Thursday, July 3, 2014

‘Exeter nixes EXESESO’

The Spring issue of ESSWE Newsletter, the periodical of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism, reports the closure of Exeter University’s Centre for the Study of Esotericism. The text of the article is reproduced below.
(h/t Mark Stavish.)

Exeter MA in Western Esotericism
and EXESESO Close

By Mark Sedgwick

Exeter University has announced the closure of the Exeter M.A. in Western Esotericism and of the Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism (EXESESO). Both were started in 2005 by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, whose early death in 2012 triggered the closure of the program and of EXESESO.

The program and EXESESO opened in 2005, with Goodrick-Clarke as professor and a number of part-time lecturers, including Peter Forshaw (who now teaches in the Amsterdam M.A. program), Hereward Tilton, Clare Goodrick-Clarke, and Christopher A. McIntosh. It was the third European program of the kind, joining Paris and Amsterdam, from which it differed in that it was a part-time distance-learning program, taken over two years. It was supported financially by the Blavatsky Trust, a British charity set up in 1974 “to advance education in and promote or further the study of or research into religion, philosophy, and science” in cooperation with the Theosophical Society in England.

The program started with eight students, and within five years had admitted more than ninety M.A. students and several Ph.D. students. By 2012, five Ph.D. dissertations had been completed (one on Theosophy), and eight were in process (two on Theosophy). A small cloud over the program’s success was cast by occasional rumors of lack of rigor and of some students failing to distinguish clearly enough between academic study and their own personal practice, however, and according to a senior researcher who preferred to remain anonymous, Exeter was not entirely happy with the program. It consisted of a number of optional modules and two required modules before the thesis, one on “The Western Esoteric Traditions: Historical Survey and Research Methods” and one on “Theosophy and the Globalization of Esotericism.” This perhaps gave Theosophy a slightly more prominent position than some would see as appropriate, but only slightly, as the role that Theosophy has played in the development of modern Western Esotericism has certainly been major.

Goodrick-Clarke’s early death in 2012 marked the beginning of the end. According to Exeter’s press office, the decision to close the center and program followed “an internal review and discussions with the [Blavatsky] Trust,” and Goodrick-Clarke’s death “sat alongside consideration for the program as a whole.” Exeter’s press office was unable to comment on the conclusions of the internal review, but there were suggestions that it was not entirely positive. Exeter has made arrangements for the centre’s remaining Ph.D. students to complete their projects in the history department, where there are still scholars working on related subjects, such as Richard Noakes, whose research interests include Victorian psychical research, and Catherine Rider, who recently published Magic and Religion in Medieval England. But Europe now once more has only two M.A. programs in Western Esotericism, not three, which is an unfortunate setback for the development of the study of Western Esotericism in Europe.

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