Academic Programs 

  ‘Is This To Be Believed?’: Religion and Conspiracy Theories (TH-610)
Winter/Spring 2005

Did the Roman Catholic church deliberately suppress the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and have children? Who exactly organized the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11? Did the British Establishment deliberately have Princess Diana killed because they couldn't tolerate the thought of the mother of a King being married to a Muslim? Was Proctor and Gamble under the control of a Satanist cult? These stories are a challenge to the dominant narrative. In this course, we look at the power of story as a vehicle for transmitting faith values; in addition, we examine the nature of these stories (the ways in which they develop and capture the imagination of groups of people), the numbers of those who find them plausible, and the underlying explanations at the social, political, and economic levels for such stories. 


Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
Tuesdays from 7:00-9:20 p.m. beginning January 25th

Ian Markham
Professor of Theology and Ethics 

Contact Information:

(860) 509-9500


Course Syllabus

Course Objectives

  1. To understand the power of conspiracy theories and the ways in which they connect with religion;
  2. To reflect on the universal nature of conspiracy theories;
  3. To cultivate the capacity, as faith based persons, to be discriminating in our evaluation of news sources in the quest for a better understanding of our world.

Course Outcomes

  1. Students will have studied at least one conspiracy theory in detail and understood its various ramifications and complexities;
  2. Students will have reflected on the range and types of conspiracy theories;
  3. Students will have struggled with the faith based obligation to seek reliable sources of information for their worldview.

Course Assessment

  1. All students are required to provide a five page book review of Stephen Eric Bronner, A Rumor About the Jews: Antisemitism, Conspiracy, and the Protocols of Zion (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000).  To be handed in week six.
  2. All students should do the required reading.  Please bring your reading sheets to class.
  3. In groups of two or three, students will be asked to make a fifteen minute presentation on a conspiracy theory of their choosing.
  4. Eight page paper reflecting on the religious obligation to be morally serious when seeking the truth.

Course Breakdown

1. January 25 2005:

Introduction, Welcome.  The challenge of the journey.  Constructing our Worldview.

2. February 1 2005

Types of conspiracies.  Method of Circulation.

Reading: Richard Hofstadter, ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’, Harper Magazine, November 1964, pp. 77 – 86.*

3. February 8 2005

Evangelicals, Pre-Millenialist Dispensationalist, and Satanists

Reading: Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins, Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days (Tyndale House 1996)

4. February 15 2005

The End of the World Speculation

Reading: Mark Fenster, Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota 1999) pp145-179*

5. February 22 2005

Blaming the Jew

Discussion of Book Reviews

6. March 1 2005

The Da Vinci Code: Did the Roman Catholic Church suppress the truth about Jesus?

Reading: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

7. March 8 2005:

Jesus, marriage, canon, and the Church: Da Vinci Code continued.

Reading: Ben Witherington III, The Gospel Code: Novel claims about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP 2004) pp.1-37*

8. March 15 2005. 

The Death of Princess Diana

Reading: Thomas Sancton and Scott Macleod, Death of a Princess: The Investigation  (St. Martin’s Press 1998) Last chapter.*

March 22 2005. Reading Week

9. March 29 2005.  ONLINE

The World Trade Center Attacks  (Lecture will be provided in Blackboard, with lots of website links).  Students are required to read the lecture and post at least one message.

Reading: Internet Sites

10. April 5 2005

The World Trade Center Attacks. 

Reading: The 9/11 Commission Report, Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. Chapter One: ‘We Have Some Planes’.

11. April 12 2005


12. April 19 2005



13. May 3 2005

Discovering Truth in a Complex World.  Reflection, Conversation, and Supper  CLASS WILL BE HELD AT THE DEAN’S HOME (1635 Asylum Avenue, West Hartford, CT 06117)  Cross road Steele and Asylum.  Please park on Foxcroft.

* Available in the Library.

Suggested Purchases.  (These are available in the bookstore) 

Stephen Eric Bronner,  A Rumor about the Jews: Antisemitism, Conspiracy, and the Protocols of Zion (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press 2003)

The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Authorized Edition (New York: W.W.Norton 2003)

Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code.

Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days (Tyndale House 1996)


Baigent, Michael, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, Holy Blood, Holy Grail (New York: Delacorte, 1982)

Bjørgo, Tore, Conspiracy Rhetoric in Arab Politics: The Palestinian Case (Oslo: Norsk utenrikspolitsk institutt, 1987)

Blum, Howard., Out There: The Government’s Secret Quest for Extraterrestrials (New York: Simon & Schuster 1990)

Bronner, Stephen Eric A Rumor about the Jews: Antisemitism, Conspiracy, and the Protocols of Zion (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press 2003)

Carr, William Guy, The Conspiracy to Destroy all Existing Governments and Religion (Metairie, La.: Sons of Liberty, 1960)

Cohn, Norman, Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967)

Conquest, Robert.  The Great Terror: A Reassessment (New York: Oxford University Press 1990)

Davis, David Brion (ed.) The Fear of Conspiracy: Images of Un-American Subversion from the Revolution to the Present (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press 1969)

Dean, Jodi., Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace (Ithaca, NY.: Cornell University Press, 1998)

Eringer, Robert, The Conspiracy Peddlers: A Review of the Conspiracy Media in the United States (Mason, Mich.: Loompanics, 1981)

Fenster, Mark. Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture (University of Minnesota Press 1999). 

Graumann, Carl F., and Serge Moscovici (eds.) Changing Conceptions of Conspiracy (New York: Springer 1987)

Harkabi, Yehoshafat, Arab Attitudes Towards Israel (New York: Hart Publishing Co., 1971)

Hoffman, David S., The Web of Hate: Extremists Exploit the Internet (New York: Anti-Defamation League 1996)

Hofstadter, Richard, The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1979)

Howard, Michael The Occult Conspiracy: Secret Societies – Their Influence and Power in World History (Rochester, Vt.: Destiny Books 1989)

Johnson, George, Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics (Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1983)

Kah, Gary. H., En Route to Global Occupation (Lafayette, La.: Huntington House, 1991)

Lipstadt, Deborah E., Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assult on Truth and Memory (New York: Plume 1993)

Meyssan, Thierry. 9/11: The Big Lie (Carnot 2002). 

Moldea, Dan The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy: An Investigation of Motive, Means and Opportunity (New York: W. W. Norton 1995)

Pipes, Daniel, Conspiracy (Simon and Schuster 1997)

Pipes, Daniel, The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy (St. Martin’s Griffin 1996/8)

Relfe, Mary Stewart, When your Money fails…the “666 System” Is Here (Montgomery, Ala.: Ministries, Inc., 1981)

Roberts, J. M., The Mythology of the Secret Societies (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons 1972)

Robertson, Pat, The New World Order (Dallas: Word, 1991)

Sick, Gary. October Surprise: America’s Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Regan (New York: Times Books 1991)

Stormer, John A., None Dare Call It Treason . . . 25 Years Later (Florissant, Mo.: Liberty Bell 1990)

Turner, Patricia A., I Heard It Through the Grapevine: Rumor in African-American Culture (Berkely: University  of California Press 1993)

Vankin, Jonathan, Conspiracies, Cover-Ups, and Crimes: Political Manipulation and Mind Control in America (New York: Paragon House 1991)

Webster, Nesta H., Secret Societies and Subversive Movements (New York: E. P. Dutton 1924)

Wistrich, Robert S., Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred (New York: Pantheon 1991)


Important websites

Hartford Seminary  77 Sherman Street  Hartford, CT  06105   860-509-9500