Postgraduate students

Cameron Vercoe Groenen, BA, MA candidate

Billy Te Kahika: Use of Religious Authority to Construct Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy theory and alternative narratives are seemingly growing in number, both internationally and here in Aotearoa New Zealand. News media is quick to dismiss these narratives as irrational, and here in New Zealand we observe news media attributing alternative narratives to the influence of America media and American political extremism. This approach is both inaccurate of the facts and dismissive of the lived realities of many Kiwis who have come to embrace alternative narratives by means of their own beliefs, not by the influence of international sources. I am motivated to investigate the beliefs of New Zealanders, to understand how supposedly irrational narratives gain traction and support, and to see where these narratives emerge from. To these ends, I am investigating Billy Te Kahika Jr.’s social media presence and his use of religious narratives in support of conspiracy theories concerning COVID-19, climate change, and globalism.

Billy Te Kahika Jr. is a musician, a minister, a former politician, and an advocate of freedom and rights. His social media presence is a mix of ministry, bible studies, and anti-COVID-19 discussion. He interprets biblical prophecy within our 21st century context, and views global political and economic structures as representative of the growing influence of Satan in the contemporary world. I hope that through careful study of Billy Te Kahika Jr.’s social media presence that I can offer clarity as to how alternative narratives develop authority to influence the actions and beliefs of Kiwis from all walks of life.

Conspiracy theory scholarship is a relatively new field, and I will be drawing on research in charismatic leaders, authority, prophecy, apocalyptic millennialism, and social media. My research will build understanding of how people can be influenced by alternative narratives, and that this understanding can counter the consequences of alternative narratives. While some conspiracy theories can be viewed as light-hearted fun (Bird’s Aren’t Real Movement), they can also have a serious and devastating effect on our communities.

Supervisor: Dr Deane Galbraith

University of Otago Religious Studies Programme