As the historian Richard Hofstadter famously pointed out more than half a century ago, conspiracy thinking or “the paranoid style” runs deep in the American political psyche. With an eclectic religious population (many of whose ancestors fled persecution in Europe for their beliefs: Puritans, Quakers, Anabaptists, Huguenots, Catholics, Jews), the United States may be exceptional in its political DNA—a combination of religious fervor and persecutory fear that, while generally latent, sporadically erupts in the body politic. The right-wing fear of social welfare policies as godless and unholy is one current manifestation of this particular political psychology. Another is the increasing online presence of apocalyptic religious sects, of which QAnon is an articulation.
“Apocalypse Pending: Religion, Politics, and Social Media” explores the growing popularity of conspiracy thinking in our current moment and its place in the history of millenarian movements, particularly in the US context. It considers how new media technologies have made it possible for the dissemination of such thinking on a scale unimaginable in the past, how the moral panic it generates is impacting social and political life worldwide, and whether there are measures available to control its spread or mitigate its effects.
Sponsored by The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities, The Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, The Brown Institute for Media Innovation, Committee on Global Thought, Columbia Global Centers, and the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought.
Stephanie McCurry, Professor of History at Columbia University, specializes in the American Civil War and Reconstruction, the nineteenth century United States, the American South, and the history of women and gender. Her most recent book is Women's War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War (2019).
Brandy Zadrozny is an award-winning investigative and features reporter for NBC News where she covers misinformation, extremism, and the internet. Previously, Brandy was at The Daily Beast where she covered politics and the internet as a senior reporter. She has an MLIS and in a former life, worked as a librarian and instructor in news, college, and public libraries.
Moderator: Matthew L. Jones teaches history of science and technology at Columbia University. With Chris Wiggins, he will soon be publishing How Data Happened, which tells the story of the growth of data and the ways it changed power, and asks what to do now.