contemporary American conspiracism to date. Barkun discusses a range of material-involving inner-earth caves, government black helicopters, alien abductions, secret New World Order cabals, and much more-that few realize exists in our culture. Looking closely at the manifestations of these ideas in a wide range of literature and source material from religious and political literature, to New Age and UFO publications, to popular culture phenomena such as The X-Files, and to websites, radio programs, and more, Barkun finds that America is in the throes of an unrivaled period of millenarian activity. His book underscores the importance of understanding why this phenomenon is now spreading into more mainstream segments of American culture.