It has been more than six months since I left Amsterdam for California, and some have maybe been wondering what I’m up to. To finally prove that I’m not just surfing all day, here, at long last, is the website of my postdoctoral research project, Occult Minds. The website contains quite a bit of information already, about the project itself and some of the directions it is taking. It also includes a blog, where I will be posting updates on the project as well as reviews and reflections on relevant studies. The first post contains some reflections on a book with a title very close to my project: Christopher Lehrich’s The Occult Mind: Magic in Theory and Practice (Cornell UP, 2007). With a music metaphor, it is a form of counterpoint to what I am aiming to do: there are harmonies between the two, but the rhythms and structures of the individual melodies are so different they could belong to separate musical genres.
Let me give a bit of background for the project. Last year I was awarded a Rubicon fellowship from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), allowing me to relocate to the University of California at Santa Barbara and set up my postdoctoral project in this new context. UCSB was a natural choice, for a number of reasons. It has one of the top Departments for Religious Studies in the United States, including much competence and great library facilities when it comes to new religious movements and modern esoteric currents. More importantly still: I wanted to develop a project that integrates historical research with psychological and cognitive science approaches, and at UCSB we have an interdisciplinary forum, the Religion, Experience and Mind Lab Group, dedicated precisely to that sort of project. Headed by Ann Taves, it brings together psychologists, ethnographers, and historians, both faculty and grad students. Taves has, moreover, been developing what she calls a building block approach in recent years, which is revolutionizing the controversial study of so-called “religious experience”. I am seeking to extend that approach to the study of esotericism.
So if you are curious about esotericism and cognition, do check in at Occult Minds from time to time.