On choosing between alternative futures (and the solution to a luxury dilemma)

The future: "Occult Minds"

The future: “Occult Minds”

2013 has been a very busy year on my end, characterised by several relocations, the opening and closing of projects and the managing of very different possible futures. By the end of the year I will have worked on 5-6 different contracts (depending on how you count), in three different countries. Right now I am in the middle of the final great transition of the year, which is the main reason why not much new material is turning up here these days. Let me, at least, let you in on the developments.

After defending my dissertation and earning my PhD in February, I’ve been working various part-time and temporary contracts, while preparing two major funding applications with the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). As anyone who’s tried their hand at it, there’s a lot of work involved with this. While the pay-off can be great (a few years of funded research), the chance of getting nothing at all is usually more realistic. It can thus be quite taxing to work night and day arguing for a couple of different projects, well knowing that at best, only one of these will be what you actually end up doing – and quite likely, you end up doing none of them. Dealing with this sort of uncertainty and motivational challenges is part and parcel of the academic career path.

This spring I ended up submitted two very different proposals for two prestigious funding schemes in the Netherlands – the Veni and the Rubicon – well knowing that at best, only one of them could be awarded. Writing the biggest of these, the Veni, was about one month’s full-time job (ca. 40 hours pr. week). It proposed a project that would take the case of Anders Behring Breivik’s imagined “Knight’s Templar” as a startingpoint for exploring the connections of Western esotericism and right-wing ideology in Europe today – especially linking up to the European New Right, the mnemohistory of “pagan Europe”, the impact of online radicalization, and the place of conspiracist thinking in counterjihadist discourses. It was a project that I had been working tangentially on since 7/7 2011, but been interested in for a longer time (interested enough to publish an article on political aspects of Odinism and Åsatru in Norway back in 2008).

The other project was for a Rubicon, which is a grant that lets young “Dutch researchers” (meaning researcher with their PhD from the Netherlands) go to a prestigious institution abroad for a few years to gather new expertise. For this, I proposed a project that would seek to connect the field of Western esteoricism to the increasingly flourishing cognitive science of religion – in ways that would be of use to the historians, sociologists, anthropologists and discourse analysts already active in this field. I made contact with a prominent professor in the US, did a lot of paper work, and got the application in on time.

Late this summer, just as I moved temporarily to Norway to fill a vacancy for a few months, I learned that both these applications had been successful. I was faced with the worst (or best?) luxury dilemma of my career. In the end, I decided to turn down the largest, most laborious, most well-funded, and on paper most prestigious grant (the Veni), and go to California (UC Santa Barbara) to catch up on some cognitive science. I’ll be working with the research group coordinated by Ann Taves, in the Religious Studies department, and more specifically with their Religion, Experience, and Mind Lab Group (REM Lab). Turning down a 205.000 Euro grant definitely feels weird, but everything considered, relocating and making new connections in the US seemed the better (and more adventurous) opportunity at the moment.

So, now I have left Trondheim, back in Amsterdam, and on the move to California. My research project for the coming two years is formally entitled “Occult Minds: Esotericism as Cognition and Culture”. There will likely be drips of it appearing here in the future, especially as some of my recent reading has made it clear that notions of “heterodoxy” and “rejected knowledge” should be connected to several different strands of work in CSR (in addition to the existing perspectives drawn from history,  sociology and comparative religion). But I might as well mention right away that the plan is to start a separate research blog for the Occult Minds project.

More on this later. End of communication.

(Description of both  projects are still up at the NWO website:


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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Congrats, Egil! Santa Barbara sounds like a great place to study.

  2. Congratulations!! Sounds like a very interesting project.

  3. […] history, and a critic of transhumanism, who was kind enough to comment on this blog, is on the move to California../UC Santa Barbara, where he will research “Occult Minds: Esotericism as Cognition and […]

  4. Just today I wrote on my blog:

    “Egil Asprem is no “Mr. Jones”, but I was wondering.., – should I notify him of this event.., and might he attend..”

    The event is a “Transhuman Visions” conference, taking place in San Francisco on Febr. 1, 2014, so when I read you were on the move.., – well, I thought you might be interested.. – Besides, the event-organizer, Hank Pellissier, just wrote this comment:

    “Egil Asprem is going to UC Santa Barbara? I am an alumni of that place. I will look him up too and tell him about the conference.”

    Best wishes !


    • Thanks for the nudge. The conference certainly looks fascinating, and I might very well attend.

  5. Great decision. From my point of view (as psychologist) a no-brainer.

    I’m already looking forward to the Open Minds blog.

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