Guest post by Richard Rawlins,

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and member of the Magic Circle.

Aka Professor Riccardo, Consultant Charlatan and Specialist in the Care of the Gullible.

Many readers of this blog will be delighted that in September 2024, the University of Exeter will offer a degree in ‘magic’. An MA in ‘Magic and Occult Science’ has been created following a “recent surge in interest in magic”, the course leader said. Exeter University officials advise the course will offer “an opportunity to study the history and impact of witchcraft and magic around the world on society and science”. And they should know.

Exeter was the first (and so far, only) university to establish a department to conduct coherent research into ‘complementary and alternative medicine’. No plausible evidence was found to support any of the many ‘therapies’ investigated in Exeter, but publication of this research was particularly disagreeable to the Fellow of the Royal Society who was patron of the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health. The department was closed, with the dismissal of the eminent professor who wrote to the Times “the majority of alternative therapies appear to be clinically ineffective, and many are downright dangerous.”

Today, the university says its planned course is “one of the only postgraduate courses of its kind in the UK to combine the study of the history of magic with such a wide range of subjects taught by academics with expertise in history, literature, philosophy, archaeology, sociology, psychology, drama, and religion.” It is expected “to show the role of magic on the West and the East.”

The course leader Prof Emily Selove, claimed “A recent surge in interest in magic and the occult inside and outside of academia lies at the heart of the most urgent questions of our society.” Here the professor is using hyperbole which is also common amongst the camists who promote so-called ‘complementary and alternative medicine’.

‘Modern magic’ is found in two dimensions: the skills of deceit, deception and delusion created by such as Paul Daniels, Tommy Cooper, Luke Jermay, and Derren Brown, and used for entertainment; and the esoteric philosophical domain which this course will consider – and which is often spelt ‘Magick’. This spelling was introduced by Aleister Crowley to afford some differentiation, though context usually makes it clear whether a double lift and Elmsley count is being discussed, or metaphysics. Crowley was largely associated with other founders of ‘religions’ such as Wicca’s Gerald Gardner and Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard. A six-letter word has special significance for many occultists.

The study of religions and the sociology of the occult are worthy objectives of an academic department, but Emily Selove (an aptronym surely), not only uses hyperbole, but personal predilection to establish that “decolonisation, the exploration of alternative epistemologies, feminism and anti-racism are at the core of this programme.” She ventures even further off piste when declaring “this MA will allow people to re-examine the assumption that the West is the place of rationalism and science, while the rest of the world is a place of magic and superstition.”

Assumptions indeed, which Prof Selove has conjured for herself. Speculative opinion with no evidence whatsoever, and seemingly oblivious of the fact that all reputable Western scholars throughout history have been aware of science’s development in the ‘rest of the world’, albeit slowly. Astronomy, gunpowder, papermaking, the use of zero as a number, Musa al-Khwarizmi’s Al-jabr, every branch of science imaginable. There is no ‘Western science’, just ‘science’. (Latin: scientia, knowledge, understanding.)

Interestingly, the course on Magic will be offered in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies. The university said the course “could prepare students for careers in teaching, counselling, mentoring, heritage and museum work, work in libraries, tourism, arts organisations or the publishing industry, among other areas of work.” Given students will be able to choose modules on ‘Dragons in western literature and art’, ‘the legend of King Arthur’, and the ‘depiction of women in the Middle Ages’, they should have satisfying careers ahead.

Good luck, and may the Wu be with them all (Chinese, wu: nothingness.)


4 Responses to The University of Exeter will offer a degree in ‘magic’

  • Is this so very different to a degree in theology? If there is merit in the study of theology then perhaps in magic too?

    • I’ll go along with that, as long as no one pretends that studying either theology or magic tells you about anything other than the history and literature of what people have believed about gods and magical powers. Ie you are not actually studying gods or magical powers because they don’t exist. But people’s beliefs and books do exist and can be studied.

      I’m not sure if there is ‘merit’ in it but I can see why some find it interesting.

  • Ah, wonderful! I’m particularly looking forward to a productive, cordial and above all gastronomically rich partnership with Ankh-Morpork’s Unseen University – where they already have perfectly ordinary magic to deal with many of life’s little annoyances (such as having to refill your glass from a decanter by physically lifting it).
    Oh, before I forget: when is U of E’s Annual 12-Course Dinner?

  • Study: Good.
    But my concern is at Prof Seloves entirely speculative claim that:
    “This MA will allow people to re-examine the assumption that the West is the place of rationalism and science, while the rest of the world is a place of magic and superstition.”

    Just who assumes that?

    And: ““A recent surge in interest in magic and the occult inside and outside of academia lies at the heart of the most urgent questions of our society.”
    War, famine, destitution, climate change – and ‘magic and the occult’ lie at their heart?

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