Tuesday, 19 May 2015

CFP: "The Occult Imagination in Britain, 1875-1947", an edited volume

I'm just sharing this call for papers which is currently doing the rounds on academic list serves and social media. It looks like an interesting proposed volume, and hopefully some of my readers will consider it to be a project that they might like to contribute to:

The Occult Imagination in Britain, 1875-1947
(Edited Collection)
Dr Christine Ferguson and Dr Andrew Radford, University of Glasgow

We seek proposals for an essay collection entitled The Occult Imagination in Britain, 1875-1947, to be proposed to Ashgate’s new Among the Victorians and the Modernists series. Focusing on the development, popular diffusion, and international networks of British occulture between 1875-1947, the interdisciplinary volume will capitalize on the recent surge of scholarly interest in the late Victorian occult revival by tracing the development of its central and residual manifestations through the fin de siècle and two world wars. We aim to challenge the polarization of Victorian and modernist occult art and practice into discrete expressions of either a nostalgic reaction to the crisis of faith or a radical desire for the new. The collection will also map the affinities between popular and elite varieties of occultism in this period, recognizing the degree to which esoteric activities and texts relied on and borrowed from the exoteric sphere.
At the heart of this volume is a flexible understanding of ‘occulture’, which the editors use to signal an understanding of the occult as a system of cultural networks or webs of associations and influences rather than as a monolithic set of beliefs or practices. The collections takes as its historical parameters the 1875 founding of the Theosophical Society by H.P. Blavatsky and H.S. Olcott and the 1947 death of countercultural occultist and notorious “Great Beast” Aleister Crowley. While we welcome proposals on major occult figures, cultural texts, organizations, and phenomena in this period, we are also particularly keen to receive proposals on lesser-known examples of the period’s occult engagement. Possible topics might include, but are by no means limited to:
Occultism as /in Popular Culture
• Modernism and Occult Aesthetics
• Women’s occult networks: Evelyn Underhill, Dion Fortune, Anna Kingsford, Emma Hardinge Britten, Annie Besant, Florence Farr, Annie Horniman, and Others
• Performing the Occult on Stage, Screen, and Everyday Life
• Occultism and/as Counterculture
• Geographies of British Occultism: from the Celtic Fringe to the Far East
• The Occult Public Sphere: Periodicals and the Occult
• Making a Modern Occult Canon: Isis Unveiled and after
• Occultists as Celebrities and Fictional Characters
• Eco-Occultism
• Occult Historiographies: Imagining Occult Pasts and Futures
• Occultism and War
• The Occult Object: Tarot cards, ritual articles, costumes, manuscripts, scrolls, photographs, and ornaments
• The Occult and the Professional Sciences
Please send an abstract (300-500 words) and a brief biography (100 words) to christine.ferguson@glasgow.ac.uk and andrew.radford@glasgow.ac.uk by June 1, 2015. Final essays should be 6,000-7,000 words in length and will be due for submission in August 2016. Contributors may include up to 2 images in their articles, but they are responsible for obtaining and paying for high quality jpegs and any permissions.

Friday, 8 May 2015

New Publication: Book Review of Anders Andren's "Tracing Old Norse Cosmology"

Just as I had opened this working week with the announcement that Nova Religio had published one of my book reviews, so I must close it by pointing out that another of my reviews has been published in Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture (vol. 8, no. 2). The review in question is devoted to a 2014 book by archaeologist Anders Andrén titled Tracing Old Norse Cosmology: The World Tree, Middle Earth, and the Sun in Archaeological Perspectives. Many of my readers might also be interested to know that this same issue of Time and Mind also contains a book review authored by Ronald Hutton (whom I interviewed here back in July 2014) and a research article on the potential shamanistic elements within Minoan cult co-written by Caroline J. Tully (who was interviewed here even further back, in January 2013). For those who aren't subscribers to this thought-provoking journal, check out this new edition over at the Taylor & Francis website.

Monday, 4 May 2015

New Book Review: Douglas Ezzy's "Sex, Death and Witchcraft"

Just a quick note to say that in the latest volume of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions (vol. 18, no. 4), I have a brief book review, in which I look at the Australian sociologist of religion Douglas Ezzy's recent publication on Sex, Death and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival. Those with access to JSTOR can download a copy here.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

New book review: Bogdan and Djurdjevik's "Occultism in a Global Perspective" in Nova Religio

The latest volume of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions has just been released, and inside you will find a book review that I authored several months ago. The review is devoted to Occultism in a Global Perspective, an edited volume put together by Henrik Bogdan and Gordan Djurdjevik. For those of you with access to JSTOR, download a copy here.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

My Folklore journal paper - "Devil's Stones and Midnight Rites: Megaliths, Folklore, and Contemporary Pagan Witchcraft" - free for the next two months!

The academic publishing company Routledge has just announced that for a brief period – from now until 31 March 2015 – their most popular articles will be available online to read for free. This is a great opportunity for anyone who is interested in the latest academic research but who doesn't have access to it through an institutional subscription (or a bottomless wallet!). Looking it over, I was pleased to find that a paper of mine published last year in the Folklore journal – "Devil's Stones and Midnight Rites: Megaliths, Folklore, and Contemporary Pagan Witchcraft" – is included in their "top 25" most-read anthropology articles (check them out here), and thus it is one of those that you can access without a restrictive paywall. Checking out the Folklore journal website itself, it appears that the research article is their fourth "most read" paper, after works by Jacqueline Simpson and Ronald Hutton (who have both been interviewed here at Albion Calling, in April 2014 and July 2014 respectively); for me it's great to see that people are actually taking an interest in my work and reading it, and that in some small way my name is up alongside those of such eminent scholars whose work I greatly admire and respect. The chance to access this paper for free is a limited-time offer, so if it sounds like something that you'd enjoy reading, do take up this excellent opportunity!

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Some Thoughts on Academic Impact and the Contemporary Pagan Movement

As most academics must surely be aware, a major factor of contemporary academia, at least in the UK, is that of impact; the contribution that one's research makes to wider society. Universities and funding bodies are obsessed with impact, and many would say rightly so - after all, most academic institutions are subsidised by the state and its tax-payers, and thus they should be engaging in projects that contribute back to society, rather than simply undertaking obscure research for the sake of research that interests few and is useful to even fewer. Many fields of research make a clear contribution to society and/or the state; medical science for instance has obvious health benefits for many sectors of the population, while technological innovation similarly eases and enriches the lives of many. But what of Pagan studies ? Does this small, and still comparatively fledgling field make much of an impact on wider society ? Does the average person on the street give a monkeys about the etymology of "Wicca" or the theological structure of Robert Cochrane's Witchcraft tradition

I've been thinking about this issue in large part due to two recent events that have involved me and my work. The first occured a few weeks ago when Cara Schulz, a reporter for popular U.S.-based Pagan news site The Wild Hunt, asked for my opinion on a story that had been making the rounds online; the story highlighted recent research conducted by Georgian geologists which claimed to have found new evidence for the factual underpinnings of the ancient Hellenic myth of Jason and the Argonauts. Although my expertise certainly doesn't lie within the remit of ancient Greece, I had no doubt been chosen both for my academic (and specifically archaeological) credentials, as well as my Pagan-friendly status. Independently, Schulz had also consulted my colleague and friend Caroline Tully, who like myself juggles archaeology with contemporary Pagan studies but whose perspective differs from mine in that she is a practicing Pagan herself (for those interested, I'm a secular humanist). The Wild Hunt article, which is available here, quoted both of us on the merits and problems of the news story and the research that it was based upon.

Shortly after, I came across a series of informational videos which had been posted to YouTube by educational channel OathBoundSecrets. These videos were devoted to a variety of Pagan and esoteric subjects, and to my surprise a number of them (such as this one on the etymology of "Wicca" and this on Robert Cochrane) relied upon and quoted my own research. It seemed apparent that the creators of these videos had obtained the information not first-hand from my publications themselves, but from Wikipedia articles in which some of my work is quoted and cited; evidence for my long-held position that while academically-problematic, Wikipedia is nevertheless a resource with great potential for transmitting the findings of academic research to a far larger audience. For me, this was really nice to see, because it showed that practicing Wiccans are actually finding my work to be of interest and utility to them; clearly, my work is having an impact, even if it might only be a small one.

Thus, there are clearly instances where practicing Pagans are making good use of the research publications brought out by scholars of Pagan studies, and where they are further approaching said scholars for advice on scholarly matters. This can only be a good thing. But there are of course pitfalls which need to be considered. In his much-debated paper in the Method and Theory in the Study of Religion journal, the religious studies scholar Markus Altena Davidsen charged Pagan studies with being dominated by practicing Pagans themselves, thus spending more time promulgating contemporary Paganism than critically analysing it. Keeping this in mind, we should be concerned that as Pagan studies scholars, we might be unduly focusing on our impact within the Pagan movement itself rather than in other sectors of society. While I think it clear that large sectors of the Pagan community are certainly going to be very interested in our findings, we should not be blind to the fact that many other individuals - those interested in new religious movements or reception of the ancient world, public policy makers, and no doubt others, would be interested too. After all, if myself - as a non-Pagan scholar of Pagan studies - can be fascinated by the contemporary Pagan movement, then surely many other non-Pagans can be too ? This is something that we, as scholars, need to have a conversation about. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

The latest volume of "Correspondences" and my latest book review

Check out the webpage of Correspondences: An Online Journal for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism, where editors Jimmy Elwing and Aren Roukema have just brought out volume 2, number 2 of the fantastic peer-reviewed publication. This edition contains three research articles: Robert A. Saunders on the depiction of pre-Christian religion in TV shows Game of Thrones and The Vikings, Christopher Plaisance on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and Roberto Bacci on Italian esotericism during the Fascist era. Also included are four book reviews, one of which has been authored by yours truly. Devoted to an Oxford University Press anthology brought out last year – Per Faxneld and Jesper Aa. Petersen's The Devil's Party: Satanism in Modernity – the book under review offers an exciting expansion into the burgeoning realms of Satanism studies. If you're interested in reading my review, check it out here, while the rest of the Correspondences edition is available freely here. Go give it a read!