Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Celebrating a year of the Albion Calling interview series !!!

1st December 2013 will mark a year since I inaugurated the Albion Calling interview series. Devoted to academics who specialise in the archaeology, history, and general development of religion and magic, there have been ten interviews so far, and it has proved itself a resounding success, being by far the most popular element of my blog. Throughout this interview series, I have had the opportunity to talk with a mix of people from all across the academic and scholarly spectrum, from particularly promising MA and PhD students at the very start of their careers to those who have retired to the comfortable position of Professor Emeritus, along the way fitting in a number of excellent independent scholars who operate free from the constraints of the academy. The one category that probably has been neglected is that of established academic lecturers and professors midway through their careers, who are usually far too busy with the demands of university life to devote some of their time to interviews such as this!

The late Dr. Evans.
Kicking off our series was the late, great Dr. Dave Evans, an independent historian of late 20th-century British occultism who was the author of a number of important books on the subject as well being the co-mastermind behind the now sadly defunct peer-reviewed Journal for the Academic Study of Magic. Following on from Dr. Evans was Chas S. Clifton, Professor Emeritus of Colorado State University-Pueblo, who is internationally known as one of the figureheads in the field of Pagan studies, being editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies and the author of one of the definitive studies of contemporary Pagan history in the United States. 

As January 2013 came around, we had our first archaeologist, the Australian Caroline Jane Tully, who is currently a doctoral student at the University of Melbourne studying Aegean tree cults and who has also published academically on the subject of the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley and Pagan reception of academic research. We remained in Australia to interview another scholar who is sadly no longer with us, Dr. Nevill Drury, who came to fame as a prominent advocate of Neo-Shamanism and Indigenous Australian art but who later earned his academic credentials with his studies of Aussie Witch Rosaleen Norton and other important publications on contemporary Paganisms and Western esotericism.

Archaeologist of British
folk magic Brian Hoggard.
The next subject of the series was the American religious studies scholar and thealogian Dr. Christine Hoff Kraemer of Cherry Hill Seminary, in an interview for which we discussed her work on contemporary Pagan theologies/thealogies, sexual minorities, and graphic novels. Back in Britain, I interviewed the independent archaeologist Brian Hoggard, one of the country's foremost specialists on the archaeology of folk magic, to discuss his attempts at cataloguing the evidence for apotropaic items found in British buildings. Later that month I conducted a dual interview with two then-master's students based at the University of Amsterdam, Jimmy Elwing and Aren Roukema, who have recently launched an exciting open-access peer-reviewed outlet for scholars, Correspondences: An Online Journal for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism.

Next up was the turn of another esteemed American scholar, Dr. Robert Mathiesen, Professor Emeritus of Brown University and co-founder of the Societas Magica academic fellowship, who provided us with a wonderful overview of his life and work in studying esoteric practices in the nineteenth and twentieth-century United States as well as his work on Medieval literature. Remaining in the States, I interviewed independent scholar Michael G. Lloyd, author of the excellent recent biography of prominent American Wiccan Eddie Buczynski. Turning then to Norway, it was the turn of Dr. Egil Asprem, an Associate Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who is a rising star in the academic study of Western esotericism. Not only is he the co-founder of the Contemporary Esotericism Research Network, but he has recently published his first book on the subject of Enochian magic, with further works coming soon.

Archaeologist and Pagan
studies scholar Caroline
J. Tully.
As this summary of a year's accomplishments shows, a heavy emphasis has been on interviewing scholars involved in Pagan studies and the academic study of Western esotericism. While these subjects do indeed fascinate me (and, more importantly, fascinate many of my readers), it is unfortunate that they have drawn so much of the focus, and I hope that in the coming year I can bring in more archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and religious studies scholars whose research focus lies outside of these select areas. In particular, I really want to bring in more archaeologists of religion, ritual, and magic, a subject that is close to my heart and which constituted the basis of my BA and MA dissertations, and which (I hope) will form the basis of my proposed PhD thesis. It is also unfortunate that there has been a clear bias towards white males in the interviewees featured, although I believe that this is down largely to the general bias within academia itself; despite attempts to diversify in recent decades, the academy remains, by and large, the domain of the middle-class heteronormative white male. 

But despite these problems, I think that this series has accomplished some great things in its first year. For one, it has created a platform from which academics and independent scholars can get their ideas and research across to a much wider segment of society. I'm aware that many of Albion Calling's readers are not academics themselves, but are still fascinated by the findings of scholarly research and the process by which it is conducted. I hope therefore that this blog has helped demolish people's ideas about the "ivory towers" of academia, and encouraged academic outreach into communities with whom professional scholars rarely interact. Second, I believe that this series has allowed for interdisciplinary discussion and discovery, with archaeologists, historians, and religious studies scholars all sharing the same electronic platform to discuss their own work and learn about that being undertaken in other disciplines. Maybe I'm tooting my own horn a little, but I'm really proud of this lecture series and I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank all of those who have taken part in it. In particular, I think it apt to look back in memoriam at Dr Dave Evans and Dr Nevill Drury, two wonderful scholars who unfortunately each passed away several months after giving their informative and poignant interviews. Here's hoping that the next year will be equally exciting for this ongoing series. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Doug's Archaeology has launched a new blogging carnival

The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) will be holding its annual conference next year, at which there is a planned session on the role of blogging in archaeology. As I am an archaeologist by training, and this blog does deal in large part with the subject of archaeology, I've been invited by Doug – of the Doug's Archaeology: Investigating the Profession and Research blog  to contribute to a blog carnival that he is organising in the run-up to the SAA session. As part of this, each month he will put out a question for archaeological bloggers to answer, in the hope that the data collected can be of real use in analysing how blogs are being used in this particular discipline. 


Doug has already posted the two carnival questions for November here, and as December is nearly upon us, I think it important that I answer fairly pronto:

Why blogging ? Why did you start a blog ? 

I started Albion Calling back in April 2012, when I was entering the final months of my BA degree in archaeology. A few of my fellow undergrads had started archaeological blogs –– most of which, I'm afraid to say, were largely devoid of useful content. Maybe it was my own hubris, but I thought that I could do a lot better, and create a blog that would actually be of use to other people. Far too many blogs simply contained posts from individuals in which they talked about their day or mused on subjects in which they had no expertise; sure those posts might be interesting to their friends and family, but I saw little utility in them for wider scholarship. I wanted to create something that a wider segment of academically-oriented people would want to read, and from which they would actually gain some benefit. I thought that focusing in on my own area of expertise, the archaeology and history of religion, would be the best way to do that.

I also felt that a successful blog had a lot of potential to attract interest to my other projects, namely my various academic publications and conference presentations, and in the long run would improve my career prospects; I surmised that having a successful blog would look good on an academic CV. So broadly speaking my decision to start a blog was twofold; improving my own prospects and creating an academic space that many readers would find useful, thereby encouraging dialogue and further research.

Why are you still blogging ?

Simply put, my blog has been a success. It's been running for just over a year and a half and has passed the 20,000 hits mark. Okay, that might not put it in the category of one of the internet's most popular blogs, but for a site dealing with such a niche subject as the archaeology and history of religion then I feel that that's a success. My interview series has been particularly popular, and many people have left comments on my blog or emailed me to say how much they enjoy reading it. It's little expressions of kindness and appreciation such as that which make me realise that my blog really is proving useful to people and which keep me blogging.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Melissa Harrington's spirited response to Markus Altena Davidsen

Back in 2012, the Danish religious studies scholar Markus Altena Davidsen of the University of Leiden published a review article in the Method and Theory in the Study of Religion journal titled "What is Wrong with Pagan Studies ?". In this, he attacked the theoretical and methodological perspectives prevalent within the field of Pagan studies, with which I am involved, via a critique of a recent anthology on the subject, Murphy Pizza and James R. Lewis' Handbook of Contemporary Paganism (Brill, 2009).

Although I felt that Davidsen made a few pertinent observations, it was immediately clear to me that there were a great many problems with his paper, which largely stemmed from the fact that he had had no real experience with Pagan studies scholarship, instead relying on a very limited command of the literature on the subject. As such, I responded to him with a paper titled "In Defense of Pagan Studies", which was published in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies several months later.

Now, Melissa Harrington of the University of Cumbria has responded to Davidsen in her own (unpublished) paper, which she has uploaded onto her academia.edu account (here). Harrington is one of those Pagan studies scholars who was most heavily criticised by Davidsen, and her reply is certainly well worth a read. I personally feel that in parts her response is perhaps a little more vitriolic than necessary, but then again, she clearly feels wronged by Davidsen, highlighting where he has continuously misrepresented her position and asserting that his paper was more libel than critique. She goes so far as to suggest that he makes "an unwarranted character assassination aimed to discredit my academic integrity." I'm not convinced that that was his intention, but I am nevertheless glad that she is making her opinion heard on the issue. It of course reminds me somewhat of the situation back in June 2012 when an anonymous Pagan blogger began making bizarre personal attacks against the archaeologist and Pagan studies scholar Caroline Jane Tully. Critiquing the work of other scholars is of course a core part of academic discourse, and that can include some criticism of any undisclosed bias that may affect their views, but when you start making personal attacks against the scholars themselves then that crosses a line and should rightfully be condemned by the academic community and society at large.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

An Interview with Dr. Egil Asprem

Today here at Albion Calling I am interviewing one of the rising stars at the forefront of the academic study of Western esotericism, Norway's very own Dr. Egil Asprem. Currently Associate Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, he has a PhD from the University of Amsterdam and has published on a wide variety of subjects, including his own monograph, an edited anthology, and a selection of papers in such peer-reviewed journals as AriesThe Pomegranate, and Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft. Many readers will probably be aware of him as the man behind the Heterodoxology blog (if you don't follow it, do so!) or as the co-founder of the Contemporary Esotericism Research Network (ContERN) who recently held their first conference at Stockholm University. We discuss the long path that he took to get where he is, and the current and future state of academic studies into Western esotericism.

Image courtesy of Dr. Asprem
EDW: You are currently Associate Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, having recently received your PhD from the University of Amsterdam's Center for the History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents. Can you tell us a bit about your academic trajectory and how you reached where you are today ?

It's been a pretty straight trajectory from when I first set foot in a university about ten years ago. I did a double BA in religious studies and philosophy at NTNU in Trondheim, where I'm currently filling a vacancy this autumn. Funnily enough, the religious studies and philosophy departments were merged on the very same day I came back, so it's been a sort of double home-coming. In 2006 I went to Amsterdam for the MA program on Western esotericism, and was lucky enough to win a "TopTalent" scholarship with the Dutch science foundation (NWO) to continue on to a PhD. I ended up staying at the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents for a total of seven years. Through most of this time  –– starting already in my BA  –– I've been busy trying to turn as much as possible of what I've been working on into publishable material. I think this has turned out to be a very rewarding strategy, for getting involved with new projects, succeeding with applications, and things like that.

EDW: What is it that made you want to become a professional academic, and in particular what attracted you to the history of religion, history of science, and the history of Western esotericism, the three fields within which your work largely fits ?

Well that's a fun exercise, backtracking ones decisions and aspirations. I didn't really plan on becoming a "professional academic", but once you've truly entered that world, there's no real alternative anymore. If you want to continue doing research, the academic route is an obvious choice. But the field was maybe not so obvious all along. I seriously considered switching to archaeology and taking more languages during my undergrad, so I suppose my trajectory could easily have turned in different directions. I did have an interest in what I now know as "esotericism" from before entering university, though, and it was that interest that initially brought me into religious studies. At the same time I've been nerding on pop-science since early childhood, and virtually all my philosophy papers went into epistemology and the philosophy of science somehow. So there has been a certain tendency from the beginning, that continues into my most recent work.

EDW: Something that I always find interesting is to discover where a scholars' own fascination with their subject actually comes from, and that being the case I'd like to ask you where you first developed your interest in Western esotericism; did you come from what Dr. Robert Mathiesen has termed an "esoteric family" (as I did) or did you develop this interest independently ?

I think it came from several sources that conspired to nod me towards this unusual field. But one important source was no doubt role-playing games [RPGs]. We played lots of stuff, but the "World of Darkness"-series from White Wolf was the most influential.  I remember doing a lot of research into the history of esotericism as a storyteller for games such as Mage: The Ascension and Vampire: The Dark Ages –– probably a lot more work on this than on my homework. In the late teens I started reading up on several different avenues of Western esotericism, and mostly ancient stuff. The Nag Hammadi librarythe New Testament apocryphathe Hermetica –– a lot of that was being released in Norwegian translations at the time. I also ended up reading a lot of cheap second-hand Rudolf Steiner books for some reason. Then there was the inevitable discovery of the [Hermetic Order of the] Golden Dawn and everything that comes with that. I was familiar with a good chunk of relevant literature before entering university and making an academic study out of these things, but I hadn't been primed by any family involvement or even friends with esoteric interests. I was pretty much on my own in pursuing this beyond popular culture and RPGs, and it was all pretty eclectic.

EDW: Do you situate yourself as an etic outsider to the field that you study, or do you instead possess the emic perspective of an insider ?

Well to begin with I would distinguish the emic/etic distinction from the insider/outsider distinction. As far as I'm concerned, those point to separate issues that are too often being confounded, causing some muddled discussions. I've not been a proper "insider" of everything that I've studied –– indeed that would've been difficult seeing that it spansfrom kabbalah to parapsychology to right-wing extremism to ritual magic to transhumanism. Being an insider to all of that I'd be a mightily confused individual. But as any good scholar should do, I always attempt to get as good a grasp of "emic" terms and meanings as possible when I write about a specific group. That's a question of good methodology. But I do believe that remaining there, on the emic level, is a rather pointless exercise - not to mention an impossible task, if we're going to be very strict about it. The aim in the end must be to do something academically useful and theoretically interesting with the material, and that eventually requires "translating" to, and analysing through, "etic" terminology. But lets not forget that, in practice, etic is acad-emic.

Dr. Asprem's wonderful PhD cover.
EDW: Your PhD thesis was on the subject of "The Problem of Disenchantment: Scientific Naturalism and Esoteric Discourse, 1900-1939", in which you undertook a critical exploration of Max Weber's famous claims regarding "the disenchantment of the world". Could you tell us a little about this particular project, and are there any plans to publish this piece of research ?

I was afraid you'd ask that. The dissertation turned into a monstrous 600+ pages, covering very diverse material. The key objective as you said was to bring a fresh perspective on the notion of "disenchantment". Essentially, what I am proposing is that we abandon the notion of "the disenchantment of the world" as an unfolding socio-historical "process", bulldozing its way through Western (?) history, and instead conceptualize disenchantment as a chiefly intellectual "problem", that has been experienced by certain people under certain historical conditions and met by a number of different solutions. I argue that this opens up a broad field of inquiry that connects the history of science, religion,  philosophy, and esotericism, along the lines of a "problem-history", or Problemgeschichte. A key idea here is that analogous problems are confronted synchronously across different cultural fields, and one has to broaden the disciplinary perspective to deal with this. That's why the dissertation ended up being so long, of course...

I signed a book contract for it in the spring. Making the required revisions have taken time, though, but hopefully it will appear in print by next summer.

EDW: Back in 2012, SUNY Press published your first book, Arguing with Angels: Enochian Magic and Modern Occulture. Could you tell us about this particular project and how it came to fruition? Is the subject of Dr. John Dee and the Enochian system of angelic magic which he pioneered something that you would like to return to in your research ? 

This is an example of an interest I'd had since my late teens, when I first came across the enochian material, collected all information I could find and lurked on various obscure web forums and e-lists. When I started my MA in Amsterdam, I finally had the time to "get to the bottom" of what this was all about. Arguing with Angels is a product of that work. While the book was published in 2012, most of the research was completed already by 2008, so for me this is pretty ancient work by now. There is a chance I will revisit Dr. Dee and his associates at some point, but it's likely to be for different reasons than the history of enochian angel magic. For instance, I didn't get to do satisfactory work on [Edward] Kelly and the other scryers last time. I'm much more interested in this formative dimension now.

Dr. Asprem's latest books, Arguing with Angels (2012) and
Contemporary Esotericism (2013).
EDW: This year, Equinox Publishing is bringing out an academic anthology edited by yourself alongside Dr. Kennet Granholm. Titled Contemporary Esotericism, it contains contributions from a wide range of scholars active in the field, among them big names like Wouter Hanegraaff and Christopher Partridge. As someone with a research interest in the occult groups that arose post-1950, I'm very much glad to see the more recent stuff getting the attention that it deserves, so I would be interested to learn how this particular project got going ?

Kennet and I started jotting down plans on this project in a bar in Amsterdam on the very night that we returned from the second biannual ESSWE conference, in Strasbourg, in 2009. We both felt that contemporary esotericism was insufficiently studied thus far. Some experiences at the Strasbourg conference made us aware that some serious nudging was needed in order to bring the historically oriented core of the society to embrace or even just interact with the social-scientific approaches necessary for studying contemporary phenomena. So we sat down and drew up a wish-list of authors linked with topics we knew they were great at and wanted them to write about, with the intention of collecting a volume that would demonstrate the sheer breadth of stuff that one has to look at, and also introduce some of the key theoretical discussions we need to have to account for this. Almost all of our first choices accepted invitation, and we got a selection of articles we were very pleased with. But even though we are happy with the way this volume has turned out, we are painfully aware that it is only a small step. What the book covers of important topics is far outmatched by what it leaves out. Kennet and I would be the first to acknowledge this, and we did so in the introduction to the book as well as at the First International Conference on Contemporary Esotericism in Stockholm last year, where the book was officially launched. There's definitely much work to be done in this field. We hope that the book, the conference, and the ContERN network we co-ordinate can help inspire more such work.

EDW: Like myself, you have embraced the role of social media as a means of interacting with a much wider range of people who have an interest in scholarship and academia; not only have you got your own Twitter and Academia.edu accounts, but you also have your own blog, Heterodoxology: Exploring the Heterodox in Science, Religion, and Politics. This being the case, I wondered what your views were on the power of social media and blogs for scholarly outreach ?

I think it's a great resource. Not just as another channel for dissemination, though, but as a form of scholarly praxis as well. I was better at this when I first started Heterodoxology back in 2010, but writing blogs can be a great way to try out ideas and "think on paper" - and in dialogue with a community. In my experience this complements both research and teaching quite well, in addition to creating some visibility for your work.

Dr. Asprem's blog, Heterodoxology - check it out!
EDW: Have you noticed any significant increase in the amount of attention that your research has received as a result of Heterodoxology and those other ventures ?

Well yes, these channels certainly are important for outreach too. Heterodoxology put me in touch with some of the HistSci blog community at a crucial phase in my PhD research, which was important since I needed external support in that field being technically in a religious studies department myself. More recently, Academia.edu has proved very good for disseminating papers, articles and reviews to people who would not otherwise have had access. That is massively important. For example, a conference paper that would otherwise only have had a couple dozen listeners at the conference itself (at least 2/3s of whom would forget by the end of the evening), and maybe another dozen readers through ridiculously expensive conference proceedings, can now get hundreds of readers through Academia.edu. Both scholars and non-scholars. A recent paper I uploaded led to some great comments and corrections from peers whom I did not know but had come across it, and eventually it was picked up by a couple of editors for magazines who wanted spin-off articles. Social media can thus further academic collaboration and exchange (which is sadly hindered rather than promoted by some key structures in academic dissemination at the moment), and is also a great tool for diminishing the distance between academic knowledge production and more "traditional" media for popularization. The combination of social media, research blogging, and open-access publishing is the most forward-looking trend in academic text production and dissemination at the moment, in my opinion.

EDW: Do you think that smaller, more specialised fields like the academic study of Western esotericism have to rely on these outlets to a greater extent than bigger, well-established fields ?

At least I think the strategic advantage we gain is larger than what some established disciplines get by investing in it. Whether they are more essential to us or not in the longer run is hard to say, and depends on many other factors. But we certainly have nothing to lose on gained visibility and creating an online academic community. 

EDW: Since 2010, you have been on the board of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE), and are currently serving as its treasurer and membership secretary. Along with Dr. Kennet Granholm you also run the Contemporary Esotericism Research Network (ContERN), which I understand is affiliated with ESSWE. I have heard many great things about the conferences run by these groups, although have unfortunately not been able to attend any so far. What role do you believe that these particular learned societies and the conferences that they run have for the academic study of Western esotericism ? 

Dr. Asprem and Dr. Granholm run ContERN, which hosted
last year's First International Conference on Contemporary
Esotericism at Stockholm University.
The ESSWE has been absolutely essential to the field over the last decade. It's meant a lot to the professionalisation of research in Europe. The biannual conferences have provided a unique scene for building international connections, coordinating new projects, and so on. The Aries journal and the Aries Book Series are both published under the auspices of the ESSWE. Furthermore, and I think this is maybe the most important thing in the long run, the ESSWE has consistently attracted a lot of student members from a variety of disciplines - religious studies, anthropology, intellectual history, art history, philosophy, sociology, and so forth. These are people with a shared interest in esotericism, but without a professional framework for doing it. ESSWE gives them the connections they need to continue. In the longer run, this is how we build a new generation of scholars who may be working in a number of different disciplines, but who nevertheless share the same language for talking about Western esotericism, read some of the same journals, visit the same conferences, and know the same references. Without the work of organisations such as the ESSWE, esotericism would have been doomed to remain the interest of erudite amateurs without a shared language and without the collaborative effort to build new knowledge that characterises an academic field. I'm very excited to have been part of running this organisation for the past three years. And to answer the second part of your question, I think that the establishment of local groups (SNASWEINASWECEEO-UNASUR) and thematic research networks (ContERN, NSEA, and the latest addition, WEAVE) is one of the most valuable new things coming out of ESSWE in recent years. Stimulating such initiatives further should in my opinion be a priority task for the future.

Are there any research projects or publications on the horizon that we should be keeping an eye out for ? [EA: I'm not sure it you mean by me or in general, so I answered for both]

There's lots of very interesting PhD dissertations being written out there at the moment. I'm especially looking forward to those. On the home front, I've been polishing up several old projects these past few months that should appear in print next year. But most of all I'm excited about starting an entirely new research project in December. I'm moving to Santa Barbara to work with Professor Ann Taves and her team out there, hoping to develop a deeper knowledge of some useful cognitive science and psychology of religion. I want to see how we can use this to reframe some old questions in esotericism research and take it new places. The plan is to devote the next two years solely to this project. So hopefully you won't see too many other publications from me in a few years.

A question that I ask everyone in this interview series is where they think that their particular academic field is headed. The academic study of Western esotericism now has departments devoted to it at the Universities of Amsterdam and Exeter, and there are currently two peer-reviewed journals dedicated to the subject, but do you think that this is a momentum that can be maintained considering the major economic changes that universities are now facing ? In particular, from the perspective of a professional academic, what role do you see for the independent scholar of Western esotericism in coming decades ? 

"Winter is coming" rings true for many academics today, and I think you're feeling it harder already in the UK than  in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, which are the places I know best. But despite all that I think we should try to be optimists, and focus on the possibilities this field has. One of those is no doubt its interdisciplinarity. We often say this, but we could afford to think a bit more systematically about what it means. If played right, it means that scholars of esotericism –– or let's say, graduates from one of the few places that offer graduate programs –– can in theory work in a wide range of disciplines if they choose to stay in the academy. In fact, that's one of the few things a new student know for sure when they start a PhD in this field: most likely, there isn't going to be any position available what so ever that focus purely on esotericism. I don't think Wouter [Hanegraaff] is going to give up his position in Amsterdam any time soon, and who knows what's happening with Exeter. But that's okay, because an expert in esotericism will also have built research competence relevant for one or several more established disciplines –– history, religious studies, cultural studies, sociology, etc. This is precisely why all the collaborative, interdisciplinary, international work that is being done through organisations such as ESSWE is so important: as long as there are networks like this, specialists of various disciplines as well as independent scholars can continue to meet, exchange ideas and build this field together.

That said, it is also evident that the future of the field is dependent on what the new generation of scholars chooses to do with it. That is my generation, our generation. Will we do things that continue to marginalize the field and work counter to professionalization? Or will we aim to thoroughly integrate what we do with the best and most cutting-edge research of whatever discipline they are working? Do we create an island, or build bridges? Needless to say I favour the latter approach. I think the future of esotericism is as an interdisciplinary field of research and study, rather than as a separate "discipline", with its own methods and theories. Its success hinges on our ability to make research relevant to all the disciplines we come in contact with. This is a discussion we'll continue to be having in the future, but the consequences of what we choose becoming quite clear I think. In the end it boils down to whether we want esotericism to be a university study or not.

Dr Asprem, thank you for talking to Albion Calling today. You have given us all much to think about, and I wish you well in Santa Barbara!

There's a new scam targeting academics, and it calls itself David Publishing...

Checking my emails this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find an email from a group known as David Publishing that expressed an interest in a paper that I recently presented at UCL's "Monstrous Antiquities" conference for a new journal that they were starting up, History Research. Naturally I was quite excited, thinking that this journal –– claiming to be based in California –– had taken an interest in my recent talk and would like to publish it. But something just didn't sit right with me. The email had clearly been written by someone for whom English was not their first language, and the journal claimed to cover *everything* that fell within the remit of history. The whole email was indeed a bit of a mess, and it was clear that they had simply copy-and-pasted the name of my paper into a pre-existing text, not even bothering to ensure that the two fonts were the same. If this was indeed an academic press, I thought, then it was certainly a sloppy and amateurish operation. 

The dubious email which I received.

















Being an academic, my first instinct is to research, and like all good Westerners are now trained to do, I went straight to Google. What I found confirmed my suspicions. David Publishing is no legitimate academic press. It is a Chinese-based company that send out these phishing emails in order to attract gullible or over-eager academics, particularly graduate students who might not have any experience with legitimate academic publications. Their peer review system is a joke, and it seems apparent that their only interest is to extort money from the academics whose work they publish. After giving you the results of your peer review, which will typically be glowing with praise no matter the quality of your work, they let you know that they would simply love to publish your paper.... for a fee. And it's no small fee either, with the company charging around $20 per page. So let me make this perfectly clear for everyone else in academia; if you come across any of these phishing emails, do not be fooled, just send it straight to the spam box. You can learn more about this contemptible, predatory company over at the Leiter Reports Blog, and the Scholarly Open Access blog.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Musings on two recent UCL conferences: “Popular Antiquities" and “Monstrous Antiquities"

It's been a busy few weeks for me, in part due to two academic conferences both held at my alma mater, the UCL Institute of Archaeology, where I recently completed my master's degree. Now that they've been and gone, I feel that it is time to put down some of my thoughts as to their successes and areas where they could probably do with some improvement, in the hope that those who were unable to attend for whatever reason can get a sense of what they were actually like. 


The third annual "Popular Antiquities: Folklore and Archaeology" conference went ahead on the weekend of the 12 and 13 October, organised jointly by myself, Tina Paphitis, and Dr. Caroline Oates of The Folklore Society (FLS). "Popular Antiquities" first appeared three years ago, when it was set up by Ms Paphitis alongside another UCL doctoral student, Martin Locker. Having since completed his thesis, Dr. Locker has moved on to other things, resulting in my enlistment as co-organiser, although I should stress that I was still the junior partner in the operation, with Ms Paphitis deserving most of the credit. I initially feared that having entered its third year, the conference might have run out of steam, but in hindsight I worried needlessly, and the whole event went very well. Although tickets didn't sell out, attendance was good, and we had an excellent array of papers being presented. Highlights for me included Jeremy Harte's discussion of the moral tales surrounding megaliths and John Clark's paper on votive deposition in the River Thames. However, it was noticeable that the event was dominated by folklorists, and there were points where I was one of the only archaeologists in the room. This is a shame considering that the whole purpose of the event was to bring together the two disciplines, as had successfully happened in previous years. Although many of the attendants were clearly keen to see the event continue for a fourth consecutive year, that might not be possible, considering the fact that over the next 12 months, both myself and Ms Paphitis are going to be at important junctures of our academic careers (she will finish her PhD, and I will hopefully start mine); nevertheless, we hope that it is something that can be revived in future.

"Monstrous Antiquities: Archaeology and the Uncanny in Popular Culture" was held from 1 to 3 November, and was organised by Gabe Moshenska, Tina Paphitis, and John J. Johnson, all three of whom are currently based at UCL in one capacity or another. The first conference of its kind, the event was a sell-out, although unfortunately many UCL students (who could obtain free tickets) failed to show up. Although I had no hand in organising this conference, I did present a paper on the morning of 2 November, titled "To Worship Me, Take Wine and Strange Drugs: Archaeology and Occultism in the Work of Kenneth Anger." I felt that this went very well, and although I didn't get many questions (it was clear that very few members of the audience had ever heard of Anger), I received many positive comments and it may be that I shall repeat this talk for a public audience in future. There are some initial plans to see the papers featured in the conference appearing in a future collected anthology, although if this does not come to fruition, then I will certainly seek to publish my paper in a peer-reviewed journal. Some of my favourite highlights of the conference were James Holloway on the influence of archaeology in the work of H.P. Lovecraft, and Michael Bintley on the use of archaeology and Arthurian legend in Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles, although there were many other great papers exploring the way that archaeology and the uncanny had been incorporated into horror fiction, graphic novels, and computer games. In the likely event that a second "Monstrous Antiquities" is held next year, then I strongly suggest that anyone with an interest in such subjects come along; if you want to get a sense of what the conference was like, check out its Twitter feed over at #uncannyarch.

Part of the importance of these two events, both housed at what is arguably Europe's greatest archaeology department, is that they reflect the sheer diversity that the field encompasses. Archaeology isn't just about looking at pot sherds, soil stratigraphy, and the building up of chronological sequences. It is also about looking at how the past is adopted and used by later peoples, whether that be in folklore or in modern-day literature and media. Archaeology is a vast subject that can tell us about the entire history of our species, and that –– for me –– is why it is so fascinating.