Matrix On Point

Matrix on Point: Myths and Misinformation

Part of the Matrix on Point event series

Misinformation and conspiracy theories have become a central feature of modern life, but they have a long history that have served to justify surveillance and prosecution of marginalized groups. In this Matrix on Point panel, recorded on March 15, 2023, a group of scholars who study these histories discussed how misinformation circulates, and the effects of such myths and stories on society.

The panel was co-sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender (CRG), the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, and the Othering and Belonging Institute.

The panel featured Timothy R. Tangherlini, Professor in the Scandinavian Department and Director of the Graduate Program in Folklore at UC Berkeley; Robert Braun, Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley; and Poulomi Saha, Associate Professor of English at UC Berkeley and affiliated faculty in the Programs for Critical Theory and for Gender and Women’s Studies, the Center for Race and Gender, the Institute for South Asia Studies, the LGBTQ Citizenship Cluster, and the Department of Department of South and South East Asian Studies. The panel was moderated by Elena Conis, Professor in the UC Berkeley School of Journalism.

Listen to the presentation as a podcast below or on Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.


Matrix on Point: Myths and Misinformation

[JULIA SIZEK] Hello, everyone. I’m Julia Sizek. I’m a postdoctoral scholar here at the Social Science Matrix. And I will be introducing our event today in lieu of Marion Fourcade who is our director who is unfortunately out of town, but I understand online watching all of us right now, which is perhaps fitting because today our topic is on– is myths and misinformation, which critically addresses contemporary challenges of myths and misinformation through a historical and humanistic lens and is ever more present in our online lives.

Today’s event is part of our matrix on point series, which addresses hot button issues in our world. this particular event, we’d also like to thank our co-sponsors, which are the Center for Race and Gender, the Othering and Belonging Institute, and the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion. Before we get started for actual event, I just have a couple of brief announcements. So this includes our upcoming events at Matrix.

Next week, we will be having Phil Gorski presenting on his book, The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy. On April 3rd, we will be having another Matrix on point panel on wealth and taxes about how the wealthy evade taxes and tax havens around the world. On April 20th, we will be having a Matrix on point panel featuring work from graduate students across the social sciences about borders and migration. And then finally on May 1st to wrap up our semester, we will be having Orlando Patterson giving a Matrix distinguished lecture on his work.

So we have a lot of exciting upcoming events happening. We hope to see you either in person or online at these upcoming events. And now onto the most boring part, which is how to join if you are online and having challenges. So if you want to ask questions online through the Q&A feature, put your questions in the Q&A box. Do not put them in the chat. The chat is for if you are having AB problems.

And then finally, if something sort of like goes wrong and either someone in the room urgently needs to leave or if you need to urgently leave the Zoom room, we are recording this event, and it will be posted online as well. So yeah, that’s all of our housekeeping. And then the run of show of our event today is after our brief introductions. Then each of our speakers will be presenting. After that, there will be an open Q&A for everyone.

So now as we get started, I’m going to introduce Elena Connis who is our moderator and a professor in the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. She is a writer historian of Medicine Public Health in the Environment, the author of How to sell a Poison: The Rise, Fall, and Toxic Return of DDT, Vaccine Nation: America’s Changing Relationship with Immunization, and with Aimee Medeiros and Sandra Eder, Pink and Blue: Gender, Culture, and the Health of Children.

Conis’s research focuses on scientific controversies, science denial in the public understanding of science and has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Institutes of Health, and the Science History institute. She is an affiliate of Berkeley’s history department in the Center for Science Technology, Medicine, and Society and the Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Previously, she was a professor of History and a Mellon fellow in Health and Humanities at Emory University and an award winning health columnist for The Los Angeles Times. So Thank you so much Elena for moderating.

[ELENA CONIS] Thank you, Julia, for that introduction. And I thank all of you for being here on what feels like the first sunny day in a century. So thank you again for being inside on this lunch hour. And thanks to all of those who are attending online. We’re looking forward to a rich conversation after the comments from our panelists among all of you, whether you’re here in person or watching virtually. It’s my real pleasure to be moderating today’s event on myths and misinformation.

Something that has become deeply woven into the fabric of our everyday existence in the 2020s that seems to be not just buzzwords anymore, although they certainly have become common buzzwords, but real political, deeply challenging problems that we confront across so many sectors. Today’s panelists represent views of these issues from the humanities. And humanists, in my view, don’t generally have as much opportunity as others to chime in on these particular challenges. So I’m delighted to be able to introduce our three panelists. And before I invite them, I’m going to tell you a little bit about who all of them are.

I’m going to start with Tim Tangherlini in the middle there, who is a folklorist and ethnographer, and professor in the Department of Scandinavian where he focuses on computational approaches to problems in the study of folklore, literature, and culture. He’s the author of Danish folktales, legends, and other stories talking trauma and interpreting legend. And his papers have been published in journals ranging from Western folklore and the Journal of American Folklore to PLOS One and Computer. He’s a Co-Pi on a project called ISEBEL, and I hope I’m pronouncing that one right, the intelligent search engine for belief legends.

And he has also been co-directing a three-year long program at the NSF’s Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics to advance the field of cultural analytics. He has also led the NEH’s Institute for Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities on Network Analysis for the Humanities. And in collaboration with colleagues at UCLA and Stanford respectively, he is developing automated methods for detecting conspiracy theories on social media and a search engine for dance movement in k-pop using deep learning methods, and maybe we’ll have a chance to learn a little bit more about that.

Robert Braun to Tim’s right is assistant professor in the Department of Sociology. His research focuses on civil society and intergroup relationships in times of social upheaval. And he is the author of Protectors of Pluralism: Christian Protection of Jews in the Low Countries During the Holocaust, which is an examination of communities who stepped up to protect victims of mass persecution, while others refrained from doing so. It was published by Cambridge University Press in 2019, receive the Gregory Liebert best Book Award from the American Political Science Association and, I believe, a total of six different best book awards from the American Sociology Association, which might set some sort of record. I’m not sure if it’s for the association or for you.

His similarly well recognized articles have been published in the American Journal of Sociology, American Political Science Review Social Forces and the Journal of Conflict Resolution among others. And he came to Berkeley in 2018 after teaching in the Departments of Sociology and Political Science at Northwestern. Fascinatingly, his next book project, Boogeymen, will trace the evolution of fear in Central Europe throughout the 19th and 20th century by studying the spread of frightful figures in children’s stories.

And finally, Poulomi Saha at the end of our table here is associate professor in the Department of English and affiliated faculty in the program on critical theory and the Departments of Gender and Women’s Studies in South and Southeast Asian– Southeast studies. Their book An Empire of Touch: Women’s Political Labor and the Fabrication of East Bengal was published by Columbia University Press in 2019 and awarded the Harry Levin prize for outstanding first book by the American Comparative Literature Association in 2020, as well as the Helen Carter first book subvention prize.

They’re currently at work on two new projects, Fascination: America’s Hindu which considers the allure and scandal of so-called Hindu cults in America from the transcendentalists to the countercultural 1960s, and Bengal to Berkeley, which looks at conspiracy as a legal philosophical and political concept to understand the rise of surveillance of racial and sexual subjects in World War I America.

Saha teaches and writes at the intersections of psychoanalytic critique feminist and queer theory, postcolonial studies, and ethnic American literature, and is broadly interested in shared histories of racialization, governance, and regulation of gender, sexuality, and politics of resistance. So please join me in welcoming our panelists. And I’d like to invite Tim to come on up and join us here.

[TIM TANGHERLINI] Thank you so much for that introduction. So I work in folklore. I’m going to blast through these slides at an alarming rate because I have– what is it five minutes? Is that what we’re thinking? 10 minutes? 10 minutes, 10 to 15 minutes and something like 40 slides. So my students are used to this.

I work with rumor legend storytelling at internet scale. And I look at how these stories, and these partial stories are part of this negotiation of belief and how that feeds into the formation of a cultural ideology, which is the consists of norms, beliefs, and values, where we have some expectations of how we want people to behave and how we want the outcomes to align with our hopes.

So stories on social media are noisy. They’re partial, and they’re– which means they’re incomplete. And they’re based on knowledge of the ongoing conversation. So the implication there is that if you just sort jump into a conversation on social media, you might not actually know what’s going on.

And so one of our goals is to estimate the parameters driving any of these conversations on social media so that we can understand the boundaries of the discussion, so what can you say within this discussion area, the structure of the conversation and its elements, and then the role of narrative and storytelling in these conversations, so to what extent do people rely often on personal experience narrative as a way– as a kind of a rhetorical device to convince others to be aligned with their perspectives.

And this leads to the emergence of what we see as narrative communities in which there is an alignment of beliefs within the community based on the storytelling that circulates there. And then we’re very interested in the robustness or the resilience of these narrative frameworks, which we model as graphs.

So how do you do this? This is part of this whole project of computational folkloristics where folklore is seen as vernacular or informal culture circulating on and across social networks. So we’re interested in the social networks. We’re also interested in this vernacular expressive forms and how they’re negotiated dynamically in these networks.

And you can see, this becomes a perfect opportunity for this question of misinformation, because in times where you don’t have access to trustworthy information sources or where you don’t trust your information sources, we turn to each other. And this is part of that process of negotiating belief in the group. And so this becomes an opportunity for the rise of misinformation and/or disinformation as well.

So if we look at what we’re looking at and why we can build this theoretical framework, we have a tradition context. This is where people recognize that you can have these types of conversations. And the structure of a genre is embedded at that very low level. At the mesoscale, we have an information knowledge area in which the framework is anchored. So if we’re discussing, for example, vaccination, we’re in a vaccination domain. If we’re discussing politics, we might be in a politics, but we would be in a politics domain by definition. And if we’re talking about witchcraft and we’re Danish farmers from the 19th century, we’re in that witchcraft domain.

So this is the information knowledge area in which a framework is anchored, and the narrative framework is based on the underlying structure. We relax Algirdas Greimas’s ideas of acting to interact– well, act and then interaction model to allow us to find in this very noisy data that I mentioned before, the different accents and the relationships that they have to each other.

And of course, performance, which is what we’re very interested in folklore on social media really exists at those things that we can observe. So that’s the post-level. And so we can observe the posts. Everything else is part of this hidden latent model. So stories we see as instantiation of some underlying framework, which in whole or in part, and it includes evaluation.

I can’t believe he said that. It would be an evaluation of something. And it also includes some sort of framing. Let me tell you what happened to Robert the last time I saw him. And so that’s kind part of this whole framing project. We use NLP methods to extract these act interaction networks from the noisy social media. And then we turn it to different domains where we’re trying to understand what is structuring these conversations.

So our first interventions were with a conspiracy theory Pizzagate, which was circulating broadly on the internet. And we were very fortunate. Although the people of New Jersey were not fortunate that at the same time, there was an actual conspiracy where people had conspired to shut down the George Washington Bridge, which caused a week long traffic chaos.

So we have on the, one hand, data telling us about an actual conspiracy. And on the other hand, we have a conspiracy theory that’s circulating broadly on the internet. And so the question is, can we discern some fundamental differences in the narrative frameworks between a conspiracy theory, which has a wall of crazy? You’re all familiar with walls of crazy. We were all in the pandemic binge watching every single detective show and every single detective show out there as a wall of crazy.

And so this is what we were able to extract for Pizzagate. This is the wall of crazy for Pizzagate. And we thought, Oh my God, that’s a real mess. And then we did the same type of extraction for news sources reporting on the George Washington Bridge. And we got that as our wall of crazy. And so it made us wonder if real life is perhaps messier than fiction.

And so this drove some of our work where we were trying to understand the relationships in all of the discussions of Pizzagate that really was boosted by the release of Wikileaks. And we found that there were these different types of things that you could have discussions about. And with the release of Wikileaks, the interpretation of Wikileaks, people were able to find connections between things that we generally might be loosely connected, weakly connected, or perhaps not connected at all.

So we found that there was Democratic politics, which is weakly connected to the Podesta brothers who also enjoyed pizza and casual dining. So you get this sort of weak link to casual dining. And then you get this whole other area called satanism where you traffic in children in underground tunnels that we usually don’t associate with casual dining. But through Wikileaks, we can make that association. And you see in the aggregate when we project all of these connections, we get what’s called a single giant connected component.

When we take out Wikileaks, you can see here at the bottom all of those domains fall apart into of independent connected components. So one of the problems, of course, then we realize is that, well, the conspiracy theory really exists only a narrative where it’s very easy to bring these links back in. So this becomes a structural feature of the conspiracy theory. While it’s not robust to deletion, we can make it fall apart very easily. It’s also incredibly resilient.

So conspiracy theories seem to be fragile. They’re not robust, and there’s a small separating set that allows one to attack the conspiracies theories narrative framework graph. Unfortunately, it’s like Terminator 2. It’s very easy to make it fall apart. But then again, it’s very easy because it exists in narrative to put those deleted edges and nodes back into the narrative at the next retelling. And so that’s an interesting phenomena that we see borne out again and again in that narrative space of social media forms.

One of the interesting things we find in these narratives spaces is that it’s often a threat narrative that really relies heavily on the construction of an inside group you or us. And then there’s always some form of threat or disruption coming from the outside. And so it’s very interesting to be able to map which group considers itself as an us and what they see as threatening outsiders– disruptive outsider, and then also being able to understand what those threats and disruptions might be.

Because the next thing that you do in narrative is you come up with strategies. It’s Ghostbusters all over again. You come up with strategies for dealing with that threat. When ghosts appear in the neighborhood, who are you going to call? The answer to that question is ideological. And it tells us an awful lot about the insiders.

Of course, we had a lot of time on our hands during the pandemic. And so we started harvesting all of the discussions about the pandemic. Our earliest work had been on vaccine hesitation looking at mommy blogs. So we use some of the same methods to look at the Reddit’s. And we discovered early on there were many different narrative communities coming into play, and they created highly separated narrative communities. So we could estimate what the actions and relationships are in each of those discussions.

As the pandemic went on and QAnon became more and more of a factor, it started bringing these separated communities together. So by a year and a half into COVID, we had one giant connected component that was redolent of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. It’s almost like Pizzagate was a dress rehearsal for QAnon, which is a very greedy conspiracy theory.

So then we also wanted to know how this works in something like where the insiders see themselves as the true Patriots, the outsiders would be then the Dems and the deep state. The threat is a stolen election. The strategy is take over the Capitol. Can we discover this in the noisy forums in places like Parler? And so that’s current research we’re doing right now.

We also have some other challenges that are highly contextualized. Who does the author of a social media post side with? Who do they oppose? That gives us the insider outsider and it’s highly contextually-based. So here’s something about vaccines. I think tech will kill me with vaccines. People like Bill Gates are developing this for the money. And you can see my friend Sarah, who’s a doctor, told me not to get the vaccine because, of course, weirdly in this case, it causes smallpox.

And so we’re trying to understand who’s the insider, here coded in blue, who are the outsiders. It can change very quickly, depending on some very small shifts in language. And so we’re able now to do this automatically understand the stance of a person in a post based on some linguistic, very small linguistic cues. And so the shifts– inside outsider can shift.

A lot of future projects and challenges. How is the debate shaped? Fake news, polarizing debates, feedback between news and social media. Do virtual communities influence real life decisions? Yes, they do. We were told early on in our vaccine work that no, they don’t. And that is not– clearly, it’s highly correlated at least.

And then our current work is actually integrating some of these decomposition of very noisy data with something like ChatGPT 3.5. So we find these highly ranked nodes in one part of the decomposition of these very complex networks. And we just give ChatGPT 3.5 machine ballot case fraud. That’s the prompt. And this is what it tells us, which is kind of alarming and goes to the heart of today’s matter misinformation. So thank you so much.

[ROBERT BRAUN] Thanks, Tim. So I am going to– since I’ve only have 10 minutes, I’m going to jump straight into the question. And the question is a question that I hope all of you are interested in. And that is, how do xenophobic myths spread throughout space? Now obviously, xenophobic myths are of interest to lots of people because they’ve led to the destruction of groups, they’ve led to the destruction of countries, and they have resulted in the mass murder of many people. They’ve been voting. They’re highly important.

So it’s not surprising that many people have tried to formulate an answer to this question. These questions generally come in two flavors. The first flavor focuses on political dynamics and suggests that xenophobic myths are often instigated by political elites who can somehow benefit from creating an ethnic outsider.

On the economic side of the spectrum, the second flavor, it’s often argued that xenophobic myths tend to spread to places that somehow suffer from socio-economic problems. Ethnic outsiders in that case are scapegoats for the problems that people face in their local communities. Specific subform of this type of explanation formulated a long time ago in this very building argues that xenophobic myths, particularly spreads to groups and places where people are losing social status.

Now, what these approaches often do is that they use space as little containers with variables and try to analyze the spreads throughout different spaces. I’m going to do that today as well, but I’m also going to do something else. I’m also going to argue that space in and of itself shapes the spread of xenophobic myths. In particular, I’m going to argue that’s– and I’m just going to show the central argument.

I’m going to argue that National Border crossings act a spatial focal points for xenophobic myths. And that this is particularly true when the nation state comes under pressure. And this is particularly true for communities that are losing social status. I’m going to make this argument, I’m going to develop this argument by looking at National Border crossings, the lower middle classes and anti-Semitism in the Weimar Republic.

There are two mechanisms that in my view link border crossings, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. The first is what I call a perception mechanism. Border crossings often make international influences visible. They provide a lens through which local vulnerable groups look at the social problems that they are face. And subsequently, these vulnerable groups then are more likely to link their social problems to international forces.

The second mechanism is what I call the attraction mechanism. Not only do border crossings shape the view of people who are there, they also shape who actually goes there. Border crossings often become symbols for international threats, and therefore attract mobilization by sometimes aggressive nationalist groups who want to defend the nation from outside influence. And these nationalists often frame outsiders as a problem that needs to be addressed. And it’s the conversion of these two mechanisms that produces xenophobia in border regions.

So first of all, there’s a group that’s losing social status. This group, because it’s closer to a border crossing, is more likely to link its problems to international influences. Subsequently, radical nationalists come in who frame ethnic outsiders as the problem. And this frame resonates because there’s already groups on the ground who link their problems to the internet issue. As I said, I’m going to do this by talking a little bit about Weimar Germany. Let me give you a very brief background of the historical case.

So with the end of World War I and the establishment of the Weimar Republic, one era gave way to another. Whereas the establishment of the Weimar Republic finally formalized the end of the empire and the establishment of the German nation state. The end of the war unleashed three destabilizing mechanisms and forces that would undermine the newly established nation state for decades to come. The Weimar Republic suffered in a geopolitical domain. It suffered in the economic domain. And it also faced a lot of internal turmoil.

Now the differences of these three domains, the economic, the geopolitical, and the internal domestic politics. The differences between these domains notwithstanding, Jews are blamed for all three. Because of their prominent role in international finance, the financial crisis were often associated with Jews. Because of the fact that some prominent leaders of the Communist movement were Jews, internal left wing radicalisation was also often associated with Jews. And these two misperceptions to a certain extent culminated in something that was called the stab in the back myth or Jews were blamed for losing the war.

Now I could give you an institutional history of how borders changed in Weimar Germany, but instead, I’m just going to show you three pictures. These are the pictures of the border crossing at the Dutch-German border called Bad Nieuweschans. This is what the border looked like before the outbreak of World War I, a common street. During World War I, heavily militarized, even though the Netherlands was not a war Germany. And then after World War I, the border crossing became a clear demarcated entry point, where you could see that you were passing from one nation state to the other.

Now it might be tempting to conclude that temporarily border crossings and anti-Semitism are somehow related, but it’s also important to analyze this at a subnational level. And in order to do this, you need good subnational data on anti-Semitic myths. Existing scholars often look at pogroms or votes to analyze this problem. And each of these has serious shortcomings because they both assume that mobilization and anti-Semitism are somehow inherently intertwined.

On top of that, often when you would look at pogroms, you would also assume that a Jew needs to be there in order for anti-Semitism to be there. And we know from research that is not always the case. So instead, I make use of a different source. Instead, I will call it boogeymen in children’s stories. And in particular, I will make use of a folkloristic tradition called Kinderschreck. What’s Kinderschreck? Allow me to briefly illustrate this based on an example from my own life.

When I was a little Robert, I used to run too far away from the house. And my parents wanted me back in time for dinner. And they didn’t want me to stray too far from the house. So they would tell me the story about the guy with the bow tie. If I would pass a certain street, the guy with the bow tie would pick me up and throw me in a well.

Now you should not underestimate the incredible impact that this story has had on my life. Not so much here. But sometimes I have to visit East Coast Universities or conferences at the American Political Science Association, especially the political scientists, and people there wear bow ties. And although I’ve at this point acquired the abstract reasoning skills to know that bow ties don’t make people bad, there’s always this little primitive response inside me that’s like, yikes, I need to watch out.

When I looked around in the audience, the first thing I did is I scanned for bow ties. And rest assured, we are safe today. For those of you who know this sociology department, they also know that I avoid the area around the restrooms because of the presence of a certain bow tie person. Now all joking aside, the guy with the bow tie in these stories isn’t always the guy with the bow tie. Sometimes it’s the dirty gypsy. Sometimes it’s the big Black men. And sometimes it’s the wandering Jew.

So what I’ve done for this project is I use the work of folklorists. The most famous folklorist is sitting over there. But apart from Tim, other famous folklorists would be the Grimm brothers. And they trained many students to collect data on both material and oral traditions in Germany. One of these gentlemen was Wilhelm Monfort. And he was the first person who would conduct expert surveys with local community leaders to figure out which boogeymen showed up in children’s stories.

This culminated in– this approach culminated in something that’s called the Atlas Der Deutschen Volkskunde, a gigantic project which tended to collect information on folkloristic traditions in tons of German localities. According to their own claims, they tried to cover every geographical area in Germany. And this project, this gigantic research project was interrupted because of the rise of the Nazis and World War II, at least the serious part of this project. However, they are housed still. The questionnaires are still available and analyzable hard copy in the archives of the University of Bonn.

So basically, I spend a couple of Summers collecting the data from these questionnaires, which lots of them have been left unanalyzed. And I looked up at the questions about Kinderschreck, boogeymen. And based on this, I was able to figure out where Jewish boogeymen showed up in children’s stories. And for the approximately 20,000 localities, I found that in 5% of them, they were located– they actually had bogeymen that were of Jewish nature, so the Wandering Jew.

The spread of these boogeyman looks as follows. So this is how it’s spread out over Germany, where each light gray dot denotes a village for which we have an answer. And it’s green dot denotes a Jewish boogeyman. As you can see, we see clustering near the border with Denmark, border with the Netherlands, Belgium, France, then here, Switzerland. Surprisingly, it skips all– not so surprisingly, it skips Austria, picks up again at the border with the Czech Republic– at Czechoslovakia, sorry, and Poland over there at least. So at first, there seems to be something going on there.

Now you might wonder this might just be the places where Jews were living. So that’s why there were Jewish boogeymen. It doesn’t really seem to be the case because lots of Jews in Germany were living inland. So in order to analyze this more systematically, I link this data with road networks in Germany to demarcate where border crossings are, and I correlate the proximity to border crossings to the presence of Jewish bogeymen while controlling for lots of factors and statistical signals.

And this is what the results look like. This is the relationship between proximity to the border crossing and the prevalence of Jewish bogeymen in children’s stories. So when you’re really close to the border, about 9% of the towns have a Jewish bogeyman. But this declines when you move further away from the border crossing, and this negative effect levels off around 60 kilometers. So I’m going to probably have to conclude right now. How much time do I have? Two more minutes.

So one more thing that I’m just– then I’m just going to conclude. I have some other data as well that I wanted to show you. But for the sake of time, I will skip that and we’ll just go to the conclusion. So existing approaches that look at the spread of xenophobic myths as I said, have looked at political threats, economic problems, elite instigation, social class. And my argument in essence is that whether these things activate the spread of anti-Semitism is conditional on the space within the nation. Thanks for your time.

[ELENA CONIS] Thank you, Robert.

[POULOMI SAHA] I was a little worried as I was thinking about what to present that I would be off topic, as I tend to be. But the lovely thing about Tim inaugurating us into a kind of conspiratorial thinking is in conspiracy, anything can be connected. So I’m going to try and make good on Tim’s theory. So at the core of the question of misinformation is, of course, the question of belief. That is not just what one believes, but what are the ways in which something comes to be believable? What are the social, psychic, , philosophical, and political forces that say– oh gosh, sorry. See, disaster.

What are the technological forces also that might shape and govern the terms of believability? And how does a set of narratives or an idea come to move between the designation of the believable and the unbelievable? How do we go from the fabulous to the factual, from the given to the gimmick? My current book project Fascination: America’s Indian Cults takes up the question of belief and faith through an examination of America’s captivation with communities and philosophies that claim Indian origins. Fascination is the condition of a kind of rapt unbelief.

Common narratives of the abiding interest in foreign spirituality often begin with things like the great guru boom coincidental to the wave of South Asian immigration posts the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, or from the 1893, World Parliament of Religions in which Monk Swami Vivekananda claimed to introduce Hinduism to America, or even from Henry David Thoreau who in 1844 swam at Walden Pond and quote, “bathed his intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat Geeta.” But the seeds of contact actually go much further back still.

And one of the things that I want to argue is that the obsession with Indic concepts and ideas and forms of epic actually lie at the heart of the founding of the American Republic. This idea of a foreign spirituality in particularly Indian spirituality is a long experiment in American self-invention. The concept of Indian spirituality is the foil against which the dramas of a modern secular American self are continually played out and the proving ground of the problem of too much belief.

That is that the American idea of Indian spirituality is designed to test the limits of what an American can be if she seeks transcendence, a form of spiritual belief in which you wish to lose yourself as a singular contained individual. Losing yourself in this kind of enthronement as both anathema, to the idea of individualism and rationalism that claim to govern America, and at the same time, a tantalizing possibility. This is why so many communities and philosophies that cite Indian origins and espouse Vedic transcendentalism so often come to bear the ignominious designation of cult.

Cults as we know from pop culture, which are everywhere now, are groups that threaten to disappear the individual, to brainwash them, to kidnap them, to remove them from their families, to turn them into something else. Within a cult, people act and want what appears to be fundamentally incompatible with mainstream society. This is their draw. Maybe one of the most famous examples of the cult is the horror Christianist who in the 1970s and ’80s were infamous for their public singing and chanting on street corners, distributing pamphlets and flowers in airports.

Largely young, White, middle class and college educated, the people who joined the International Society for Krishna Consciousness expressed a particular American spiritual hunger, the desire to be fully immersed in the experience of ecstasy to lose oneself in devotion and in turn to be found as part of a limitless Union. So ISKCON actually develops techniques of collective enthronement, which in their public performance and in their cultural reception disrupt a social compact in which we are expected to perform containment.

This is what actually invites the claims of cultishness. And it’s true that the horror Christianist get tied up in all kinds of scandals, claims of kidnapping, brainwashing, sexual abuse, murder, financial impropriety. All of these would warrant the term cult. But I actually think that cult is a kind of sheath of meaning that we give to forms of public shared enchantment that only contingently relate to the abuses of power and violence that follow. Cult is the kind of useful connection. The danger and draw of this collective enchantment though, is originary to what makes America.

In 1814 before Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson turned to Hindu scripture to write the poetry of transcendentalism, John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson that he had become fixated on oriental history and the Hindu religion. These letters, the first that broke their 12 year silence following the 1,800 election, range a various– a variety of topics, but have a special investment in philosophy and spirituality. Themselves deists and therefore unbound from more Orthodox Christian beliefs, Adams and Jefferson were voraciously curious about faith, about what people could believe in.

But because these men who’d never actually traveled to India had to rely on the text available to them, they were reading the works of American scholars of religion who themselves also never traveled to India and themselves could not read Sanskrit. So Adams and Jefferson are actually reading third-hand accounts in American translations of books that circulated through the British empire and through orientalist traditions.

It is the circulation across the British empire that I think partly produces this idea of kinship for Jefferson and Adams, that there’s a relationship fundamentally between the American colonies and Indian philosophy. It’s an interesting thing to have happen in this moment in which the American ideal of the individual is being established as the building block of the state. So the sovereign individual fully contained identifiable and self-governing.

This is what gives us that old familiar motto of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Happiness, which in the 18th century term means property, is inextricable from the person who can acquire that property, the White free male individual who vows the whims of no other being, who acts only through his own will. So at the same time that the American ideal of the individual is taking root as a part of political and social life, we also have some of the most prominent figures of political America entranced by a philosophical vision of a self that is completely opposite.

What is it that makes John Adams write to Thomas Jefferson that he had read the voyages and travels and everything he could collect? It’s not interest in India the place. It’s not even an interest in Hinduism, the religion. It’s actually a fascination with this concept that underpins Vedic philosophy. A truth that is one, it is the idea of a self that is pure consciousness, that is utterly one with the universal Brahman. It is a self that is uncontainable and infinite. In this philosophical vision, any conception of being an individual is an illusion. It’s a misapprehension of your true being. So the singular figure of American political life is impossible to actually reconcile with the goal of Vedic imagination.

So here’s the dilemma, the philosophical ideal is totally alluring and the material reality is totally destabilizing, especially to these men who helped to shape laws and institutions designed to individuate and segregate, free, sovereign, landowning White men on one side, slaves, free Blacks, women, native people on the other, private religion on one side, public secularism on the other. So then maybe it’s not surprising that when they discuss the place of religion in law or what we now call the separation of church and state, this is what they come to, a look eastward.

And this is what Adams writes to Jefferson, “I dare not look beyond my nose into futurity. Our money, our commerce, our religion, our national and state constitutions, even our arts and sciences, are so many seed plots of division, faction, sedition and rebellion. Everything is transmuted into an instrument of electioneering. Election is the grand Brahma, the immortal Lama, I had almost said, the juggernaut, for wives are almost ready to burn upon the pile and children to be thrown under the wheel.”

Two former presidents drafters of the Declaration of Independence. Now both old men fretting about the future of the country they helped to come see into being. And the terms of their fear, they articulate in the language of the rituals and rites of a Vedic imagination. Its promise of liberation supplies the terms of their vision of tyranny. These days, we can see how American elections continue to play out Adams’s prophecy of sowing division, faction, sedition, and rebellion. The sedition borne out of elections that Adams fears isn’t quite what we saw on January 6, but it’s actually not that far off.

So here we’ve arrived at the problem of too much belief for the American political subject. Elections, the living practice of democracy, are for Adams the all powerful like Brahma, and potentially catastrophic. The rolling juggernaut seen here is in fact, the anglicization of the word juggernaut, meaning the lord of the universe, the name given to Brahma. Colonial administrators were obsessed and horrified by the annual Ratha Yatra, which involves the pulling of a chariot of juggernaut through towns. That bodies might be crushed under those wheels while the masses that are pulling and watching are too lost in a kind of religious fervor, to loss an all encompassing moment was proof for the British of the savagery of Indian religion.

So when Adams describes a potential threat of electoral politics as a rolling juggernaut or the widow burning upon the pyre with her dead husband, he’s recognizing that there’s an enormous danger to a self that can be disappeared, whether in a group, another person, or that limitless Brahma. The same Vedic imagination that produces transcendence also appears to produce in India through the eyes of British colonialism the crushing uncontrollable force of mass psychosis.

This paradox of enthronement with a philosophical ideal and disavowal of a material expression becomes a repeating narrative for a long encounter between American society and its awesome fantasy of transcendental Vedic philosophy. The Indian ascension that America seeks is always a self-construction. American culture has produced from within itself a racialized foreign other on whom to hang a variety of desires, whether it be for transcendence or collectivization, a variety of terrors, and a variety of radical possibilities.

Of course, today, when we think about cultish belief or over belief in the realm of politics, we think about things like QAnon and MAGA. But the terms of the anxiety that they evoke that this idea of a collective hypnosis that will leave the purportedly private realm of spirituality and enter into the public space of governance is not new. I’m going to offer one other tangential link that I think actually might help us understand it, which is that the racialized other that Adams and Jefferson fear has also moved into the mainstream.

Practice by 40 million Americans, yoga and its industry of studios, clothing, and equipment is valued at over $110 billion this year. Central to its marketability as a health and lifestyle practice is that while its roots lie in Vedic philosophy, it can be practiced and consumed entirely desacralized. Yoga has been made a kind of mass market of a practice for the individual tailor made for an American public, but it has to do so by cauterizing the influence of it from the sphere of the public. Thanks.

[ELENA CONIS] Thank you, Poulomi. And I’ll invite Tim and Robert back up to the front. You’ve given us some really, widely varied and rich examples to start thinking about our topic for today myth and misinformation. Poulomi, I loved your introductory comment that in conspiracy, anything can be connected. And I think that your three presentations really have shown that. We’ve investigated the questions of how something becomes believable, how certain kinds of myths, especially xenophobic ones can spread across space, and how to pull many things from Tim’s presentation, we can identify the fragile points and conspiracy.

So I want to invite all of you to share any questions that you might have at this point. I know that we also have folks who are online as well. But I’ll turn to our in-person audience first. Any questions for our panelists or the panel as a whole? Yeah, let me first find out if there are questions online from our online viewers.

[JULIA SIZEK] We have two quick questions from online or one is very quick, which is someone was just curious about this ISEBEL project that Tim runs. So you can briefly answer that.

[TIM TANGHERLINI] To answer that you can just go to search ISEBEL.EU. And that gives you access to belief legends from Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Iceland, and hopefully very soon Norway and Sweden.

[JULIA SIZEK] And then the other question that we have from online is, who judges conspiracy theories? And is there an assumption or bias that certain theories are fake and why? And how do we determine that something is a conspiracy theory or could be dismissed?

[ELENA CONIS] It’s a great question. How do we define conspiracy to begin with or maybe even more broadly myth to begin with?

[TIM TANGHERLINI] If you take a stab at conspiracy and conspiracy theory, both have that feature that there is some group of malign actors who are sort of outsiders working against your best interest. In conspiracy theory, we often find that your strategies for dealing with malign actor group one is blocked because the people that you hope to help or who you’re going to call turns out to actually also be linked to malign actor group one through group. And so everywhere you turn your potential strategies are blocked.

We weren’t so much saying this is a conspiracy theory, this is a conspiracy, but rather here are two groups of text. And do we see any kind of topological differences in the narrative frameworks? And so we found both topological differences and aspects of development. So with Pizzagate and other narratives like that, we found that there was a separating set, very small that if we delete it, all of these different domains of discourse are contained and coherent. And the linking was a narrative, an element of narrative.

When we looked at a conspiracy theory, not only did it not stabilize as quickly as conspiracy theory did. So conspiracy doesn’t stabilize. It takes many years, actually, for the actors and the actants and the interactions to come out. It comes out in drips and drabs. And it’s robust to deletion. In fact, we could delete all of the actants from Bridgegate and all of their relationships. And New Jersey politics seemed to just continue without a hiccup.

So in some ways, conspiracy tends to hide within the thicket of a single domain. Conspiracy theory tends to at least topologically jump between domains. And it relies on these links that the theorist is able to discover linking domains. Now there are certainly cases where the conspiracy turns out to– conspiracy theory actually turns out to have uncovered conspiracy. And that’s I think is a difficult area.

[ELENA CONIS] Yeah. Poulomi?

[POULOMI SAHA] I mean, the thing about conspiracy that is so interesting, the very basis of it, the word co-inspired is about its shared breath. It is about a gathering of people. One that is both intimate to share a breath, but also that it is necessarily somewhere hidden. It is the breath that you’re interested in, the thing that actually you cannot give form to. So on the one hand, you have this idea that you have to be looking for it everywhere. Hence, the inauguration of conspiratorial thinking.

A conspiracy theorist, I think, is a person who thinks in a particular kind of way. And they are able to think in that way because they have– there’s this, I think, a kind of sense of a cipher. Everything is out there. There are things that are connected. And in order to see the connections, you have to have some sort of cipher that unlocks a way of seeing the world. And the minute that happens, it’s like the diagram you had for us. Suddenly, what appears to be just scatter plots had these lines between them, but not everyone can see them.

There’s something about conspiracy theory for us to not invite everyone into it. If everyone believed it, it would lose some of its power it has to remain a kind of a gift or a thing that actually binds people together. And I think I’ve been thinking a lot about how it allows– it offers a kind of structure of compensation for paranoia. There’s that amazing moment of Nixon saying, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. And I think about it.

Because a lot of conspiracy theory is like you may think that I am crazy, and I think that I see these connections, and I know the Illuminati. The reality is if that person’s life is impacted by material forces that they believe are related to the Illuminati, it doesn’t matter whether or not they’re crazy. There’s a kind of relation of psychic compensation where their way of seeing the world is made sense of, and the bad things that happen to them actually have a logic, rather than the general logic of life.

That’s what we’ve also been looking at is how conspiracy theory emerges in narrative. And it is about belief and not necessarily some external truth. And so it’s– I can partly create this community that you’re talking about. We have a community then of belief where this could be a community that feels threatened. And this is one of the ways that we can structure the worldview and negotiate this cultural ideology where these things make sense.

[ELENA CONIS] I see we have a question from the audience. And then I imagine, Robert, you may have some thoughts to add to that ongoing conversation. But let’s turn to the audience for a moment.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] I was very interested in all of your presentations, but the economic factor and conspiracy is very interesting. I wanted to ask you, why does Wikileaks join all these– the Pizzagate conspiracy to remove Wikileaks? What is Wikileaks? I don’t actually know.

[TIM TANGHERLINI] It was a dump– we just use that as shorthand. It was a dump of hacked emails and communications in the Democratic National Committee. So it actually had weird resonances with the Watergate burglary. And then this dump of emails was sort of put out there and people started to piece through them. And this is where you got the narrative material for those hidden connections where people then could share these hidden connections, which could then reinforce this idea of, aha, that’s what we thought was going on. And that brings you into the tunnels underneath Washington, DC, which are being used to traffic children for cannibalistic pedophilia in this model. And it spills over into real world action.

Edgar Wells jumps into his pickup truck one night in North Carolina, drives through the night to Washington D.C. and barges into Comet Ping Pong and asks to be led into the tunnels. And it’s built on concrete slab. There are no tunnels under Comet Ping Pong. But there are all sorts of things with that event that relate to this idea of these– they’re hidden, they’re hidden in tunnels. All of this idea of hidden connections couldn’t have been articulated more in a better way than the idea of hidden tunnels underneath casual dining establishments in Washington D.C. controlled by Democrats. Yeah, perfect.

[ELENA CONIS] I know we have another audience question. Go ahead, sir.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thanks. I cannot say that I’m here in this room, we’re used to having a lot of Pol SCI related talks. And I wanted to connect the atmosphere of this room to something you were saying about ciphers and versions of habits of mind. I’m saying that what given– we’d like to hear from– I’d like to hear from all of you about, what are the implications for a proactive or pedagogical ways in which we might counter issues of misinformation or the spread of myths given the nature of the conclusions that you’re coming to from your work?

Again, I’m over on the same side of campus. And we have a lot to talk about from data science. And we have a lot to talk about here from Pol Sci. But I wanted to hear if I have an opportunity to have these sort of sociology and humanities takes on what are good ways to counter the spread of misinformation, and what are bad ways to counter the spread of information given what you’ve been doing.

[ELENA CONIS] You’ve all been invited to answer. I wonder, Robert, would you like to start?

[ROBERT BRAUN] I like to start, but the thing is that my approach probably doesn’t differ in any shape, or form from those of political scientists. So if the idea is to forge a connection between the humanities and social sciences, I’m perhaps the least qualified to speak to this.

[POULOMI SAHA] I may have an unpopular opinion, which is I’m not that interested in training my students in how to be skeptical about misinformation. The reason I say this is because of narrative. So part of being in the humanities– I teach these very large classes. I’m teaching a class on cults this semester. And we have to start sort of by talking about empiricism and the way in which empiricist reason structured particular kinds of ways of understanding the world, religion, belief, communities. And the thing that over the course of the semester becomes very clear to them I think, is that there’s nothing more real than belief.

So somewhere, misinformation and when someone believes it so powerfully that it materially structures and sometimes all parts of their reality. Not the way that– actually, if we think about it, reason doesn’t structure all parts of our reality. But somebody who is fully say committed to a belief in the Illuminati, that’s like one of those strong conspiracy theories, it structures every single part of their life.

So the narrative that gets produced out of that, I want my students to be able to understand the logic of it, the effects of it, why it is so compelling, how it translates, how someone makes sense of it. But I guess, I leave the question of teaching them how to counter it to other people. Partly because I’m interested in how belief becomes reality making, which I don’t know that I’m the best person to help think through misinformation. I think all information is incredibly real and productive. And often, the things that are factually untrue are the ones that have the richest life.

[ELENA CONIS] Tim, did you want to chime in on this question?

[TIM TANGHERLINI] As a folklorist, I’m really interested in the storytelling and the negotiation of belief and also recognize. And our work has shown that, look, once a group starts holding beliefs, that’s very hard to– and there’s a great questions about whether or not ethically, this is something that you want to quote and intervene in. That said, there are some features of social media that are both based on amplification and speed or velocity. So I can target groups– if I’m a malign actor, I can target groups very easily, and I can amplify the signal. And then I’ve primed a group to a certain type of belief.

And Robert was kind of gesturing at that with this idea of extreme nationalists taking advantage of these border areas as a place where people are primed for certain types of belief. And so one can with the affordances of social media do this kind of amplification and targeting much better than we can do in low level, face-to-face interaction, which is what I study in the 19th century because there were weirdly no iPhones back then. And so there were social breaks.

So if I went to the pub and started talking about the Illuminati, my friends wouldn’t invite me to the pub anymore. But on social media, I have these opportunities to amplify and target. I don’t actually have a great deal of optimism. I mean, my darkest moments, I just think we’re all doomed. But are there interventions? I’m more interested right now in understanding the dynamics of these systems.

[ELENA CONIS] I think, Robert’s going to chime on this too. And then we’ll come to the next audience question.

[ROBERT BRAUN] Sorry about that. So I’m going to give you, I guess, the more boring social sciency answer that you’ve already heard from. But if I would look at my project and if I would have to formulate ways to counter the spread of these myths, I think there’s– this perhaps didn’t come out as much in this particular talk, but there’s two things I’ve done that might help us out. So the first thing that I’ve done is I didn’t only look at border crossings activating xenophobia, I also looked at which border crossings are more likely to activate xenophobia than others.

And if you compare among border crossings, you find that it’s border crossings that are symbolic threats. And it’s places where there is contentions or contention between the two groups, where the two groups meet. And what is where this doesn’t happen is actually where there are strong interconnections across the border and there’s cooperation across the border that actually lowers the emergence of these symbolic markers.

So the fact of– so one of the things I showed you is that the borders with Austria don’t seem to have these myths. And this is because– this is the case because there you have cross national, cultural, economic cooperation efforts that produce contacts across these borders that don’t activate this fault line and this tension, which in turn makes the likelihood that such a myth resonates with these people a much less likely.

Now there’s other thing– so that would suggest that we need to figure out what are the places where two opposite groups meet, and how at those places can we facilitate coordination and cooperation. That would be a way to deal with this. And this goes beyond space. The story I told here is purely about physical space, two nations meet at a border crossing and where they meet thinks there’s these symbols that emerge which makes xenophobic myths resonates. But I think it’s a little bit more than that.

So in other work, I’ve also looked at different types of myths, myths about giant killer animals that attack people, or myths about witches that basically don’t wish you well and do harm to the community. And here you see that these myths don’t tend to cluster near physical borders. They actually cluster near spaces where different types of communities meet. So the killer animals, that myth tends to emerge in places where the forest meets the urban, so the intersection of the forest and the urban.

With witches, witches tend to emerge in places where progressive communities with high female employment rates are adjacent to places where there are more– have more conservative values about the family. So here it’s not only a physical border, it’s also a social border. And social borders– the intersections of social borders, those are the places where, according to my research, you would see these damaging myths emerging, and those are the areas that you need to focus your attention on and you need to somehow create coordination that transcends those borders, which is a defense of pluralism message but another way, it’s defense.

[ELENA CONIS] Thank you for that. I know you’ve been waiting. Go ahead.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] First of all, thank you for coming here. I have a question for you, professor. You mentioned that some conspiracy theories do uncover conspiracies, real conspiracies. So I want to ask about how past incidences can exacerbate conspiracy theories or denial of real factual past conspiracies can inflame the conspiracy theorists. So I think there are two things mentioned, elections and vaccine hesitancy.

So we know that before groups, especially from Berkeley went to the South, my family’s from the South, in the ’60s, the Democratic State party has had one party state. The Blacks decided one day, hey, we’re going to go vote there, or riot, or the house would get burnt down, especially in places like Florida and [INAUDIBLE], the North, these cities. These political machines did have election irregularities to say the least.

And so now when– of course, that was some decades ago. But when people say, hey, there might be election fraud, of course, I don’t believe in most of those things personally. It’s the sham. But what I feel is that a lot of people downplay fear of election fraud. When this whole– for much of the history of the United States, there has been nothing but election fraud against Blacks, who are denied the constitutional right to vote for 100 years. And so I’m wondering if kind of denying that the possibility of election fraud can also inflame these fake conspiracy theories.

And the part about vaccine hesitancy. So I work for the Discovery– [INAUDIBLE] Discovery Grant 26 years ago. We got funding from biotech chip industry to fund this PIs. And we know what happened with opioids. The Sackler family pumping money into universities, top universities to Tel Aviv University even. Now it’s almost as if to say, hey, don’t do research on us, or don’t be the ally of the oppressed people. So anyways, they are cases. And so for people now– and then the FDA, they have been thoroughly infiltrated by this.

[ELENA CONIS] So yeah, it takes us back to our first question in some ways.

[TIM TANGHERLINI] Yeah. So I think one of the elements of the interrelationship between conspiracy, the way we’re using it, and conspiracy theory is one that’s a feedback loop. And so they’re interdependent. The fact that there have been conspiracies in the past gives you a good strong narrative basis to work on your conspiracy theory. The conspiracy theories that we’re mostly looking at are ones that cross domains and cross multiple domains.

It’s often that– the Ali genre of legend is really the type of story where you’ve got some outside threat, and then your insight group, the us, comes up with a strategy to deal with that outside threat, whether it’s a witch in Denmark, it was either you would turn to the minister, you would turn to the folk healer, and particularly in cases where we had a great deal of debate over the direction of the Danish Lutheran Church, in those areas would get a lot of these stories because it was an ideological decision.

With conspiracy theory, we often find that they’re sort of monolithic in their worldview. And so you start to add in more groups and you do these sort of narrative kind of network paths. So you get this maximal spanning tree of this remarkably broad network. And that helps you understand the world as it is. The threat of election fraud is absolutely real. And you can have different types of stories about that.

What we’ve discovered in our research is that in the case of conspiracies, they come out in drips and drabs because they’re deliberately hidden and they tend to remain within a single domain. So election fraud is within the domain of politics. Conspiracy theory might link that also to big pharmaceutical, which might be involved in some other kind of conspiracy and also link it to international banking. And with international banking were immediately in the realm of the Illuminati. And it’s only one step to Satan. And so that’s how this narrative of world develops.

And I’m fascinated by that because it reflects belief in ideology and that negotiation. I’m also really interested in actual conspiracies that usually come out through historical work, investigative journalism, and a lot of digging into the relationships within a single domain. So that whole idea of do your research, well, yes, but are you able to actually do research? So I mean, as an investigative journalist, you might really have a focus on politics, and you can actually do that type of research. But the type of do your research that’s being referenced, for example, in the chem trails, no, contrails conspiracy theory is not really what we would recognize, I think, as actual research.

[ELENA CONIS] Thank you for that. We have literally 30 seconds left. And I’m wondering Poulomi or Robert if you had one final thought you wanted to share.

Yeah, I’m– go ahead.

OK, we will take one more question from the audience. Thank you.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thank you. Just very quick, but to import two important question. I would like to have Timothy. Do you have any suggestion for responding to the problems of misinformation based on your research? I know it’s a very large question, but just few ideas. I don’t know. Are you also working about the question of the solution or just–

[TIM TANGHERLINI] I think we have to understand stories and context, understand the groups and understand their worldviews. And at that point, we can start to build ideas about how we can address the circulation of misinformation, how that impacts people’s worldviews.

[ELENA CONIS] Thank you for that. Any final comments or thoughts?

[POULOMI SAHA] I was just going to say that I think that we would be wrong to think of conspiracy theory and misinformation as a site of pure falsehood. It is never a pure falsehood. That’s what makes it so compelling and so rich. There’s always something that is true there. If there wasn’t, we would be talking about mass delusion. That’s not really what we’re talking about.

We’re talking about enough truth that leads to confirmation bias that allows further the kinds of grand narratives that you’re tracking. And I think that we have a kind of desire to always look at what seems outlandish or extreme and think of it as just like pure falsehood. And I think that’s part of what creates these impossibilities of understanding what’s actually driving and causing these narratives to flourish.

[ELENA CONIS] Yeah. Final thought, Robert? No pressure. If not, that’s OK. We can leave on that thought of the element of truth in all myths and misinformation. So thank you to the panelists for their comments today. Thank you all for being here and for your questions. And to those of you who are online, thank you for participating as well. Have a good afternoon.

You May Like

Matrix News

Faculty Fellows

Published April 15, 2023

2023-2024 Social Science Matrix Faculty Fellows Chosen

Four UC Berkeley professors have been selected to be Matrix Faculty Fellows for the 2023-2024 academic year: Rebecca Herman, Assistant Professor of History; Andrew Wooyoung Kim, Assistant Professor of Anthropology; Christopher Muller, Associate Professor of Sociology; and Aarti Sethi, Assistant Professor of Anthropology. 

Learn More >

Authors Meet Critics


Published March 21, 2023

To Defend This Sunrise: Black Women’s Activism and the Authoritarian Turn in Nicaragua

Recorded on March 7, 2023, this Authors Meet Critics panel focused on "To Defend This Sunrise: Black Women’s Activism and the Authoritarian Turn in Nicaragua," by Courtney Desiree Morris, Assistant Professor and Vice Chair of Research in Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley. Morris was joined in conversation by Tianna Paschel, Associate Professor in the UC Berkeley Department of African American Studies. The panel was moderated by Lok Siu, Chair of the Asian American Research Center and Professor of Ethnic Studies and Asian American/Asian Diaspora Studies at UC Berkeley.

Learn More >

Authors Meet Critics


Published March 21, 2023

Cooperating with the Colossus: A Social and Political History of US Military Bases in World War II Latin America

Watch a video (or listen to the podcast) of an Authors Meet Critics book panel focused on "Cooperating with the Colossus: A Social and Political History of US Military Bases in World War II Latin America," by Rebecca Herman, Assistant Professor of History at UC Berkeley. Professor Herman was joined in conversation by Julio Moreno, Professor of History at the University of San Francisco, and José Juan Pérez Meléndez, Assistant Professor in Latin American and Caribbean History at UC Davis, and a Bridging the Divides Fellow at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in Hunter College. Elena Schneider, Associate Professor in the UC Berkeley Department of History, moderated.

Learn More >