Violence, Religion, and Conspiratorial Thinking (AAR 2021)

Violence, Religion, and Conspiratorial Thinking

Presentation for the Religion and Popular Culture Unit at the American Academy of Religion meetings held online and in San Antonio, Texas on Monday, November 22nd 2021.

In his preface to the Brill Handbook of Conspiracy Theory and Contemporary Religion, Michael Barkun writes that,

If we look at the most sweeping conspiracy theories, they insist that nothing happens by accident; nothing is as it seems; and that everything is connected. Yet these salient characteristics are strikingly similar to the features of many religious belief systems. To be sure, this is not to say that religions are conspiracy theories, only that there are structural similarities that sometimes lead them to join hands.[1]

But I fear that in our current social and political environment, only a few years after these words were published, Barkun’s claim seems very understated. Connections between religions and conspiracy theories are much stronger than is accurately communicated by the image of joined hands, not only because many American Christian evangelicals have fully embraced QAnon conspiracy theories, but also because the underlying vision of these three claims – “nothing happens by accident; nothing is as it seems; everything is connected” – is very religious.

Continue reading “Violence, Religion, and Conspiratorial Thinking (AAR 2021)”

Postsecular History Book Launch Symposium (March 2022)

I am excited to say that in March 2022 the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre will host an online launch symposium on my book Postsecular History.

The launch will begin with an introduction to the book by Kyle Gingerich Hiebert, followed by responses from my dissertation supervisor Travis Kroeker (McMaster University, Religious Studies Department), my postdoctoral supervisor Pamela Klassen (University of Toronto, Department for the Study of Religion), and my colleagues Jennifer Otto (University of Lethbridge, Religious Studies Department) and Michael Driedger (Brock University, History Department).

Review of Friedmann, Design for Living (2017/2021)

The manuscript by Mennonite historian Robert Friedmann that I produced an edition of has recently been reviewed in the Conrad Grebel Review by Astrid von Schlachta – a scholar of the Hutterites who is a lecturer at the University of Regensburg and directs the Mennonite Research Center in Weierhof, Germany.

She writes,

In the end, Friedmann calls for seeking a mature life that is concerned with learning “the art of meaningful living and the art of making responsible decision[s].” His quest, as outlined in this book, aims at a holistic education of the human being and the education of the heart, in a long process of searching in which the person is not satisfied with stereotypical answers and rote knowledge. Knowledge must be put into practice. This path excludes empty generalizations and calls upon us to be mature, free, and personally responsible, yet always in contact with God and oriented towards the community.

Conrad Grebel Review 38.3 (Fall 2020): 273-276.
See here for publication details!

“Violence, Religion, and Conspiratorial Thinking” (AAR 2021)

I’m excited to begin my SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship this Fall in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. I give some initial details about the project here, and I will be presenting some of my work at the American Academy of Religion meetings in San Antonio this November.

The presentation is called “Violence, Religion, and Conspiratorial Thinking,” and it is part of a panel on “Cancel Culture, Climate Denial, and Conspiracy Thinking” in the Religion and Popular Culture unit.

Abstract:

Conspiratorial thinking has recently become a prominent matter of public and popular concern, taking root in different but important ways during the COVID-19 pandemic and the violent end of the Trump presidency. However, scholars of religion and violence will recognize conspiratorial thinking as a constituent part of long-standing prejudices, from antisemitism and racism to scapegoating and social conflict. This presentation examines continuities and discontinuities between conspiracism and violence, suggesting that the patterns of thinking and uses of the past that structure conspiratorial thinking can lend themselves to violences ranging from physical and political violations to structural violence and social prejudice. This presentation will also highlight some limitations of major works on conspiracy theories and address the problematic lack of attention to religion in the discourse on conspiracism.

June 2021 Update

I am pleased to say that my dissertation and PHD are now complete, and for those who are interested, the dissertation can be accessed here – although I am already becoming more aware of its limits as I revise it.

I am currently finishing the final grades for the introductory course “What on Earth is Religion?” that I’ve taught for two Spring terms at McMaster, and I am looking ahead to the Fall and thinking about how to deliver a University of Waterloo Arts First course called “Religion and Conspiracy Theories.”

This Fall will bring a new stage in my research where I hope to bring the work I have done on violence (in my dissertation) and history (in my book) to a more present and pressing social problem. I am very excited to be presenting on my postdoctoral project, “Critique of Conspiracism,” at the AAR in San Antonio this November, and I hope to gather some helpful resources in the meantime as I read through the Brill Handbook of Conspiracy Theory and Contemporary Religion and the work of Michael Butter. In the conspiracism project I hope to turn my theoretical work on concepts like “violence” and the “postsecular” toward a critical analysis of social narratives that make meaning through political, theological, secular, and religious ways.

In the meantime, I’m excited that several other pieces of my writing will appear in Hamilton Arts and Letters, Implicit Religion, and a volume on the Anabaptist tradition and the arts.

April 2021 Research Update

It has been an extraordinarily busy month: two weeks ago I submitted the final revisions to Postsecular History to the publisher, submitted my dissertation “Ontologies of Violence” to my committee for defense in early May, and submitted the corrected proofs for my guest-edited special issue of Political Theology on Mennonite Political Theology, which is a key part of my Mennonite Studies project (for a brief preview of the special issue see here and for a longer summary see here).

Looking ahead, past my defense, in Spring term I will be teaching an introductory course on Religious Studies at McMaster University, and in July and August I will be taking some time off.

This coming Fall I am excited to begin a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. Supervised by Dr. Pamela Klassen, my project is called “Critique of Conspiracism” and in it I will extend my work on ontologies of violence and the politics of time by examining how conspiracism can be a violent way of thinking and how conspiracism uses and abuses history to serve present aims. I will also be teaching a course called “Conspiracy Theories & Religion” in the University of Waterloo Arts First program (I’ll be sure to post the syllabus here for those who are interested!), and presenting a prologue to the project called “Violence, Religion, and Conspiratorial Thinking” at the American Academy of Religion meetings in November 2021.