Applications of conformal field theory to the theory of fractional quantum Hall systems are discussed. In particular, Laughlin's wave function and its cousins are interpreted as conformal blocks in certain rational conformal field theories. Using this point of view a hamiltonian is constructed for electrons for which the ground state is known exactly and whose quasihole excitations have nonabelian statistics; we term these objects "nonabelions". It is argued that universality classes of fractional quantum Hall systems can be characterized by the quantum numbers and statistics of their excitations. The relation between the order parameter in the fractional quantum Hall effect and the chiral algebra in rational conformal field theory is stressed, and new order parameters for several states are given.