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From Stigmatized to Canonized Knowledge? Exploring Top-Down Conspiracy Theories in Central Eastern Europe and Beyond

Wednesday, March 29, 2023, 1:00 pm – 6:30 pm

The De- and Re-Democratization Workgroup of the CEU Democracy Institute cordially invites you to its Expert Workshop.

Please note that this is an onsite event, no stream will be available. If you would like to attend, please register here.

Please keep in mind that external guests will not be able to enter the building without prior registration.


  • Péter Krekó (ELTE PPK Social Psychology Department, Political Capital Institute)
  • Lili Turza (University of Tübingen ERC-PACT Project, CEU Democracy Institute)

Conspiracy theories, narratives asserting that powerful agents are orchestrating a secret plot to pursue a malevolent goal at the expense of lesser powerful groups, have grown increasingly visible in the past decades across the world. Their proliferation in popular culture, their omnipresence during the Coronavirus pandemic, and the electoral successes of right-wing and left-wing populist leaders, who regularly employ conspiracist tropes, triggered both journalistic and academic engagement with the topic. However, there has been a dearth of research that thoroughly investigates the shifting status of conspiracy theories across various historical, political and geographical contexts. In many senses, today conspiracy theories in some Western societies are becoming “canonized knowledge claims”, instead of being strictly relegated outside of mainstream political discourse and being treated as “stigmatized knowledge” – as they used to be especially after WWII largely due to the works of US-based scholars. While the presence of conspiracy theories in mainstream political discourses is of course not a new phenomenon – conspiracist accusations played a central role in politics many times throughout history, and also shaped the course of history (e.g. anti-Semitic conspiracy theories) – their present-day revival in democratic, semi-democratic and illiberal contexts necessitates further inquiry into this much debated, controversial and hyped phenomenon. In our current socio- historical and geopolitical moment conspiracism (again) increasingly occurs as state-sponsored and elite-driven disinformation rather than the narrative suspicion and skepticism of the common people (and the weak and powerless) checking on and questioning the goals, aims and intensions of those who might be abusing their power above them. Authoritarian and illiberal regimes are increasingly instrumentalize conspiracy theories to mobilize their electoral bases and legitimize themselves and their centralization of power, however, outlining the exact processes and mechanisms by which they do so necessitates further scholarly inquiry.

The workshop aims to advance our understanding of conspiracy theories across academic disciplines and various social and political settings, bringing together scholars in the field having an interest in the following (and related) questions:

  • When, how, and under what conditions can conspiracy theories shift from stigmatized to canonized knowledge claims? (and, possibly, vice versa)
  • What is, and what has been the role of political leaders and entrepreneurs in disseminating conspiracy theories and “mainstreaming” them?
  • What is the role of scientific and pseudoscientific elites in the legitimization of conspiracy theories – in politics, healthcare, or beyond?
  • What are the wider implications of elite-, and state-endorsed conspiracism today, compared to past examples?
  • How does state-endorsed conspiracism affect democratic trust and social solidarity?
  • What do we know about the bottom-up versus top-down circulation of conspiracist narratives in different socio-political contexts?


13:00 – Welcome address

13:05 – Lili Turza: Theoretical and Methodological Challenges in the Qualitative Study of Top-Down Conspiracism

13:20 – Gábor Klaniczay: Witches Sabbath as the Archetypal Conspiracy Theory

13:40 – Péter Csunderlik: “The Red Sea of Judeo-Bolshevism” – The Hungarian Soviet Republic (1919) and the Theory of “Judeo-Bolshevik Conspiracy” during the Horthy Era

14:00 – Katerina Hatzikidi: Top-Down Conspiracism and Democracy: Brazil’s Fragility and Resilience

14:20 – Discussion

14:40 – Break

15:00 – Ilya Yablokov: The Current Conspiratorial Frames in Russian Propaganda and the Russia after Putin

15:20 – Péter Krekó: The Association Between Pseudoscientific Views on COVID and Conspiracy Theories about the War (supported by the János Bolyai Research Fellowship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences) 

15:40 – Júlia Koltai: Deadly Serious: The Effect of the Belief in Conspiracy Theories on Anti-Vaccination in Hungary and the Moderating Role of Involvement

16:00 – Scott Radnitz: Why People Support Conspiratorial Leaders: Assessing Transgression and Competence

16:20 – Discussion

16:40 – Break

17:00 – Turkay Nefes: Top-Down Circulation of Conspiracy Theory Beliefs and its Impacts in Turkey

17:20 – Elżbieta Drążkiewicz: Virtuosos of Mimesis and Mimicry: Movements Propagating Conspiracy Theories in Ireland and Poland

17:40 –Levente Littvay: The Negative Relationship Between Political Authoritarianism and Conspiracy Mentality: The Case of Hungary

18:00 – Discussion

18:20 – Concluding remarks

18:30 – End of workshop

Discussant: Alexander Bor (CEU Democracy Institute)