The Black Helicopter

Random ramblings

A bit of necromancy and a bit of methodology

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This blog has been dead for two years. As I said in another post, I have never been much of a diary writer. I will try one last attempt at re-animation, under a new name, in English and with fewer ambitions. Hopefully all my random notes will be published here instead of post-it notes on the office wall. To get this rolling, I have pasted two entries I made on a mailing list on magic – see http://www.sasm.co.uk/.

I would like to defend the “supposedly methodologically atheist” approach in esotericism studies and in the study of religion in general.

I think there are two problems with mixing things up too much. First of all, we shouldn’t conflate the research situation and the communication of this research situation. In line with Karl Popper, the context of discovery and the context of validation are two different pies. I have no problem with academics using magic to gain insights, as I have no problems with academics using any and all other techniques in their “personal quest”. In this sense, we can compare science and magic. But I do have a problem with a lack of “translation”, for lack of a better word, into “academese”. To use magic as eg. an experiential argument or a channeling of some entity as a source, I think a very important academic boundary has been breached. Academic knowledge is based on collective critical discussion, and that becomes rather difficult.

This is related to my second point. I think there are very good reasons to delimit science as a specific epistemological quest, so to speak. Thus art, religion, performance etc. are as valid as science in the grand scheme of things. But this is exactly why we should also protect critical discussion or science as a discursive construction; it is *not* magic. If we can respect magic, we should respect science too.

Every discipline has legitimate ways of framing and studying reality, as do participants. But every discipline also buys into the general justification framework of academia itself; journals and conferences with peer review, footnotes, consistency, coherence in argument etc. I am not saying that it is perfect or the only way to talk about reality, but it is the academic way, and we do so to guarantee a level of intersubjective understanding. And this is the crucial point: tolerance and respect should not put an end to critical discussion within and between disciplines. Because of the same framework, criticism is possible and indeed necessary for academic knowledge to expand and deepen.

One of the problems with postmodern criticisms of objectivity is that it often retains the very ambition of positivism, total objectivity, while stating its impossibility. This tragic position is romantic, but not very practical. Why not drop the ambition of total universality as well? Situated science is still perfectly viable and built on negotiated boundaries that seem to work. In reality, nothing is pure, but there is no need to give up – we should be allowed to work as we see fit, yes, but also to criticize the findings, as they are temporary, provisional and only the best we have.

Oh, and to continue a good thing: The last movie I saw was District 9 and I just finished a re-reading of Anger’s Hollywood Babylon – what a book!

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Written by Jesper

March 4, 2010 at 15:18

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