Submit a Manuscript to the Journal
Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies
For a Special Issue on
Pedagogies of Conspirituality
01 May 2024
Pedagogies of Conspirituality
This special issue aims to curate a series of articles exploring the public pedagogies enacted within, through, and across conspirituality movements. The term “conspirituality” (conspiracy + spirituality) was initially coined by sociologists Charlotte Ward and David Voas (2011) to describe the intersection of conspiracy theories and New Age spirituality. Ward and Voas (2011) define the term and concept as:
a rapidly growing web movement expressing an ideology fueled by political disillusionment and the popularity of alternative worldviews. It has international celebrities, bestsellers, radio and TV stations. It offers a broad politico-spiritual philosophy based on two core convictions, the first traditional to conspiracy theory, the second rooted in the New Age: 1) a secret group covertly controls, or is trying to control, the political and social order, and 2) humanity is undergoing a ‘paradigm shift’ in consciousness. Proponents believe that the best strategy for dealing with the threat of a totalitarian ‘new world order’ is to act in accordance with an awakened ‘new paradigm’ worldview. (p. 103)
More recently, Beres, Remski, and Walker (2023) have characterized conspirituality as an online religion that “fuses two faith claims: 1) the world is possessed by evil forces and, 2) those who see this clearly are called to foster, in themselves and others, a new spiritual paradigm” (p. 8).
What Ward and Voas identified over ten years ago as a growing online movement has now exploded into a widespread global phenomenon. Proponents of conspirituality espouse dangerous ideas organized around a belief in secret groups of influential people that control the world and that are responsible for the ills of society, such as war, poverty, and environmental destruction. In turn, conspiritualists advocate for a “new paradigm” of consciousness that, in a cult-like fashion, promises to lead disciples to better, more enlightened ways of being (Beres, Remski, & Walker, 2023). However, this enlightenment is usually only attainable, so the pitch goes, through consumer goods—many in wellness communities, past and present, have monetized conspirituality, using conspiracy theories about health, disease, vaccines, COVID-19, and more to connect with, and sell to, people who feel shut out of the mainstream medical establishment.
The antecedents of modern conspirituality can be traced back to the 19th century (Beres, Remski, and Walker, 2023). During this period, syncretic and Eastern-influenced religions such as theosophy, anthroposophy, and spiritism proliferated across Europe and North America, spousing a remarkably diverse amalgamation of beliefs and practices that encompassed channeling, crystal healing, innovative adaptations of shamanism, and an array of therapies and techniques aimed at elevating the individual's consciousness to a heightened state. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic effects, however, conspirituality has exploded across social media platforms, facilitated and encouraged by algorithmic formulas expanding conspirituality as a consumer market of audiences already disillusioned with mainstream politics and institutions.
Because it is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, no single explanation for conspirituality’s seduction exists, though conspiritualist pedagogies may be identified for their effectiveness in generating feelings of community and belonging or eliciting feelings of empowerment in followers through the belief that one is part of a collective, fighting against a powerful cabal of public enemies symbolized by cases of government corruption, special interests dishonest influence on medicine, science, and education. A growing body of research, primarily in sociology, has sought to understand conspirituality in its more contemporary appeal. Halafoff et al. (2022) identified ten additional convictions held by conspiritualists or common in the movement. These include (1) beliefs in a paradigm shift, (2) a New World Order controlling society, (3) "spiritual warriors'" engaged in "cosmic warfare," (4) opposition to mainstream culture, (5) the exclusivity of the New Age perspective, (6) white privilege, (7) avoidance of pandemic realities, (8) the pursuit of authenticity and like-minded communities, (9) vaccine hesitancy or refusal, (10) evangelization of conspiritual messages through monetization and reliance on pseudo-scientific evidence dismissing actual scientific research.
In this special issue, we want to build upon this nascent understanding of conspirituality by convening scholars across disciplinary fields to further investigate how pedagogies of conspirituality intersect with cultural and social trends and how they entangle individual and collective identities, beliefs, and behaviors to potentialize a message of spiritual health built around the overlap of spiritual thinking and far-right conspiracy theories. Thus, the articles gathered in this special issue will aim to unearth the connections between conspirituality and other phenomena, such as the rise of populism, the turn away from science, and the decline of trust in traditional public institutions. Through case studies and critical analyses, the articles curated for this special issue will present a snapshot of conspirituality as a global phenomenon and will explicate the specific pedagogies that are enacted to conceal—behind a facade of wellness, critical thinking, and seemingly liberal and progressive ideas—the clear and present danger such a philosophy poses to society.
For this issue, we are seeking articles addressing the broad scope of conspirituality, including but not limited to the following topics and themes:
- Aspects of conspirituality that are tied to consumption and consumer culture. As Derek Beres of the Conspirituality Podcast argues, “Listen to what they say, and watch what they sell.” Papers addressing this theme could focus on the general process through which conspiritualists first create a problem and then sell the “remedy” to those suffering from the problem, or explore one or more specific individuals or groups who participate in this wellness grift.
- Marketing and advertising practices in the spread of conspiratorial beliefs. Papers addressing this theme could focus on how marketing and advertising tactics are used to spread conspiratorial beliefs and how public pedagogues might employ critical consumption skills to help learners resist these tactics.
- The intersections of race, class, and conspiritual thinking. Papers addressing this theme could explore how conspiritual thinking intersects with issues of race, class, and socioeconomic status and/or focus on how anti-conspiritual pedagogies might examine these intersections.
- The reaffirmation of traditional gender roles and body ideal discourses. Papers addressing this theme might explore the rise of body perfection across conspiritual masculine supremacy movements. These movements include “sacred masculinity,” masculine self-help practices–supplement intake, biohacking, perineum sunning, meat-only or paleo diets, bodybuilding (e.g., “fitness bros”), and intellectual movements (e.g., “conscious bros,” “science bros,” etc.)--as advocated by public figures such as Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, JP Sears, and others. Papers could also address the reaffirmation of traditional female gender roles through movements such as “Pastel Q” (Argentino, 2021), “yoga-moms;” “mommy-bloggers,” and “save the children” and “anti-pedophilia” discourses, etc.
- The ethics of life coaching in the context of conspirituality. Papers addressing this topic might focus on the life coaching industry’s embrace of New Age spirituality and gospels of prosperity, often led by personalities such as Marianne Williamson (a proponent of the wildly influential A Course in Miracles, a kind of New Age bible purportedly written by Jesus Christ, as channeled through Helen Schucman), Lorie Ladd, David Icke, Christiane Northrup, and Esther Hicks (who channeled a group of spirits she called “Abraham,” in order to write the highly influential book The Law of Attraction). Other topics that could be addressed in this theme include how New Age life coaches employ spiritual bypassing, or how they capitalize on the highly problematic concept of Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) and employ the questionable recovered memories therapy, as advocated by Teal Swan, among others. Finally, papers could address other cult-like practices and beliefs commonly forwarded by these personalities, including belief in humanity’s ascension to a 5D-level consciousness, practices of channeling the dead and aliens, light work, and the law of attraction. These practices have gained traction during the course of the pandemic and have given rise to new generations of social media grifters, such as the spiritual entrepreneurs who have popularized “lightworker TikTok.” The hashtag #lightworker has currently amassed over 1.1 billion views on TikTok.
- Body autonomy, the rise of folk-science, and COVID-19 denialism. Papers addressing this topic might explore conspiritualists’ fascination with purity of body and blood. Authors could focus on conspiritualists’ anti-mask and anti-vaxx stances, and the ways in which COVID-19 misinformation has spread through conspiritualists such as Del Bigtree, Zach Bush, Christiane Northrup, Kelly Brogan, Mikki Willis, and R.F. Kennedy, Jr., as well as via misinformation ‘documentaries’ like Plandemic.
We welcome both empirical and theoretical papers focusing on how pedagogies of conspirituality work and how they are produced and/or enacted–in a variety of sites, including online forums; schools; social media sites such as Facebook, Parler, etc.; misinformation “documentaries;” wellness retreats; podcasts; livestreams; workshops; lectures; books; protests and rallies, and more. In addition to the themes outlined above, we are also interested in receiving papers highlighting or exploring critical pedagogies that focus on countering these conspiritualist movements.
Each 250-word proposal should provide a title for the submission, explain a theoretical orientation, and briefly explain content, arguments, and aspect of conspirituality pedagogies that will be examined. Please include a 2-3 sentence biographical statement that includes a complete mailing address, phone number, and email address. Please submit proposals electronically as Word documents, using APA 7th edition citation style. Submit proposals and queries to: [email protected] or [email protected]. Please indicate with your proposal submission if you are also willing to serve as a peer reviewer for this special issue. This would be incredibly helpful for us.
Final manuscripts should be 5,000 to 7,000 words, including references, and should theoretically and/or empirically attend to understanding pedagogies of conspirituality. These will be double anonymized peer-reviewed.
- June 15, 2023: Proposal/expression of interest (250 words plus 2-3 sentence bio)
- August 1, 2023: Authors will be notified of acceptance of their proposal
- January 1, 2024: Final submissions due for peer review (without identifying information)
- March 15, 2024: Edited manuscripts will be sent back to authors for revision and final edits
- May 1, 2024: Final manuscripts due to editors