Postgraduate Lives: Occult fascination

David Foster, PhD student at the University of Liverpool


David Foster is in his fifties and is about to start a PhD at Liverpool University on the occult

David Foster is in his fifties and is about to start a PhD at Liverpool University on the occult

I get a mixed reaction when I tell people what I do. I usually have to go into a long explanation of the occult tradition and how it has been marginalised because of prejudice and fear. The popular perception of the occult is ghosties and ghoulies, which is a caricature. But the occult has influenced a whole body of scholarly thought, from Newton's involvement with alchemy and Pythagorean thought, to Jung's work on the unconscious. My aim is to use a scholarly perspective to look at contemporary perceptions and interpretations of the occult.

The occult is a controversial subject that has been grossly sensationalised, and the media doesn't help. Look at Channel 4's recent series Masters of Darkness. From a scholarly point of view, it was superficial, gratuitously salacious and misleading.

I have an eclectic background, ranging from the history of religion to theatre. I lived in Canada for many years, where I became very interested in documentary film, but later worked in France on building restoration. When I returned to the UK in 1994, I started a BA in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies at Exeter, but went on to research alternative education, finally completing a heritage degree at Plymouth University, followed by a PGCE at Exmouth.

Then, in 2003, I attended a conference at Bristol University on "Magical Belief from 1800 to the Present". I heard a fascinating paper by Dr Joanne Pearson from Cardiff University, who was teaching an MA on magic and religion. Her paper "Rebel Angels - Magic and the Academy" argued for the centrality of occult and esoteric ideas to the Western tradition, ideas such as alchemy, ceremonial magic and astrology. I found this paper so absorbing that I applied to Cardiff to do an MPhil on the origins and authenticity of contemporary occult texts, because much that is published today about new-age esotericism and the occult is highly prejudiced.

Dr Pearson is now at Liverpool, and I'll be doing my PhD there under her supervision. I will explore, among other things, the cultural significance of the 19th-century occult revival and its consequences. This includes the mixed fortunes of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical society whose members included the poet W B Yeats and the pioneer of scientific occultism, Aleister Crowley. Crowley is usually depicted as a notorious magician, but I am going to treat him in a more academic way.

The topic would have been difficult to do 10 years ago, but times have changed and there is so much more now in the public domain. I take a sober approach. I'm a sceptic, but I'm not a cynic.

I work part-time, doing night shifts at a hotel, so I'm self-supporting. I earn in order to study, and am an enthusiast of lifelong learning. If you want to really benefit from further education, Britain is probably the best place to do it.

caitlind1@aol.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Guru Careers: Clinical Sales Exec / Medical Sales Exec / Field Sales

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Clinical Sales Exec / Medica...

Guru Careers: Clinical Sales Exec / Medical Sales Exec / Field Sales

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Clinical Sales Exec / Medica...

Guru Careers: Clinical Sales Exec / Medical Sales Exec / Field Sales

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Clinical Sales Exec / Medica...

Guru Careers: Clinical Sales Exec / Medical Sales Exec / Field Sales

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Clinical Sales Exec / Medica...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital