Thursday 14 January 2021

Islamic Occult Studies Working Group, March–December 2021

Guest post by Matthew Melvin-Koushki:

The study of Islamic occultism and esotericism as an interdisciplinary field has grown with astonishing rapidity over the last several years, as showcased in recent volumes, conferences and workshops. Due to this rapid growth, however, we do not yet have a full database of Islamicists working either wholly or partially on matters occult. Impelled by the exigencies of 2020-2021, which has seen the canceling or moving online of our events (including the wonderful December ENSIE conference), the formation of such a database would seem to be the most productive way of moving the field forward while we wait out the pandemic and its socioeconomic aftermath.

In lieu of the “Islamic Occult Studies on the Rise” symposium, organized by myself, Matthew Melvin-Koushki, and Noah Gardiner, that was to take place at the University of South Carolina last March, and whose funding remains available, we therefore propose a nine-month working group. It will consist of one three-hour meeting per month, beginning this March and going to December, with a month's break in the summer. Keeping with the spirit of our original plan, each meeting will showcase the work primarily of junior scholars in the field, with mid-career and more senior folks acting as chairs and discussants, with some exceptions based on theme.

Each meeting will feature two panels, each of which will consist of two 15-minute talks followed by a half hour of moderated conversation. There will be short breaks in between, and each meeting will conclude with a "happy hour" for those who'd like to stay on and chew the fat or otherwise network with old friends and new, including in private breakout rooms. Rather than being traditional conference papers, the 15-minute talks are intended as opportunities for presenters to briefly summarize their current research trajectory and questions as fodder for extended discussion. Each presenter will also be asked to submit a 1,000-word blog post summarizing their research, which will be published – in citable format – on the new Islamic Occult Studies working group website, (currently under construction). To further sweeten the deal, presenters who are grad students or postdocs will receive a $300 honorarium.

We realize that not everyone will be able or desire to attend every monthly meeting, but do ask that those interested attend as many as is feasible, so we can achieve critical mass at and continuity between each. Given the large number of invitees, however, it will be difficult to find a day and time that works for everyone. If the final schedule doesn't quite fit yours, feel free to come and go as necessary, or even pop in for the happy hour only. But we propose the third or fourth Friday of each month (with exceptions for MESA and AAR), from March onward, as the most likely bet. Being the day of Venus, it also accords well with our happy hour theme! And to make it accessible for everyone interested, we propose a start time of 11 am EST (UTC -5:00) [17:00 CET], so most folks from California and British Columbia to Iran and India will be able to join during waking hours.

We've created a poll to this effect. Even if you're not sure of your schedule yet, please do indicate all the Fridays you might be able to attend (two clicks on the box), just for our planning purposes. And if the 11 am EST timeslot doesn't work for you on a given Friday, but a later or earlier timeslot does, please let us know that as well in the comments: Based on your responses, we'll start putting together the working group program, and send out speaker and chair invitations.

The plan, in short, is to use this working group to a) create a mutual support network, and b) compile a Who's Who in the study of Islamic occultism and esotericism for easy reference by specialists and nonspecialists alike. Now that the field, astonishingly, boasts many dozens of invested scholars internationally, most of them nontenured, we figure it's time to strike while the iron's hot, and show each other and the larger academic community exactly what we're all up to. For those of us on the job market, it will also serve as a handy database of like-minded scholars we can turn to for reference letters, tenure and promotion letters, reviewer suggestions, research collaborations, etc. Likewise, this working group will involve publication opportunities, most likely in the form of one or more special issues of Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft.

Note that this working group is not open to the public. If your scholarly focus is wholly or partially on Islamic occultism and esotericism, please fill out the above poll, then contact me with a brief description of your work and interests at, and I’ll add you to the ever-growing roster!