Censorship and the conspiration of "forbidden knowledge” (Lecture Series, FS 2020)
Since Greek and Chinese antiquity, censorship is used to systematically suppress unwanted works, ideas and their originators: In Greece censorship was most visible in the trial against the philosopher Socrates (5th century BCE) who was executed for "corrupting the minds of the youth" and impiety. In China the first emperor Qin Shi Huang (3rd century BCE) burned all scriptures of the “Hundred Schools of Thought” and buried their scholars alive to maintain his power. Censorship was always intensified when the alliance of religious and political rule was challenged. Thus, the Roman Empire first persecuted Christians, later the new Christian rulers and the church turned the tables and persecuted pagans, their works and icons. From the middle age through the counter reformation the Roman Catholic Church was eager to go after heretics, scientists and philosophers and their ideas. The index librorum prohibitorum listed such works (as of Kant and Sartre) until the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), while Protestants were driven by iconoclastic movements and the suppression of music and dance.
In early modern times censorship was extended to political issues and institutionalized in the United Kingdom and pre-revolutionary France. Later, censorship targeted revolutionary and independence movements in all major European monarchies as well as in the colonies (e.g. in Russia, Austria, Prussia/Germany, North America, India, South Africa). While totalitarian states relied heavily on censorship and propaganda in 20th century (e.g. the Soviet Union, Germany), liberal democracies used political and cultural censorship to fight unwanted political positions (the McCarthy era in the United States or Switzerland in WWII). Parallelly, cultural censorship targeted written and pictured nudity and sexuality as obscenity.
Today, as online environments guarantee anonymity, hate speech is widespread and actual violence is displayed on social media (beheadings or even live broadcastings of terrorist attacks as in Christchurch 2019) a new debate on the limits of free speech was initiated. This lecture series with contributors of various disciplines firstly introduces historical case studies. In the second part it focuses on recent phenomena connected to social media, practices of internet censorship, new technological forms of social control and the debate on political correctness. Finally, the lecture deals with conspiracy theories that view mainstream agreement on scientific insights as a result of censored “forbidden knowledge” (e.g. theories of climate change, the use of vaccination or the truth on the Egyptian pyramids).
The lecture aims at the German and French speaking student bodies as well as international students.
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