My postdoctoral period at UCSB ended this past December. For the time being, I have relocated to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), where, among other research duties (I’m co-editing a big handbook on religion and conspiracy theories), I will be continuing work on the Occult Minds project at least until the summer. So, while the project is still unfolding, it is certainly time for an update.
Research Stages – Progress
The project was at the outset divided into a preparatory phase followed by three main stages. Using this division to gauge my progress over the past two years, the self-assessment looks something like this (complete with phony percent measures):
- Theoretical preparatory work: 100% complete. (Fully researched and article published.)
- Forms of Thought: 100% complete. (Fully researched and chapters/articles drafted.)
- Heterodox Knowledge: 66% complete. (This part still requires some more research. I estimate it’s 2/3rds done, in terms of the time needed for it)
- Claims to Gnosis: 80% complete. (Most research has been done, but some work remains for drafting the results and integrating it with the overarching framework).
In terms of output, the project has so far resulted in three peer reviewed articles in top religious studies journals (published or accepted for publication), and eight papers and lectures delivered at various conferences and workshops. (Details are recorded on the results page). One of these articles, “Reverse-Engineering ‘Esotericism’”, is the polished, critiqued, and published outcome of the preparatory stage of the project. It is, I believe, the first systematic attempt to situate “esotericism” as a possible object of study for the cognitive science of religion. Another article (“Experience as Event”) is co-authored with Ann Taves, and uses the interdisciplinary framework of event cognition to look at how people process experiences, attribute various characteristics to them and label them in various ways (e.g.. “religious”, “mystical”, “psychotic”, “delusional”). It will soon appear as a target article in Religion, Brain, and Behavior, with nine commentaries by specialists and a response from Ann and myself.
A number of other outcomes and related publications are currently in the pipeline. Here is a list of the most important projects that are scheduled for completion this spring:
- Building Blocks Website. Ann Taves and I have been working on a website that introduces the building block approach to connecting culture and cognition that we have been refining over the past two years. It will function as a resource for students and researchers alike, focused on introduction of key terms, explanations of how they relate to each other, discussions of theoretical contexts, and links to applications and research tools for specific methods.
- Aries special issue on esotericism and CSR. Together with Markus Altena Davidsen I am editing a special issue for the leading esotericism journal, Aries, focusing on the possibilities afforded by approaching esotericism from a CSR perspective. Markus and I are currently working on the first round of editorial reviews, and will proceed later this year with our editor’s introduction. Expected publication is still some time off, though, in winter 2017.
- Book manuscript, Occult Minds. The main outcome of the project is a book manuscript – tightly tied up with the research stages discussed above. I have a dialogue with Stanford University Press, and will submit the first test chapters this spring. At present, the entire manuscript is about 75% drafted (excluding necessary revisions).
- Articles on individual topics. At present, three articles intended for individual submission are partially drafted – one on the cultivation of mental imagery in esotericism, another on reassessing the “sociology of the occult”, and a third on a cognitive approach to “secrecy” in the context of esotericism. I hope to submit at least two of these before the summer.
All in all, there is still much to keep busy with – stay tuned for further updates.