Conspiracy theories – the belief that events are secretly manipulated behind the scenes by powerful forces – have a long history, and exist in all modern societies. However, their significance is increasing today, especially within Europe. They are not confined to the political margins as the product of a pathological mind-set; instead opinion polls confirm that the majority of citizens in Europe and the U.S. now believe in one or more conspiracy theories. Some conspiracy theories may be harmless entertainment or a sign of healthy scepticism, but others are dangerous because they fuel racism, nationalism or terrorism. They can lead to political disengagement, distrust of the media, and, in the case of climate change and vaccination programmes, loss of faith in medical and scientific authorities.
Yet conspiracy theories have not been studied as comprehensively as their manifest importance demands. Moreover, the limited amount of existing research is fragmented along disciplinary, national and linguistic lines. Only an international and interdisciplinary joint venture will lead to the thorough comprehension of the history, politics, sociology, rhetoric and psychology of conspiracy theories needed to counter their often harmful effects on democratic values.
The aim of this COST Action is therefore to provide a comparative analysis of conspiracy theory (in terms of its different causes, manifestations and effects across countries, cultures, time periods, political systems, media regimes etc.), and to develop recommendations and strategies for stakeholders confronted with it.