October 13, 2020


The pandemic has provided fertile conditions for conspiracy theories and "conspirituality" in Australia (Anna Halafoff, Enqi Weng, Cristina Rocha, Andrew Singleton, Alexandra Roginski, and Emily Marriott, 13 Oct 2020, ABC REligion & Ethics)

Charlotte Ward and David Voas first coined the term "conspirituality" in 2011, to describe the merger of conspiracy theories and New Age spirituality. They argued that these conspiritualist movements are united by a "politico-spiritual philosophy," which posits that a group of elites has covert control of society and then calls for a "'paradigm shift' in consciousness" that harnesses cosmic forces to emancipate society from the grip of those elites.

It seems to us that Ward and Voas's insights remain highly applicable to the current viral outbreak of what we call "(con)spirituality," which has arisen in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is focussed on a critique of modern technology, medicine, and governance. We chose to bracket the "con" because many spiritual people and groups' questioning of modernity is critical, informed, and non-violent, particularly where they are working toward more holistic and sustainable ways of living and healing, and employing ideas and practices whose validity is bolstered by science. Concurrently, there are rising numbers of people with conspiritual views who are claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic is a construct of the deep-state and a sign of end-times, often aligned with ideas emanating from the far-right, apocalyptic QAnon movement which frequently draws on Christian millenarianism.

Adherents to QAnon argue that COVID-19 isn't real, and instead was created by deep-state government officials and elites. The movement focuses on a "Great Awakening," whereby people will be able to discover this hidden truth. As Adrienne LaFrance highlights, QAnon "is a movement united in mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values" and "propelled by paranoia ... populism ... [and] religious faith." Facebook hosts thousands of QAnon groups with millions of members, and QAnon itself has been identified as a domestic terror threat by the FBI.

What QAnon and conspiritualists share with many other religious extremist movements are their exclusive religious and spiritual narratives which depict adherents as privy to the "real truth" and thus more enlightened than mainstream society. They tend to see themselves as persecuted and believe that they will ultimately be vindicated. Contemporary spirituality is individualised, based on personal choice, and commodified, which is why conspiritualists are particularly irate about coronavirus restrictions that threaten their personal freedom. At the same time, these individuals have formed conspiritual social movements -- what Nancy Ammerman calls "spiritual tribes" -- which are deeply social with distinct and exclusive beliefs, language, and codes, calling for societal transformation.

Eric Hoffer really nailed how empty peoples' lives have to be for them to join these movements.
Posted by at October 13, 2020 12:00 AM