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

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software Developer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing software co...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate / Digital Account Exe...

Guru Careers: Junior Designer / Design Graduate

£18k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Junior Designer / Design Graduate to join...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager / Graduate Trainee

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Key Sales Account Manager/Graduate Trainee i...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas