Abstract: Conspiracy theories are a powerful explanatory model, or way of thinking, that
influences many cultural forms and social processes throughout the contemporary
world. Generally defined as “the conviction that a secret, omnipotent individual or
group covertly controls the political and social order or some part thereof,”
conspiracy theories include a number of principal ideas and concepts that make
them adaptable to broad variety of discourses and forms of collective imagination.
Proceeding from the necessity to explain and localize evil as a social and moral
category, conspiracy theories produce ethical models that oppose ‘us’ to ‘them’,
‘victims’ to ‘enemies’, ‘heroes’ to ‘anti-heroes’. At the same time, conspiracy theories
are extremely teleological; they do not leave any room for coincidences and
accidents and explain all facts and events as related to intentional and purposeful
activities of ‘evil actors.’ Quite often, conspiracy theories are grounded in holistic
worldviews that lead, in turn, to particular hermeneutic styles. Reality is always
considered to be deceptive; ‘simple’, ‘superficial’, and ‘obvious.’ Explanations must
give place to more complicated intellectual procedures aimed at a disclosure of
‘concealed truth’. From this perspective, the concept of mystery appears to be the
most powerful element of conspiratorial narratives. Conspiracy theories often
motivate political action and social praxis, accompany transformation of institutional
and informational networks, provoke moral panics, and changes of identities.
This talk will focus on continuity of Soviet conspiratorial ideas and narratives in post-Soviet
Russia. What ‘performative shifts’ of late Soviet discourse were adopted and transformed by
‘communities of loss’ in the 1990s and 2000s? Why did conservative nationalism of the
1970s become so significant for Russian popular culture forty years later? What messages
are encoded by the symbolic language of moral panics and conspiracy theories related to the
‘imaginary West’ in the late Soviet and post-Soviet Russian society? These questions can be
at least partly answered by an analysis of the so called Dulles Plan for Russia, a
conspiratorial forgery based on borrowings from the novel Vechnyi Zov (the Eternal
Call, 1971–76) by the Soviet writer Anatoliy Ivanov. The talk deals with its history,
ideological contexts and popular reception in present day Russia.
Bio: Alexander A. Panchenko is Director of the Research Center for Literary Theory and Interdisciplinary Studies at the Institute of Russian Literature, Russian Academy of Sciences (St. Petersburg, Russia), a Professor of Social Anthropology at St. Petersburg State University (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), and the Director of the Center for Anthropology of Religion at the European University at St. Petersburg. His research interests include religious folklore and vernacular religion in Russia and Europe, theory and history of folklore research, contemporary folklore and popular culture, and anthropological approaches to the study of Russian literature. He has published more than 100 research works (including two books) in Russian and other European languages on vernacular religion in rural Russia; religious movements in modern Russia; the political use of folklore in the Soviet Union, and comparative studies in folklore and the anthropology of religion.