For some time now, a debate has been rolling about the status of “pagan studies” as a field of academic research. It’s not that there’s been any doubt about the importance of studying contemporary paganisms; on the contrary, academic as well as mainstream interest in reconstructionist pagan groups as well as magical groups along the lines of Wicca and Thelema, still appears (anecdotally) on the increase. The problem has rather been with the aims and goals of pagan studies as a prospective discipline, as well as the approaches advocated for studying it. In an article just published in The Pomegranate – the foremost (or, rather, the only) peer-reviewed academic journal dedicated to this field – the up-and-coming (and highly productive) scholar, Ethan Doyle White (known from the Albion Calling blog), argues that the time has come for reform.
There was a conference in Berlin last month that I would have loved to visit: New Antiquities: Transformations of the Past in the New Age and Beyond. This event conceived by Dr. Dylan Burns and Dr. Almut-Barbara Renger is on a topic that I think deserves a lot more attention than it’s being awarded: the diverse uses of the historical past to construct new forms of practice, tradition, aesthetic and worldviews.
Well, we know a great deal already about the invention of tradition, of course. What would be really cool is to get archaeologists, classicists, historians, philologists and other experts of “what really happened” (or the best current approximations, anyway) to talk with those who study the imagined past (what’s sometimes called “mnemohistory” – the history of how the past is remembered). Something along those lines is what this conference aimed to do. One of the reasons why the task is crucial is that, unavoidably, the access that those who construct the past have to the past, goes eventually through scholarship – often, to be sure, outdated scholarship, and often, too, scholarship that has been filtered through other channels such as popular culture – or the less than reliable akashic records. Getting experts of the contemporary and the ancient to talk together thus seems a mutually enriching opportunity, especially for theorizing the role of scholars in the discursive production of the past and of invented traditions.
For those of us who missed that opportunity this time, there is a nice little review of the conference over at Albion Calling. Ethan Doyle White gives a good summary of the speakers and the topics they treated, with a specific focus on issues relating to contemporary paganism. Go read it.
Last autumn, Andreas Sommer defended his PhD at UCL, moved on to Cambridge and started a blog. His PhD thesis was on the relationship between psychical research and the origins of modern psychology, a topic on which Sommer has published some very interesting articles over the last few years (recommended). The blog Forbidden Histories continues and expands these interests: if you haven’t seen it yet, it is a highly recommended history of science blog focusing on, well: “Everything you always wanted to know about science and ‘the miraculous’ (but were afraid to ask)”.
Here is how it’s introduced:
Ethan Doyle White has been running a nice interview series at his blog Albion Calling for a while. Among others he ran interviews with both of the two scholar-practitioners of western ritual magic who suddenly passed away earlier this year, Dave Evans and Nevill Drury. I’ve been meaning to add this blog on pagan studies, esotericism, archaeology etc. to the blog roll for a while (it needs serious update). Now that Ethan has published this interview with yours truly I should probably hurry up. Check it out.
Chances are you have seen the new open access journal Correspondences, which publishes peer-reviewed research on esotericism (if you haven’t, check out the first issue here). In case you were wondering who’s behind this initiative and what compelled them to start this journal, Ethan Doyle White of Albion Calling has published an interview with the two editors, Jimmy Elwing and Aren Roukema. The accompanying rock star image leaves little doubt that the editors and the journal are part of the emerging “next generation”, defining “Esotericism 3.0”. Read about how they got involved with the academic study of esotericism, what kind of research they’re into, and their views on open access publishing and the way forward.
The interviewer also had an article published in the first issue of Correspondences, focusing on witchcraft and Luciferianism. Oh, and while the deadline for the second issue has just passed, I’m sure Aren and Jimmy would appreciate new submissions!