Universiteit Leiden

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Conspiracy thinking as new religion

Is the American government behind the attacks on 11 September 2001? Could it be that the white contrails emitted by planes in the sky are actually ‘chemtrails’: chemicals that are deliberately being spread amongst us? And did the Dutch intelligence service order the murder of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn? An insight in the confusing world of conspiracy theories. That sometimes turn out to be true.

Dr. Jelle van Buuren, assistant professor, obtained his PhD in 2016 on the subject of ‘conspiracy constructions’. ‘These revolve around the idea that a small group of people have malicious plans, that will cause harm to a majority of the population.’ The conspiracy theory conflicts with the official statements issued by, for example, the government.

Why is it that, according to Van Buuren, conspiracy stories are in such popular demand? ‘Partly because these theories seem to offer a simple explanation in a complicated world. Especially in times of confusion – for example after the attacks on 11 September 2001 – these theories provide something to hold on to.’


During his research, Van Buuren noticed that conspiracy thinking often exhibits ‘spiritual dimensions’. In the rapidly secularizing West conspiracy stories ‘sometimes appear to replace religion. Similar to many religions, conspiracy theories provide a clear dividing line between good and evil. They gives people something to hold on to. They also provide a foundation for hope of redemption. If all misery in the world can be blamed on a small group of people, all we need to do in order to create a better world is to get rid of those people.’

You can read the full article (in Dutch) in the Dutch newspaper Reformatorisch Dagblad. Complotdenken als nieuwe religie

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