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Spirituality, Wellness, and Conspiracy Beliefs

robin_ph |  AdobeStock

Source: robin_ph | AdobeStock

One community in particular has found itself prey to QAnon: the world of yoga, wellness, and spirituality, where skepticism about vaccines intersects with the rapid spread of misinformation online to create a toxic soup known as “conspiracy.” – WNYC’s on the media1

People in the new age tend to focus too much on their intuition, and on what Feel It is true and does not resonate. – Jules Evans, writer, academic historian, and spiritual researcher2

The cool and beautiful people were suddenly saying that COVID isn’t real. – Yoga teacher Melbourne, quoted in Sydney Morning Herald3

New age (or alternative spirituality), wellness culture, and conspiracy theories make strange companions.

In 2011, Charlotte Ward and David Vois highlighted a surprising convergence of belief systems that we generally consider to be at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Spiritualism, especially alternative or new age spirituality, is seen as attracting people who considered themselves to be on the political left and were generally a female-dominated cultural phenomenon.4

On the other hand: we generally consider conspiracy beliefs to be an extreme right-wing (and mostly male-dominated) phenomenon. The paper’s authors coined the term “spirituality” to refer to this unexpected confluence of conspiracy thinking and spirituality.5

The paper has received renewed attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it fueled conspiracy theories opposed to government-imposed restrictions and mass vaccination campaigns, and that opposition became a serious public health threat.

Conspiracy theories denying COVID and protests against public health measures generally come from a predominantly right-wing demographic. Unsurprisingly, they disproportionately attracted supporters among the religious folk of conservative denominations. But what is even more surprising is that they have also disproportionately attracted people who identify as believers in New Age/Alternative Spiritualism, and those who believe in a wellness culture.

Belief in alternative spirituality often accompanies wellness culture, in which adherents of both generally come from a left-dominated demographic, and tend to subscribe to “holistic” notions of mind, body, and “spirit.”6

What do they have in common?

Why are believers in spirituality, especially the “alternative” culture of kindness and wellness, drawn to conspiracy theories?

The three belief systems attract individuals with a strong need for anxiety more than most people to feel in control of their lives and complex and often random factors. These beliefs provide the illusion of control and feelings of empowerment.

These belief systems are also attractive to people who have a strong desire to feel knowledge and have special access to unique knowledge of the world, which ordinary people are ignorant of. People with such beliefs often consider everyone else to be naive (without any sense of cynicism in making that assumption).7

As mentioned in a Washington Post Article:

Alternate spirituality and conspiracy unite, in the end, with a narcissistic idea: that there are things in the world that call for explanation and that you alone decipher the truth.8

The ubiquitous availability of information on the Internet leads people who have had little formal training in highly complex fields of knowledge to confidently declare that they have “done my research”.

People who are attracted to all three belief systems tend to have difficulty understanding and accepting the central role of randomness and chance in the world, and they tend to see patterns, causation, and intention where none exist.

Those exposed to these beliefs tend to have personality traits of “excessive openness to experience and new ideas,” and a tendency to magical thinking.

In particular, they tend to overestimate and rely on intuition or gut feelings to form their understanding of the world.


Eric Oliver, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and an expert in conspiracy theories, and Thomas J. Wood, an assistant professor of political science at Ohio State University, have studied extensively and described how people tend to conspiracy theories, the paranormal, and the paranormal. Beliefs and beliefs in non-scientific alternative medicine, have a strong tendency to use intuitive reasoning over evidence-based reasoning.

content that It seems And the Feel It convinces people who rely primarily on intuition to understand the world more easily.

for intuition:

Reason alone is not a sufficient basis for making decisions; Feelings, intuition and faith. For intuition, truth is felt, not inferred. As a result, intuitionists understand politics in a similar way to how they understand God – through emotions, symbols, and metaphors.9

Oliver and Wood found that conservative religious Americans (mainly evangelical or Orthodox communities) and people who believe in New Age/alternative spirituality tend to have very high scores on intuition and acceptance of conspiracy theories.

Alternative health beliefs/practices

They also find that people who believe in conspiracy theories, and those who hold alternative spiritual beliefs, tend to have anti-vaccine beliefs and a range of other unscientific/unscientific beliefs and practices about health and diet:

Millions of Americans reject evidence of solid science in favor of ideas that have no empirical evidence.

Many not only remain skeptical of modern medicine, but enjoy all kinds of fanciful notions about their health and diet.

Millions more are participating in alternative health practices ranging from acupuncture to homeopathy. Millions still buy organic or gluten-free foods.10

The higher the degree of a person’s intuition, the more likely it is that:11

  • Believe in supernatural concepts such as angels, hidden scriptures, or the power of prayer.
  • Believe in paranormal ideas such as reincarnation, ghosts, or ESP.
  • Reject established scientific explanations or expert medical advice.
  • They do not trust their fellow citizens, the media, and civic institutions.
  • Be more sensitive to emotional appeals and memorable symbols.
  • Subscribe to conspiracy theories.
  • He embraced populist characterizations of money, power and politics.
  • Hold firmly to national and ethnic views.
  • Adoption of alternative medicine and the inviolability of natural foods.
  • Do not tolerate basic democratic rules and civil liberties.

interconnection of all things

A common underlying habit of thought and belief underlying conspiracy theories, spirituality, and many alternative health beliefs is the tendency to see only connections between random, coincidental, or correlated things.

As Matthew Rimsky, a yoga teacher and journalist who has researched doctrine in the modern yoga world and is a critical commentator on the “seemingly paradoxical alliance” between right-wing conspiracy thought and wellness communities, explained:

People interested in yoga, alternative health and wellness […] They tend to share a number of interests and obligations. The three of them might be the idea that everything is connected, nothing is as it seems and everything happens for a reason […] This could be a truism of Eastern spirituality, for example – but they are also the principles by which conspiratorial thinking guides itself.12

Likewise, Ward and Vois found that beliefs that nothing happens by chance, nothing is as it seems, and everything is connected are central to most conspiracy theories and New Age/alternative spirituality, or the phenomenon they refer to as spirituality.13, 14

default mode of thinking

Beliefs that contradict evidence are the rule, not the exception. Most people lean toward spiritual faith. this is normal. In many ways, the intuitive thinking style – and in particular, the intuition that everything happens for a reason – is the natural and hypothetical way of thinking for humans. From an evolutionary psychology perspective, it’s a byproduct of more adaptive ways of thinking that aid survival, as I explained in a previous post.15th

The true value of intuition

Intuition lies behind emotional perception, social skills, and many practical and professional skills. Intuition that is refined through experience and training can be of particular value – for example, the diagnostic intuition of an experienced doctor, or the intuition of a scientist that generates hypotheses.

But there is the danger of being overconfident by the person who possesses this level of intuition and the risk that they may find it more difficult to recognize when their instincts are outside the norm and lead them down a wrong path of assumptions.

science is hard

When it comes to testing the validity and predictive accuracy of a scientific hypothesis, there is no substitute for objective data that has been rigorously collected through studies carefully designed to control for confounding variables.

Until then, for greater confidence in the results, they should be replicated by independent scientists and critically reviewed by experienced peers who will discover methodological flaws and identify cognitive biases and false assumptions in the original research.

This type of critical review is what “I’ve done my research” should entail. Science is a hard, time-consuming team effort that requires a lot of experience. Importantly, it also implies a willingness – in fact a desire – to disprove one’s beliefs and assumptions if that is what the data leads to.

Likewise, rigorous approaches are applied to study the intricacies of political science, economics, and history.

Science and critical thinking are more difficult than they seem. It is easy to overestimate one’s understanding of complex topics.