EXC 2060 B3-44 - Conspiracy theorists, esotericists and patchwork religions: Using computational methods to analyze new ideological movements in online environments

in Process
Funding Source
DFG - Cluster of Excellence
Project Number
EXC 2060/1
  • Description


    Particularly relevant in the context of current crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine are online groups that attack the social mainstream and spread conspiracy theories. These range from harmless esoteric groups to strongly anti-democratic movements that pick up on various social issues and use them to build a collective ideology, often drawing on religion to bolster their arguments.

    The possibilities of networking that the internet offers enable these movements to recruit and mobilize people quickly and effectively, and to interact with the social mainstream. In doing so, they often conflate different and even contradictory ideologies, with religious elements playing an important role. This project examines such religiously tinged movements.

    First of all, the project will create a theoretical foundation and an empirical mapping of new ideological movements. This will enable the project to explore the conspiracy theories and disinformation spread online in terms of their content, as well as the attempts made by these movements to recruit and mobilize people, and their networks in terms of personnel and content. This also requires developing the established methodological procedures of text and network analysis.


    The project aims to investigate such religiously tinged movements both theoretically and empirically, and to work through their heterogeneous groups and approaches for the German-speaking region in order to gain an overview of existing groupings and their discussions. The project thus pursues three goals.

    First, a theoretical foundation will be created by reviewing the interdisciplinary state of research and by systematizing the literature. The theoretical approach will use a multi-level apparatus that views the phenomenon as a specific kind of public sphere in which social movements and communities emerge.

    Second, new religious-ideological groupings on the net will be identified and examined empirically in terms both of their structure and their arguments. After examining the parallels in the content shared by the groupings, the project will then summarize, describe, and finally make sense of the standard sets of communicative elements and structures that this yields.

    Third, the methodological goals of the project include developing and refining empirical methods for the analysis of such groupings by drawing on the spectrum of computational methods in communication science and related disciplines. The project will explore the possibilities of automated access to social media platforms, forums, blogs and messengers across platforms, since the movement of actors between platforms requires adapted surveys (if necessary, across platforms), and adaptation over time. In addition, the analysis methods of Natural Language Processing will be adapted for specific use cases, and alternative methods of analysis developed.

  • Persons