The Religious and/or Spiritual Matrices of the Conspiracy Theories in Times of COVID-19

Receipt: August 5, 2022

Acceptance: August 24, 2022


The pandemic by covid-19 and the confinement it brought with it led the whole world to seek new ways of organizing daily life. They also imposed the need to rethink the way we relate to nature and the meaning of our individual, social and species existence.

Thus, we saw the emergence of various interpretations, both religious and spiritual, which, through their explanations of the origin and implications of the pandemic, sought to reposition themselves as explanatory and normative systems, in opposition to and openly questioning scientific thought.

In particular, we have seen the positioning of various conspiracy theories, defined by Hugo Rabbia as "those ideas that attribute various types of responsibility for the pandemic crisis to powerful groups that secretly conspire to achieve malevolent objectives". Among their interests are the project of a "new world order", population decline or health dictatorship, as well as an agenda of social and political control.

In this document, we invite four experts from Spain, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina to discuss the relationship between these conspiracy movements, their links with religious or spiritual belief systems, and their implications in contemporary societies.

What are the challenges in the research agenda posed by conspiracy movements? In their respective works, what are their approaches (theoretical or methodological) and the new objects of research that they encounter in this context of transformation of the relations between religion, spirituality and science?

The covid-19 has had two main effects: on the one hand, it has contributed to making visible a wide network of conspiracy groups, actors and movements that already existed, but which, to a large extent, remained relatively hidden from the public eye. On the other hand, it has contributed to the rearticulation of these movements, has led to the creation of new synergies and alliances, and has given them a boost in terms of public and political visibility. However, despite the growing success of the conspiracy movements, it is worth noting that the covid-19 has also generated the opposite effect. That is to say: in times of covid there has been an increase in the positive valuation of science and scientific institutions in the contemporary world. In global terms, it seems that the world's population today trusts science more than it did a few years ago, and that the importance of science in the contemporary world is one of the issues that generates most consensus on an international scale. Thus, paradoxically, in a time of covid-19, there are two contrary facts: the growth of the global prestige of science, and at the same time the increase in the circulation of conspiracy theories. This scenario shows us that the phenomenon is more complex than it might appear at first sight, and that we should be wary of hasty prognoses.

In a similar vein, thinking about the role of religion in the creation, sustenance and circulation of conspiracy theories also calls for a certain caution. On the one hand, religion and spirituality can be complicit actors, or even protagonists, in the spread of conspiracy theories. The role of some religious communities in reinforcing anti-conspiracy discourses has been widely documented.establishment and in promoting conspiracy theories about reality. One need not go very far. The assault on the Capitol in Trump's time had a strong religious tinge, as did the role of neoconservative evangelical communities in supporting conspiracy theories in Brazil. However, it is not only aligned religious groups with conservative leanings that have given support to conspiracy theories. Important sectors of the so-called "holistic spirituality", closer to sectors of the political left, have also promoted alternative readings to the official discourses on conspiracy theories. covid-19. This is what, using a concept of Ward and Voas, has been called the growth of "conspiracy spirituality"; that is, the growing linkage between certain communities of holistic spirituality and conspiracy movements. A linkage that has resulted in the creation of an articulation, hybrid and fluctuating, between conspiracy views on the covid-19, syncretic theories on the idea of the advent of a spiritual awakening on a global scale, with the practice of alternative forms of medicine and life.

In short, approaching the study of conspiracy movements today requires taking into account the complexity and multiple nuances of the phenomenon, as well as its contextual (and temporal) variability.

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Inculpating certain groups (Christians, Muslims, Jews, Gypsies) and certain knowledge ("witchcraft", alchemy) of conspiracy against the rest of the population has been a historical form of conspiracy building based on cultural, ethnic and religious differences. Today's conspiracy theorists, also in search of of the causal party of a certain crisis (an enemy), implies new challenges: on the one hand, to decipher the way in which beings non-human (reptilians, extraterrestrials, machines), reptilian beings (reptilians, extraterrestrials, machines), beings supra-human (offspring of Jesus or angels) and the scientific-technological progress (robotics, nanotechnology) gained prominence in the imaginary, establishing themselves as actors responsible for a hidden social control. On the other hand, it is necessary to investigate how these distorted ways of interpreting reality, "for the sake of revealing the truth", shape beliefs, lifestyles, types of upbringing and consumption; they produce stigmas, political opinion trends and germinate new anomies.

Since conspiracy theorists aim to "unveil the truth", it is theoretically essential to review Michael Foucault's discursive genealogies of knowledge; the social construction of the criminal, the abnormal and the madman, who are considered outside the order of "discourse". Following this track, we find that chaos is usually blamed on beings characterized as outside the human, with "monstrous traits": mad, deformed or foreigners, because they are considered to handle different knowledge or hold other beliefs. Another essential is René Girard; through his mimetic theory he shows how the rivalry between two parties, expressed in envy, imitation and dispute for the same goods, derives in the imputation of a third party: the scapegoat (real or imaginary), accused of propitiating discord or of hiding the reality ignored by the rest and sacrificed to reestablish the pact. Other clues can be found in Erving Goffman's studies on "impaired identity" and Émile Durkheim's studies on normality and anomie.

The conspiracy theorists' arguments about scientific knowledge are that it has been transformed over the centuries and is therefore not accurate. Which is interpreted as the main weakness of science in the conspiracy imaginary, showing the huge gap between the plausibility claim foundations for science and the misunderstanding of how science is constructed in the conspiracy imagination.

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Personally, "conspiracy" has never been my object of study, nor have I wanted to frame my research universes as conspiracy theorists. This is not to say that I have never investigated groups that appeal to explanatory models very close to Hugo Rabbia's definition of the term: "those ideas that attribute different types of responsibility for the pandemic crisis to powerful groups that secretly collude to achieve malevolent goals". I have maintained an ambiguous relationship with this notion over the years for the following reason: on the one hand, I recognize that conspiracy can be a highly relevant category of political use, with ample potential to position and fight for liberal, modern, enlightened ideals. On the other hand, I find conspiracy as a category of analysis unpromising, because the term is too generic and imprecise, so that it potentially serves to amalgamate groups and styles of thought so different from each other that the order of connection between them becomes merely speculative.

Nevertheless, I recognize the emergence of a promising interdisciplinary area of conspiracism: I cannot fail to mention the impressive and voluminous work organized by Michael Butter and Peter Knight as an indication of this movement. However, from the particular field of anthropology, or the kind of anthropology with which I identify, to label something as conspiratorial says very little. In order not to leave my position unresolved, if we treat conspiracy as a style of thought, whose anthropological work would be precisely to describe it in detail to the point of going beyond the generality of the term, the category becomes relevant, but always provisional.

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The outbreak of the pandemic of covid-19 was a key event to make visible a research agenda around conspiracy theories and movements that already had some trajectory in skeptical circles and in the margins of some disciplines (such as social and political psychology, cognitive sciences of religion or cultural studies). From the first two perspectives, adherence to conspiracy beliefs is based on the epistemic, existential and social needs of some individuals and groups in the face of unexpected or shocking events, such as those caused by the pandemic, reinforced by situations of social isolation, uncertainty, feelings of threat and personal ineffectiveness and growing social inequalities. But there are differences in their approaches. While the cognitive sciences of religion have emphasized thinking styles (analytical or intuitive) and perceptual biases (anthropomorphism, mentalization, among others) that would bring conspiracy beliefs closer to certain characteristics at an individual level of thought and religious, esoteric and/or paranormal beliefs, the contributions of political psychology have tended to weigh more the impact of political and contextual variables at the intergroup level. Thus, ideological polarization, institutional distrust, the facilitation of spaces for the circulation of alternative information and information diets are relevant indicators. In turn, these approaches have been complemented (and sometimes questioned) by culturalist approaches, where the main challenges lie around knowledge as a social construction and the status that scientific knowledge in particular acquires in a "knowledge economy" and political disenchantment.

In our studies in Argentina, we found that adherence to conspiracy beliefs about the coronavirus was a widespread phenomenon in the mid-2020s, especially among evangelical and spiritual non-religious people. This relationship, however, was mediated mainly by the assignment of an external agency to God or supreme force and by fatalistic attitudes towards the pandemic. But more than religious or spiritual identifications, practices or attitudes, the variables that showed the greatest predictive power were ideological self-positioning (to the right of the spectrum, independents and those who could not identify themselves) and disagreement with governmental pandemic management measures.

More than two years after the coronavirus outbreak, we have gained more perspective: not every circumstantial adherence to conspiracy theories implies a conspiratorial ideation or mindset, nor does an unrestrained rejection of science (e.g., vaccination rates against the covid-19 in Argentina are considerably high and overlap in many cases with those who have adhered to some conspiratorial belief about the coronavirus). Studying the adherence, circulation and mobilization of conspiracy beliefs implies weighing the role played by social, spiritual, religious and political referents and movements in processes that, in turn, seem to acquire particular characteristics for each national and local context.

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From your perspective, what are the foundations that generate plausibility to beliefs based on non-scientific explanations that depart from modern rationality, such as reptilians, terraplanetary or embryonic?

For decades, the cognitive deficit theory was the hegemonic option to explain the existence of groups that oppose knowledge validated by scientific institutions. The deficit theory assumed that the problem was that those people who denied or questioned certain scientific ideas did not have enough information, had erroneous information or did not have the capacity to interpret the data. Thus, education and the promotion of information-based policies were thought to be the main antidote to curb the spread of conspiracy theories. Today we know that "scientific illiteracy" is not the main reason, or at least not the only one, that can explain why certain people trust theories that are not validated by the scientific community. Plausibility, in a society like ours where there is a remarkable social and political fragmentation, is largely built through the cultural and affective identification that individuals establish with certain communities. The so-called tunnel effect or echo-chamber that social networks provoke further intensifies this phenomenon. To think about the plausibility of this type of belief, it is essential to understand how communities are built (offline and on-line) in contemporary societies, and in the affective investment that individuals establish with these communities. Belief and affection are more closely linked than one might think at first glance.

To understand sociologically the expansion of conspiracy movements, it is necessary not only to study them as movements of negation and opposition, but also as spaces of affirmation, and to ask questions such as: what kind of lifestyle proposals do they promote, what moral anchors, what kind of possible futures do they envision? Adopting this kind of perspective makes it possible to go beyond the simplified robot portrait of the conspiracist, which, as Harambam and Aupers point out, does a disservice to the understanding of the phenomenon.

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The proliferation of conspiracy beliefs is evidence of the disenchantment with the unfulfilled promises of modernity and the discouragement with the world that modernity has produced; at the same time, it is the result of the absence of social utopias (socialist, anarchist or communalist) and the discredit of science, which has not been able to solve famine or alleviate cancer, nor guarantee minimum subsistence resources for all. On the other hand, democratic participation and human rights have not consummated an equitable society for all sectors, and war is still the resource to resolve disputes between nations. In this context, if we assume that the notions of modernity and rationality are discarded and do not represent coordinates of thought and action for all social subjects, given that they are not the only ones that can be used as a means of resolving disputes between nations. are not convincingIt is understandable why, for conspiracy theorists, these represent forms of deception. The current conspiracy was made possible as a result of a long campaign of previous skepticism, fueled by anti-democratic governments that benefited a few elites; the presumption of espionage during the cold war; the "threat of communism", the emergence of new diseases in the midst of positive times, and the enrichment of pharmaceutical companies, as well as the uncovering of classified information such as WikiLeaks, among other issues.

However, how can we explain that implausible beliefs have taken the place of more plausible ones in certain sectors? We can hardly decipher why people believe what they believe (i.e., how the feeling of "numinosity" that makes belief possible is produced), but we can point out how these discourses are configured and then spread. Firstconspiracy theorizing is increasing in a context of disenchantment with modernity and the absence of new paradigms, where the futile opinion of anyone has the same validity as that of a specialist in the face of the democratization of the word, mainly through the Internet. Secondconspiracy theorists, there is a conspiracy industry that profits to youtuberscontent creators, artists, marketers, writers, pseudo-scientists, therapists, tour promoters, spiritual guides, festival organizers. ThirdI believe that conspiracy-mongering, which blames global crises on implausible enemies, is on the rise especially in countries developed. Conspiracy theories arise in the global north: because it is there that the population cannot conceive that, even as inhabitants of the first world, they are beatable. And if someone beats them, he cannot be from this world! He must be an alien, a superhuman or an android!

In addition to the Internet, it is important to highlight the role of the cultural industries in the emergence of the implausible conspiracy theories. Science fiction movies adventure alternate realities: Matrix, Avalon, Terminator or those movies where technology and robotics acquire autonomy and rule over humans.

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What happens if I replace the terraplanarians mentioned in the question with azande?

Basically, this question seems to me that it can be formulated in the following terms: how do non-moderns give plausibility to their worlds? To go around the debates surrounding such a question would be to revisit a century of criticism of the epistemic foundations of anthropology. But more than that, this question is too modern, it allows me to recover the work of Bruno Latour, so widely read among us but often not incorporated as a way of thinking, to agree with him to argue that it is the fetish of modernity to reduce the non-modern precisely to their non-modernity. In any case, from my perspective, there is no general foundation that gives plausibility to the various beliefs described in the question.

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According to Barkun, conspiracy theories share a common thinking around ideas that nothing happens by accident, nothing is what it seems at first glance and everything is interconnected. This seems to find common ground with the ways in which some religious, spiritual, esoteric and paranormal beliefs are presented, and also with transhumanist, anti-speciesist and radical naturalist conceptions (among others) that are gaining increasing visibility. There seem to be diverse responses to anthropocentrism and its effects, and to the demagicization of the world as an unfulfilled prophecy of modernity.

These "implausible" theories seem to acquire plausibility in the same (crushed) edifice of knowledge of Western modernity. For example, the "hermeneutics of suspicion", even in its most massive, popularized or commodified versions, such as those offered by movies like The Matrixtelevision series such as V. Extraterrestrial invasion or X-Filesor novels such as The Da Vinci Code. Popular cultures play an important role in enabling, circulating and sometimes legitimizing such theories. But they also contribute to constructing a layman's way of understanding science: from "skepticism" about "bad" science (the "mad scientist" as antagonist), through "express" and "infallible" science (any chapter of csi is a good example).

In the circulation of conspiracy movements and conspiracy theories through social networks (YouTube, Reddit, Twitter) and "alternative" conferences, various modes of belonging and differentiation are also offered. This aspect could well be analyzed vis-à-vis to the networks and circuits of scientific popularization and popularization and scientific skepticism, which have also reactivated their popularity in digital environments.

Finally, adherence to conspiratorial beliefs and the discourses of their propagators include various demands for self-determination and personal autonomy, and for hope. Many of these theories are presented as modes of "enlightenment", "awareness", "disalienation" in the face of an environment that arouses suspicion and distrust at all levels, and where the great ideological and/or religious narratives seem to lack the capacity for social penetration and mobilization that they had in the past.

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What do conspiracy theories tell us about the demand for freedoms? What is the validity and what are the limits of these movements that appeal to unrestricted freedom in the face of public health policy and the social responsibility of the State?

Most researchers of this phenomenon emphasize the nature of anti-establishment and of counterposition to the established powers of conspiracy movements. The construction of alternative readings of reality leads them to oppose the "official truth" and mobilize oppositional political narratives. In this context, there are groups that tend to isolate themselves, promote community spaces away from the "mundane noise" and aspire to build alternative ways of life. There are others who, inserted in the majority society, mobilize to show their disagreement and use different resources to do so, from demonstrations to legal battles or even boycotts. In some contexts such as Brazil, Romania or the United States, conspiracy theories have gained adherents among presidents and other figures of the political elite, which complicates the classical readings of the State. versus people.

In times of the covid-19 Many of these groups have centered their mobilizations around the issue of health, health policies and, more specifically, vaccination. The anti-vaccination campaigns have become a symbolic marker around which the dynamics of opposition to the State and scientific and health institutions have become visible and crystallized. At the same time, they have served as a meeting and articulation space for people and groups coming from very different ideological backgrounds and with different projects, some with a markedly conspiratorial character, others not so clearly. The idea of "toxicity" and the growing contamination of the world and bodies has become a common imaginary in the critique of contemporary society.

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During the period of confinement due to the pandemic of the covid-19 different types of conspiracy theories who contradicted the scientific discourse and the government's recommendations for protection, boycotting health campaigns through social networks or causing disturbances in sanitizing spaces or public squares. These actions lead us to think about the extent to which freedoms should be unrestricted for all forms of expression and opinion. I think it is essential to discuss whether it is necessary to set limits to beliefs that cause disinformation and, in pandemic contexts, that threaten health; especially campaigns that threaten the safety of some social sectors; for example, xenophobia towards the Chinese population and towards "the foreigner" in general; stigmatization of hospital staff or even of the sick.

Implausible explanations misrepresent the causes, the form of expansion and the consequences of crises, and lead to actions that are not very rationalized. As Spanish philosopher Alejandro Martinez Gallo points out: conspiracism is fun as long as it remains on the lunatic fringe and does not occupy the plausibility of discourse, where it becomes dangerous. It should be noted that different conspiracyist ideas are highly conservative and hold far-right political positions. For example: the fantasy that reptilians feed on aborted fetuses induces opposition to abortion rights; the assumption that "inducing homosexuality" in children is intended to control the birth rate and depopulate the world, which would be inhabited by non-human beings, is a homophobic belief; the idea that the foreigner, the stranger, the black, the Muslim, is a terrorist and seeks to dispossess his rightful owners of their property in order to take over a nation fosters distorted identities of the other and his culture; the idea that Chinese, Russians or North Koreans are producing diseases and also drugs to eliminate the white American and European population are other forms of xenophobia. It is no coincidence that the Q'Anon organization, the strongest of the American conspiracy groups, has supported Donald Trump and promoted him as the only hero capable of confronting the reptilians; or that it has seconded him in the assertion that the covid-19 had been invented in a Chinese laboratory to seize world control with the vaccine. What I mean is that there are powerful groups of the ultra-right, interested in promoting and conserving certain socio-political capital, and that they promote conspiracy-mongering as a creed that stimulates groupism. It is in their interest to create shock groups that can be used at politically disadvantageous junctures (such as the seizure of the capitol in Washington in 2021 by a white supremacist, armed and ultra-right wing).

What should the State, the States, do in the face of these issues? Mainly in the global north, to assume responsibility for inequality and crises on a global scale. Already into the political use and alienation of reality, I find that conspiracy theorists, by distorting reality, pretend to hold imaginary actors responsible for social differences (then concretized in stigmatized actors to be sacrificed); this prevents them from realizing that inequality in terms of access to goods, work and services is caused by class differences. That is to say, social inequality, which should be interpreted, from the Marxian point of view, as the result of differences due to class distinctions (class struggle) is diverted towards a reptilian, an extraterrestrial, a supra-human, pretending to alienate the subaltern classes from a critical analysis of social reality. That is why the middle and upper classes are the most assiduous of these beliefs, because it is a question of comfortable theories that they are less responsible in a system of inequality and exploitation. This alienation allows them to wash their hands.

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In the Brazilian public health system, I have faced two major controversies:

In the first place, there is a group of institutions and actors in the health field that claim that alternative medicines are not supported by scientific evidence and therefore cannot be financed with public money. In short, for certain groups, these medicines would be a legitimate example of scientific denialism authorized and encouraged by the State itself, promoting practices that would put lives at risk. Secondly, in another common controversy in my field of research, therapists claim that it is not the scientific ineffectiveness of their practices that is at the heart of the debate, but the attempt to preserve the economic interests of a global alliance between Western medicine and the pharmaceutical industry that would motivate resistance to alternative therapies. And in the face of the accusation that alternative therapies are not scientifically proven, therapists often claim that, although the evidence is not much, it is clinically sound. That is, while the health of a patient using homeopathy may not be explained by science, it is visible in the clinic.

With the pandemic of covid-19 I noticed a curious phenomenon in Brazil. The same argument of the therapists about the lack of scientific evidence of their practices, but with clinical evidence of improvement in their patients, was mobilized by the advocates of the use of hydroxychloroquine. The use of this drug, which politically aligned more with the Bolsonarist right, claimed that improvement was visible in those who used it, and that it did not make sense to wait for scientific evidence to spread its use. This phenomenon left progressive groups, advocates of alternative therapies but resistant to the use of hydroxychloroquine, with a logical problem: how to defend the use of homeopathy, reiki, Bach flowers, etc., and reject medical treatments not proven by science in the face of a pandemic?

This seems to me a good case to understand the magnitude of the problem before us. The conspiracy not only follows a political spectrum, the State would be challenged to shape the debate by being responsible and consistent with its decisions.

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In many of the social mobilizations of conspiratorial groups and referents it is possible to notice a strong presence of anti-egalitarian and, above all, anti-systemic discourses. Sometimes, these mobilizations articulate collectives that a priori do not seem to share the same ideological substratum, as Viotti warns in his analysis of antivaccinationists in Argentina.

On the one hand, there are sectors associated with agendas and groups of the new right and neoconservatism, especially linked to anarcho-capitalist, anti-populist and right-wing libertarian discourses. These are anti-egalitarian and also anti-gender movements, to the point that several propagators of information of dubious quality and conspiratorial beliefs about the coronavirus in Argentina have been referents of groups that have also publicly expressed strong positions against the law of voluntary interruption of pregnancy or denounce various oral contraceptive methods.

On the other hand, there are sectors linked to alternative lifestyles, some conveyed through groups or referents of holistic therapies. The rhetoric of self-determination in giving an account of their own lives, not only of their spiritual practices and beliefs, tends to be quite frequent in some of these people, and much more central than in other narratives of religious or spiritual trajectories.

Likewise, in the study we conducted in Argentina, ideological self-positioning (right-wing, but also independent and non-identification) was the main predictor of adherence to conspiratorial beliefs about the coronavirus, along with belief in a just world (a set of beliefs close to the meritocratic discourses that serve to justify social inequalities as natural). But spiritual people or believers with no religion of belonging did not differ significantly from atheists and agnostics in their ideological positions (the least right-wing, and the least adhered to global beliefs in a just world and to conspiratorial beliefs about the origin of the coronavirus).

While among sectors oriented towards the ideological right what is questioned is what they consider "bad science", that is, knowledge that does not conform to or confirm their own beliefs about the world (for example, that which would come from what they call "cultural Marxism"), in some groups of alternative lifestyles -not in all- they prefer to unanchor the arguments of any grammar that may refer to a degraded scientificity, and emphasize casuistry and the singularity of their own experience over the logic of probabilities.

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What society do we envision through this dialogue?

There is no clear diagnosis. In the background, in the expansion of these conspiracy theories we dare to glimpse a criticism, and an uneasiness, in the face of the current directions of the political project of modernity. A critique that, at certain moments, could perhaps be productive and the seed of new futures. However, at present, a good part of the conspiracy movements are nourished by extreme right-wing movements (or are co-opted by them) that impose futures that favor inequality and social, cultural, political and economic discrimination, while showing authoritarian overtones contrary to democratic plurality. Preventing criticism or questioning of the official reality from leading to conspiracy theories and extreme right-wing movements is surely one of the most important tasks at the beginning of this century. xxi. Researching these issues and showing the complexity of the phenomenon we are dealing with is a first step.

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Faced with the hopelessness of modernity and the plurality of voices that can go viral in the virtual media, without the weighting of an epistemology of plausibility, I see a society that is more believing in implausible theories, more uninformed and more polarized. On the other hand, the increase in conspiracy theories shows us that we have failed in the dissemination of scientific knowledge, and that we academics are in a soliloquy that needs to be broken; that we have not ceased to see crises as situations of dispute for survival resources, so that, in a world with multiple knowledge and ideologies, we need to recover and disseminate those that are viable for the reproduction of a more equitable society.

On the other hand, I venture a hypothesis: the confinement by the covid-19 unveiled the tip of the iceberg of struggles that we will witness in the future: the dispute between industrial entrepreneurship (owners of the means of production) and virtual entrepreneurship (owners of digital technology, information media, social networks and content creation). I find on the part of conspiracism a fierce struggle to destroy the means and practices that allow the reproduction of the work of virtual technology: attacks on G5 antennas, refusal to work from home, accusing virtual entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, of producing nanotechnology to control the world. I believe that the pandemic provided a glimpse of the kind of ideological (conspiracy) weapons that will continue to be used in the future to tip the balance of public opinion towards one group or another.

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Katharine Hayhoe noted that, in this topic, two urgent issues are relevant, which, although connected, require very different strategies of analysis and action. On the one hand, the urgency of the global warming process itself, which is rapidly advancing towards irreversible and increasingly compromising situations for the maintenance of life on the planet. On the other hand, it is necessary to pay attention to the wide range of actors who have become involved in the debates on the subject from the point of view of denial, sometimes rejecting the reality of the phenomenon itself, sometimes mobilizing a lax argument that sees in globally concerted actions, such as international treaties and research consortiums, "globalist" attitudes that would conceal the purposes of a kind of climate imperialism.

Denialism can be described in the form of stages, marked temporally by the very progress of the catastrophes it seeks to deny, so that such a structure could be described from seven maxims: 1) it is not real, 2) it is not with us, 3) it is not that bad, 4) it is too costly to solve, 5) we found an excellent solution (a solution that is invariably ineffective), 6) it is too late, 7) I should have been warned before.

Denialism is a branch of conspiracy; it is, above all, an attitude, a way of acting in the world and denial is only one of its forms of manifestation. Denialism is not a passive attitude, but part of an active position that postulates global realities in an agenda that has little to do with defensiveness.

The second aspect to emphasize refers to the nature of the denial of the denialists. Structurally, the object of denial is not the facts, it is not what is at stake, but rather the very statement of what is denied. Guided by a false dialogism, this apparent controversy is the basis of moves to annihilate otherness. It is in this sense that denying the realities of climate change, denying the concreteness of a pandemic, denying slavery, is the means and not the end. In all these cases, the object in question is always an ally and not an enemy.

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Barkun puts it very clearly: from being stigmatized knowledge, conspiracy theories go through a process in which their peripheral place becomes mainstreamespecially in popular culture, social networks and some political and religious discourses. Conspiracies are nowadays records enabled and available for use (and abuse) at various levels of social life.

I believe that we will increasingly coexist in archipelagos of alternative epistemes; it is not a new phenomenon, but it does seem to be acquiring more visibility and even has a clearer impact on the public sphere. I insist on the idea of archipelagos: a society of self-confirming tribes. However, there is not a total absence of possibilities for dialogue, there are bridges, and that is where I think we have to sharpen our gaze and where we have to continue working to better understand how these possible articulations are conceived and function in each context, even among conspiracy groups themselves.

On the other hand, science has a great task ahead of it, which is to become less cryptic, more accessible, more open, communicate better, know and present itself as fallible, work on its own biases and be more concerned about its time. However, I do not claim that the debate is between science and non-science, or between rationality and irrationality. Adherence to beliefs in conspiracy theories seems to present an underlying rationality and a particular way of configuring what is valid knowledge that disputes authoritative epistemes (such as the scientific one) and therefore requires further exploration.

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Mar Griera is a professor in the Department of Sociology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and since 2016 director of the research group isorspecializing in the sociology of religion. His work focuses on the intersection between religion, spirituality, identity and politics in contemporary Europe.

Enriqueta Lerma D. in Anthropology, researcher at the Center for Multidisciplinary Research on Chiapas and the Southern Border of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Member of the National System of Researchers. Founder of the Ethnography Laboratory of the cimsur.

Rodrigo Toniol is an anthropologist, professor in the Department of Anthropology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and in the graduate program in Social Anthropology at Unicamp. He is editor of the journal Discussions do ner and productivity researcher at cnpq. He is currently president of the Association of Social Scientists of Religion of the Mercosur.

Hugo H. Rabbia D. in Latin American Social Studies. Researcher at conicet at the Instituto de Investigaciones Psicológicas (iipsi) of the National University of Córdoba. Professor of Political Psychology at the Catholic University of Córdoba.

Olga Odgers holds a PhD in Sociology (ehess(Paris) and researcher at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte since 1998. Her research focuses on the intersection of religion, migration and health analyses.

María Eugenia Patiño holds a PhD in Anthropological Sciences (uam), professor and researcher at the Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes. Her research is focused on the study of lay movements, female consecrated life and Catholicism.


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