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 religious 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.
Sarah Posner is the author of Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump. Her investigative reporting has appeared in Rolling Stone, VICE, The Nation, Mother Jones, The New Republic, HuffPost, and Talking Points Memo, and her coverage and analysis of politics and religion has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The American Prospect, Politico, and many other outlets.
Kathleen Stewart teaches anthropology and writing at the University of Texas, Austin. Her books include A Space on the Side of the Road: Cultural Poetics in an `Other' America (Princeton, 1996), Ordinary Affects (Duke, 2007), The Hundreds co-authored with Lauren Berlant (Duke, 2019) and Worlding (in preparation).
Moderator: Courtney Bender, Professor of Religion at Columbia University, is a sociologist and ethnographer by training, whose work focuses principally on the production and practice of American religion and on the implications of religious concepts, ideas, and actions in modern social life. Her books include Heaven’s Kitchen: Living Religion at God’s Love We Deliver and The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination.