Devil Fervour: Conspiracy Theories, Ground Zero and the Religion of the Dispossessed

By Dutton, Edward | Contemporary Review, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Devil Fervour: Conspiracy Theories, Ground Zero and the Religion of the Dispossessed


Dutton, Edward, Contemporary Review


ON September 11th 2006, there was a brawl at Ground Zero. Despite the ubiquitous presence of the press, this was ignored even by the New York newspapers. This fighting, which I personally witnessed, was sparked by a middle-aged, educated-sounding man standing on a soapbox and arguing that 9/11 was an inside job. There were many groups surrounding Ground Zero propounding similar interpretations such as '911truth.org', while people carried huge banners reading, 'The Bush Regime Engineered 9/11'. In contrast, there was one man holding pictures of Osama bin Laden with the word 'Murderer' printed beneath. But all were distant from the central spot both physically and in terms of their power. At the centre of Ground Zero--far in the distance behind an enormous fence--bereaved family members read out names of the dead in front of the President.

As with any shrine, pilgrims were Contesting the Sacred (in the words of a 1991 essay collection on pilgrimage of the same name). However, only those in charge of the official religious perspective, or related to the victims themselves, were allowed to be at the central position. As you moved away from the centre, the pilgrims became less and less powerful and more and more unorthodox in their understanding of the shrine. Just as at the Marian shrine at Walsingham in England, for example, extreme Catholics and Protestants battled it out on the periphery for the correct interpretation of the shrine and reality more broadly. And the comparison between Ground Zero and a religious shrine is not merely superficial. There is a compelling case for the view that, in an increasingly secular environment. Conspiracy Theories have taken the place of some forms of Folk Religion. They are the religion of the powerless operating in a very similar way as the more extreme expressions of Medieval Catholicism.

Defining Religion

There is no one accepted understanding of the word 'religion'. For a minority of social scientists, such as the Scottish sociologist Prof. Steve Bruce in his 2002 book God is Dead, religion is defined in relation to a shopping list of factors: belief in God or gods, an afterlife and so forth. It is defined in this way because this definition is apparently accepted by ordinary speakers of English. However, the majority of social scientists accept the kind of definition proposed by the Belgian anthropologist Prof. Clifford Geertz in his 1968 article 'Religion as a Cultural System'. He argues that religion is, in essence, an ideology that leads to rituals and numinous experiences. Bruce's style of definition is regarded as inadequate because it is Protestant-centric (rendering Buddhism essentially a non-religion), it is anti-intellectual and, most importantly, it makes a distinction between 'religion' and 'ideology' which is unsustainable if one recalls that in pre-modern societies what we now call 'religion' was the ideology. There is perhaps something relativist about Geertz. There are, it might be stressed, different kinds of religion and the New Zealand anthropologist, Roger Sandall has argued in The Culture Cult (2001) that different styles of religious thinking can lead to very different results in terms of social and economic organisation. Equally, there is a typological difference between believing in the remnants of a pre-scientific world-view and having Marxism as your world-view, even if this is regarded merely as 'pseudo-science'. But 'religions' broadly appear to have the character that Geertz defines.

Thus, other modern ideologies are generally regarded as replacement religions. Moreover, it makes sense that aspects of the old ideology would still be accepted--apart from in extreme cases such as Albanian Communism--just as aspects of Paganism were accepted or reflected when Christianity was the dominant ideology (apart from in extremist regimes such as Calvin's and even here the re-emphasis on 'blood sacrifice' and a 'chosen people' might be seen as pagan). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Devil Fervour: Conspiracy Theories, Ground Zero and the Religion of the Dispossessed
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.