Conspiracies Then and Now - Day 1

Thursday, March 18 at 9:00am to 12:00pm

Conspiracy theories have captured the attention of people throughout history, and they have become especially influential in current politics. Some recent conspiracists have deliberately adopted the language of the Middle Ages to advance their agenda. In this conference we will break down the history of conspiracy theories dating back to the Middle Ages and compare them to contemporary beliefs. We’ll also discuss how the Deep State and QAnon theories influenced political messaging in the age of Trump. Each panel will conclude with an audience Q&A.

9:00 a.m. to 9:10 a.m. PST- Welcome

9:00 a.m. to 9:50 a.m. PST - Comparing the Politics and History of Conspiracy Theories from the Middles Ages to the Modern

This panel will explore how beliefs in conspiracies shaped the politics and psychology of the medieval world and our current political climate.

  • Elizabeth A. R. Brown - Author, Professor Emerita of History at Brooklyn College, of the City University of New York
  • Dallas Denery - Author, Professor of History at Bowdoin College
  • Sara Gorman - Mental Health Expert; Author
  • Norbert Schwarz - Provost Professor, Department of Psychology & Marshall School of Business; Co-director, USC Dornsife Mind & Society Center
  • Moderated by Kamy Akhavan - Executive Director at the USC Center for the Political Future

10:00 a.m. to 10:50 a.m. PST - Conspiracies around Judaism: Anti-Semitism from the Medieval Era to George Soros

This panel will discuss how conspiracy theories regarding Judaism have perpetuated anti-Semitism and the treatment of Jewish people over the course of history. The Middle Ages witnessed the creation of some of the most pernicious stereotypes about Jews as well as accusations of ritual child murder and well poisoning. A reflexive intolerance toward Jews born of the same irrational antipathy continues to shape extremist activity in our own world.

  • Sara Lipton - Professor of History at Stony Brook University
  • Miri Rubin -Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary University of London
  • Steve Ross - Professor of History, Myron and Marian Casden Director of the Casden Institute for the Study of Jewish Role in American Life and Professor of History at the University of Southern California
  • Roz Rothstein - Founder and CEO of StandWithUs
  • Moderated by Bret Stephens - Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist; Author; Op-Ed Columnist at The New York Times; Former Editor in Chief of The Jerusalem Post.

11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. PST - The Spread of Conspiracies: Heretical Groups to Social Media

This panel will discuss how conspiracy theories are born, grow, and reach mass audiences. Some historical experts say heretical groups are described in source materials as vast secret conspiratorial movements that spread verbally through fear and fevered imaginations.  Modern scholars contemplate the roles of television, search engine algorithms, online advertising, bulletin boards, and social media for their contribution to the vast speed and reach of conspiracy theories.

  • Christine Caldwell Ames - Professor of Medieval European History at University of South Carolina
  • Karen Douglas - Professor of Social Psychology at University of Kent, United Kingdom
  • Mark Pegg - Professor of History at Washington University in St. Louis
  • Sinan Aral - Author, David Austin Professor of Management, IT, Marketing and Data Science at MIT, Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE)
  • Moderated by Marc Ambinder - Executive Fellow in Digital Security, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

CLICK HERE to register in advance.

This event is a partnership with the USC Center for the Political Future and the USC Center for the Pre-Modern World. 

This discussion will be live-streamed to the CPF Facebook page. Email for questions. 

Event Type

Lecture / Talk / Workshop


Students, Alumni, Faculty/Staff


University Park Campus


Politics, Dornsife, POIR, cpf

Center for the Political Future
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