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This panel investigates the ways that contemporary conservative Christian discourse, inflected as it is with conspiratorial thinking, can lead to violence, cancel culture, and the climate change denialism. Case studies are taken from new media and popular culture. The panelists, using various methodological and theoretical lenses, including Foucault’s theory of discourse as monument, a reconsideration of the relationship between conspiracy thinking and structural/physical violence, and an analysis of the Biblical apocalyptic imagination, push our post-January 6 Insurrection conversation forward.
This paper examines the specter of cancel culture among American evangelicals through the theoretical lens of Foucault's work on discursive practices. How can Foucault's concept of discourse as a monument to the sayable that is rendered legible through contexts of memory and power contribute to a deeper understanding of why and how the discourse about "cancel culture" has gained such salience among American evangelicals? Can Foucault's provocation to examine whose claims to a certain discourse are alternately read as valid and invalid offer new insight to dynamics of raced, gendered, and classed power among American evangelicals? How, too, can examining a religious community's online discourse bring new relevance and understanding to Foucault's work? Might new media innovations, including hashtags and "trending" topics, give new meaning to the concept of discourse as a monument? Using American evangelical "cancel culture" discourse as a case study, this paper aims to bring studies of religion, media, and rhetoric into conversation with an "old" theoretical tool that can be useful to new media studies.
Statistically speaking, American Evangelical Christians are uniquely attracted to apocalyptic conspiracy theories when it comes to the topic of climate change. Since Evangelicals constitute a powerful voting/lobbying/shopping bloc, it is worth asking why this might be the case, and what might be done about it. To this end, my study considers two major cultural tributaries to American Evangelical pop apocalyptic culture. In the first section I argue that biblical apocalyptic culture naturally entails conspiracy-theory thinking, as a powerful tool for the definition of identity and community. In the second section I argue that in modern pop apocalyptic productions, the image of the elect as the persecuted and powerful bearers of special knowledge continues to fascinate audiences with the offer of somebody special to be and somewhere special to belong. I conclude that apocalyptic questions of crisis and conspiracy have a sociological function, as means to the end of defining social identity. Understanding this concrete function of conspiracy-theory thinking in Christian apocalyptic imagination can help, I conclude, in assessing and addressing the phenomenon of climate denial.
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.