July 13, 2022
Cavan McLaughlin on Trans- States: Participant-Scholarship and the Boundaries of the Academy
In another interview reflecting on the state of the academic study of western esotericism, we speak with Cavan McLaughlin, Principle Investigator of a project called Trans- States. The conversation concentrates especially on the Trans- States conference, a difficult-to-pigeonhole meeting of the academic study of western esotericism, practice-based research into esoteric fields, and just plain esotericism, with strong lashings of art and performance, held for several years now (minus the ‘lost years’ of the pandemic) at the university of Northampton. The conversation will interest anyone working in the field or just interested in where the field might be headed in coming years.
We discuss, among other matters, the sociological term ‘occulture’, useful for describing the nexus between occult ideas and practices and popular culture at large, with their mutual feedbacks, and the ways in which scholarly works on esoteric topics are routinely received and used by esoteric practitioners (making scholarship part of the occultural discourse-community). Turning to method and practice, we talk about the roots of the academic study of western esotericism in the methodologies of History of Religions, and the question of how far the field can be stretched or even subverted to bring in other (equally-valid) academic methodologies. The interview finishes with some reflections on the fundamental similarities between a great conference and a great party.
Cavan McLaughlin is a Senior Lecturer in Media Communications at the University of the West of England (UWE), with research interests related to the role and function of occulture. Editor of the recent volume Trans-States: The Art of Crossing Over (2019), Cavan has also published on Crowley, solar symbolism and narrative, open-source occultism and contemporary occulture. Currently undertaking a PhD in occulture and occultural production, Cavan remains a practicing filmmaker, artist and all-around creative media practitioner. As a media professional of over twenty years, he has been involved in almost all aspects of audiovisual production, specialising in video art, music videos and visual poetry. He is the founder and Chair of Trans- States and co-founder, and editorial board member, of Monad: Journal of Transformative Practice. Cavan has a profound affection for cows, fungi and rainbows.
Works Cited in this Interview:
- The journal Aries is brought out by Brill, and is one of the best peer-reviewed publications devoted to the scholarly study of western esotericism.
- Hans Dieter Betz. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, volume 1. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1996.
- Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Jean-Pierre Brach, and Marco Pasi. Antoine Faivre (1934–2021):
The Insider as Outsider. Aries, 22(2):167–204, 2022.
- Jeffery Kripal and Whitley Strieber. The Super Natural: Why the Unexplained is Real.
Penguin/Random House, New York, NY, 2017.
- Tanya Luhrman. Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1989.
- Christopher Partridge. The Re-Enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occulture, volume 1. T and T Clark, London/New York, NY, 2004.
- Idem. The Re-Enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occulture, volume 2. T and T Clark, London/New York, NY, 2005.
- Marco Pasi. Review of The Handbook of Contemporary Paganism. Journal of Religion
in Europe, 3:375–92, 2010.
Keywords: Occulture, Occult, Psychedelics, Interview, Antoine Faivre, Aleister Crowley, Magick, Eranos, Western Esotericism