CFPs in Renaissance Intellectual History

Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theory in Early Modern Britain and Europe, 1500-1800

Source of Information: CFP 2000-03-23 (received 2000-03-31)
Date of Event: 2001-07-13 to 14
Location of event: London, U.K.
Deadline for abstracts etc.: 2000-06-30

Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theory in Early Modern Britain and Europe,

A two day international conference to be held at: Birkbeck College,
University of London, July 13-14 2001

For the general public, Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, the 'Man in the
Iron Mask' and the Devils of Loudun offer some of the most compelling images
of the early modern period. Conspiracies, real or imagined, were an
essential feature of early modern life, offering a seemingly rational and
convincing explanation for patterns of political and social behaviour.

This conference will examine conspiracies and conspiracy theory from a broad
historical and interdisciplinary perspective, by combining the theoretical
approach of the history of ideas with specific examples from the period. The
organisers invite papers exploring issues such as: the popularity of
conspiracy theory as a mode of explanation; why was it so attractive to
early modern minds? What evidence was produced to support it, and how were
these ideas challenged? Did the supposedly scientific and rational thought
of the Enlightenment, or other intellectual movements, undermine the
foundations upon which these theories were constructed, or did they merely
alter their forms?

Papers examining the social and cultural role of conspiracy theory are also
invited. Why were witches, heretics and religious minorities perceived in
conspiratorial terms? Later, is a comparable approach useful in the study of
atheism, free-thought and freemasonry?

Papers dealing with actual or imagined plots, whether successful or
otherwise, their causes, uses and consequences will also be welcomed. To
what extent did contemporaries actually understand political culture in
terms of conspiracy theory? As prevailing notions of royal sovereignty
equated open opposition with treason, almost any political activity had to
be clandestine in nature. Factions and cabals abounded in European courts as
a result, but can a similar pattern be detected in other institutions. Did
clerical bodies, Parliaments, Provincial Estates, municipalities or village
communities, to name but a few, obey similar laws? By the late eighteenth
century, Britain had begun to develop the notion of a loyal opposition', and
in the France of Louis XVI a similar movement was arguably taking shape. Why
then was the outbreak of the French Revolution frequently explained in
conspiratorial terms, and why did European rulers and their subjects remain
obsessed with conspiracies both real and imagined?

Proposals for papers of not more than 300 words should be sent by post or
Email to:
Dr Barry Coward
Professor Michael Hunter
Dr Julian Swann
Birkbeck College, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of
London, Malet St, London, WCIE 7HX

The deadline for receipt of proposals is 30 June 2000.

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