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Rational enchantments: Conspiracy theories between secular scepticism and religious salvation

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Vickie Freer.

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.

A short wine reception will follow.

This talk is part of the Conspiracy and Democracy Project series.

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