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We are seeking contributions from scholars in anthropology and other related social sciences who have experiences of the occult (witchcraft, ritual magic, divination, charms, conjuring of spirits, etc.) within their families (the familial occult). We are especially interested in scholars who have member(s) of their immediate or extended family who practice or practiced the occult (ritual magic, divination, necromancy, etc.) within the family and/or for the local community. The main question that the volume seeks to address is: How has the presence of the occult in one’s family life affected their epistemological and ontological worlds, as well as their identities as scholars? We are less interested in issues of the occult’s “legitimacy”; issues of “authenticity” can be a red herring that divert attention away from the myriad ways familial occultism can shape hierarchy, power, and knowledge in anthropology, the social sciences, and daily life (Cornish 2005,Handler and Linnekin 1984, Sapir 1924).

In the twenty-first century, the discourse of linear progress and singular modernity has not entirely gone away. The conceptual legacy of the occult relies on, and heavily reflects, Western categories. From postcolonial studies to critical intersectionality, academia is constantly faced with its own limitations in being truly critical of its lens. As a longstanding ubiquitous Other to academia, the occult needs to be understood and employed as a conceptual tool which implies plurality, especially in thinking about ontology and epistemology. As such, academics do not only need to continue dialogue on important themes like variations in practice, colonial and post-colonial encounters, gender and race, but also to explore the many ways in which we have come to understand the occult as being both integral and marginalized in society. By employing critical theory and looking at familial history as a place for making and unmaking discourses of the occult, the current edited volume invokes personal and family life as a space of knowledge-making.

Scope and concerns

While much has been written on encountering the occult in fieldwork or becoming an apprentice, little yet has been published in the academic literature about growing up with the occult. Those with backgrounds in the familial occult often experience a series of conflicting relationships and different ways of interacting with binaries such as the subjective and objective. When the familial occult is delegitimized as a frame of reference for knowledge-making, such binaries can remain both intact and unquestioned. This is because the literature on the occult is generally written by those outside its ontological world—that is, by those who have observed it from some distance, rather than by those for whom the occult has always been part of their daily, domestic life.

How has the presence of the occult in one’s family life affected their epistemological and ontological worlds, as well as their identities as scholars?

In this volume, we intend to follow the path of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (2010)and Dipesh Chakrabarty (2000) by investigating the critical value of often excluded experiences of the hidden, familial occult, to light. These experiences have the potential to challenge and expand Western understandings of the world by adding complexity to some of the standard binaries in anthropology, academia, and Western society at large. The occult is still one of the most important unvoiced cultural Others of the West. While experiences of gender, race, religion, and their many intersections have found their way into the academic literature, the occult has only been given a voice as it is understood by social scientists largely from the West. These scholars have come in contact with the occult most often during their fieldwork, and it has been analyzed mainly through that lens. The lens offered by someone from another culture “becoming native” is of course very important. Yet, the question remains: What has been lost because of there has been no anthropology, autoethnography, or ethnography of the familial occult? What could we learn, and how could we rethink social science and what it defines as worthy of study, by exploring the stories of those born native, not just of those who became native, in their interaction with the occult?

If you are interested in this project, The Familial Occult as Anthropology, Autoethnography and Ethnography, please consider contacting us about a collected volume now in progress at [email protected] and [email protected].

Alexandra Cotofana is a Lecturer at Butler University, with research and teaching interests at the intersection of political and religious anthropology.

Long interested in the roles risk and danger play in complex societies, James M. Nyce is Professor Emeritus Anthropology, Ball State, affiliated professor, Lund University and affiliated researcher, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm.

Rose Wellman is contributing editor for the Society for Humanistic Anthropology.

Cite as: Cotofana, Alexandra and James M. Nyce. 2019. “Call for Papers for Edited Volume, The Familial Occult.” Anthropology News website, June 28, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1194