The University of Exeter is making academic history with its announcement to offer the UK’s first postgraduate degree focused on magic and the occult. Starting from September 2024, the programme aims to explore the intricate relations between witchcraft, magic, and their impact on society and science.
Led by Professor Emily Selove, the course promises to be a rich interdisciplinary experience, tapping into history, literature, philosophy, archaeology, sociology, psychology, drama, and religion. Selove emphasises that this programme arrives at a time of renewed interest in magical and occult subjects, both within academia and in the broader culture. According to her, these studies touch on critical issues such as decolonisation, alternative ways of knowing, feminism, and anti-racism.
“The study of magic and the occult helps to address some of the most pressing questions of our time. Dismissing these subjects only sidesteps a rich and multifaceted aspect of human history and culture,” Selove said.
The professor also noted that magic is much more prevalent in everyday life than many may assume, pointing to common practices such as wearing lucky charms or following rituals to bring good fortune. She stated, “A quick look around shows that magic is more integrated into our lives than we often realise. Responsible academia should study this seriously.”
Despite the surge in interest, the course has not escaped criticism. Critics have dubbed the degree as a “waste of money” and questioned the value of the programme in terms of future employability. In response, Selove emphasised the critical thinking, analytical skills, and unique perspectives that the course would offer.
“It’s time to challenge the assumption that the West is the cradle of rationalism while other cultures are steeped in superstition and magic. This course allows us to explore a wide array of alternative narratives,” she stated.
The course offers a range of modules including studies on dragons in western literature, the legend of King Arthur, and the philosophy of psychedelics. Students have the option to take a more traditional academic approach to their dissertations or to engage in performative works as part of their final projects.
The University of Exeter is not alone in offering unusual postgraduate courses. Other universities have programmes in psychedelic studies, superyacht design, and worldbuilding with creature design, to name just a few.
The University of Exeter’s initiative could well mark a watershed moment in academic history. By taking what is often dismissed as “fringe” seriously, it opens up an avenue for more holistic, nuanced discussions and understandings of subjects that have been sidelined for too long. With over 100 inquiries already made, it’s clear that there is an eager audience awaiting the course’s official launch.