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Academics and Theosophy

Feb 20, 1994 02:50 PM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins


     Thanks for the catalogue upload.  They seem to have
collected together everything available that relates to the more
sensational side of the occult.  I wonder if this is part of the
"Kaos Magic" group in or near Santa Barbara.  Several years ago,
a former student went up there to check them out and gave a
report on them for the Los Angeles Center for Theosophic Studies
(L.A.C.T.S.).  He is a pretty open and liberal person, but found
the group a bit too kinky even for him.  The sex magic was a bit
too strange for his sensibilities.

     Per your request, I've pasted your question below and
answered it on theos-l.  Regarding e-mailing stuff to you--I got
an answer from our koko person who says that the location looks
wrong.  John Mead had made the same observation, but for some
reason he can get through to you.  Anyway, I'm still looking into

> This reminds me to ask you a question I had about these
> professors that are on the editorship of JTH.  What
> do these people teach at the various Universities? I
> may be interested in pursuing 'esotericism' as a full
> time occupation at some point in the future, and am
> wondering what may be a good way to earn my livelihood
> if and when I do that!  Any and all thoughts/ideas are
> welcome. This may be good discussion for theos-l anyways,
> so pl do respond via theos-l (not that I have forgotten
> the difficulty that you have had to e-mail stuff to me
> directly).  : (  is probably appropriate here!

     Teaching at a University is a wonderful way to earn a living
if you can find the work.  Right now there are not very many jobs
open, but that may change soon.  You need to love to teach, and
be willing to work for less money then you would have been
earning in industry.  You can't get a position without a Ph.D.
anymore--at least not in California.  However, I understand that
positions in the deep South are easier to find (like in Missouri),
because people don't want to go there.  I think you told someone
over the net that you are 42.  That is a little late to start a
teaching career unless you already have a Ph.D.  You may get
lectureship positions at various Universities, but the pay will be
very low with no benefits.  The other route to take at our age (I'm
47) is to get the degree anyway and do a lot of publishing to make
a name for yourself in your field.  If you succeed in making a
name, then you will be in demand and will be able to cut better

     As for pursuing esotericism as a full time occupation in
academia, this is very unlikely.  But Professors who are
interested in this find ways to express their interests

     I don't know all of the people Dr. Santucci has put on as
Associate Editors.  A couple are new, and live quite far away. I
probably won't be meeting them until the next conference.  But
here is some information on those whom I know:

     John Cooper is a visiting lecturer at the U. of Sydney, and
lives in Australia.  He stayed with us for a week while he was in
this country a few years ago, and we talked almost non stop,
swapping tales for the whole time.  He is one of the most
knowledgeable people I know regarding 19th century Theosophical
History.  His other big interest is Buddhism, and lectures on this
at the Universities. Currently, John is working on his doctoral
thesis, the history of theosophy in Australia.  He is also editing
the Blavatsky letters, which will appear soon in about three

     April Hejka-Ekins is my wife.  She received her doctorate in
Public Administration at U.S.C., and her area of research is in
the teaching of ethics.  She has a tenured teaching position at
C.S.U. Stanislaus, where they offer a masters degree in Public
Administration.  The classes she teaches have nothing to do with
the occult, though she occasionally teaches ethics, where she is
able to slip in theosophical ideas from time to time.

     As for myself, I'm presently working on a master's degree in
English Literature, and about 1/3 of the way through.  I'm also
teaching a writing class at the same University.  But this is a
short time position, that will last only about a year or so.  My
Master's thesis will probably be Theosophical, since I already have
a lot of documents in this area.  I haven't committed to a specific
area yet.  Otherwise, I have a mail order business selling used
and scarce books of theosophical interest.

     Robert Ellwood is the Chair of the Dept. of Religion at
U.S.C.. He teaches classes in religion and has published several
books on American and Eastern Religion--some of them have
sections on Theosophy. He is also a member of T.S.A.

     Joscelyn Godwin teaches in New York. I never met him, so
only know him through reputation and correspondence.  He is very
interested in the Occult movement and mythology and has published
a lot in these areas.

     J. Gordon Milton has his own organization associated with
the U.S.C. Santa Barbara.  I met him for the first time two or
three years ago, and we talked for a couple of hours.  His
primary interest is in religious movements, and has been
publishing a series through Garland.  He is particularly
interested in the fringe Bishops that have broken away from the
Church and started their own things.  The Theosophical Liberal
Catholic Church is an example of this.

     Leslie Price is the founder of Theosophical History.  He
lives in England and I never met him, except via phone.  But from
working indirectly with him on the Journal, I can say that he is
an extraordinary researcher, who has an amazing knack at finding
obscure documents etc. that others have missed.  He does not work
for a University, but rather for the commercial world.

     Gregory Tillett is another Australian.  I met him two or
three years ago and we spent several hours together talking about
history and his experiences at Adyar, but I never got around to
inquiring much about his personal background.  I know he has a
doctorate, which he earned from writing the Leadbeater Biography.
He has extraordinary historical knowledge of the Theosophical
Movement in the early twentieth century.

     James Santucci is the Chair of the Dept. of Religion and
Linguistics at C.S.U. Fullerton. He has published a couple
seminar papers on theosophy.  He is committed to making the
theosophical movement an acceptable subject of academic research,
and has come a long way in doing so.

     Robert Boyd and Karen Claire Voss are new on the staff, and
I haven't become acquainted with them yet.

     As far as I know, the only time that Theosophy has ever been
taught as an accredited course in a University, was by Dr.
Santucci at C.S.U. Fullerton.  It was only taught for the one
semester.  I have a syllabus for this course somewhere.  It was
undergraduate level, but more rigorous than some Master's level
courses I've seen.  April and I guest lectured for it.

     So, if you want to pursue the occult academically, it would
have to be done with a much more critical stance than you have
been willing to demonstrate in our recent correspondence, and
probably you would have to pursue areas of inquiry that you have
shown little or no interest in.  Almost every academic I have ever
met who is interested in the Theosophical Movement, have a
historical and interdisciplinary interest in it.  They look at the
origins and cross fertilization of ideas.  The existence of the
Masters (and most everything else that is basic to the TM) is not
accepted at face value as being true--at least not as promoted by
theosophical organizations.  In other words, I suspect you might
find academia a bit disappointing.

     The TH journal has an interesting combination of academics
and theosophists as subscribers.  I think you might be very
surprised if you saw the quantity of negative correspondence we
have received from theosophists objecting to our publishing of
research and documentation that comes to conclusions contrary to
their own beliefs--or worse yet, our publishing of
uncomplimentary information about theosophical leaders that some
of our readers know to be true, but believe should be kept
hidden.  Look at Paul Johnson's postings concerning his complaints
about the negative feedback he gets from his research.  I'm not
referring to criticism concerning methodology, but asinine attacks
such as his being the "agent of black magicians" etc.  Paul is not
exaggerating, these occult organizations are full of people who
hear voices and believe themselves to be in touch with the masters.
One former student of ours left the state and joined a Lodge in a
major city.  She suggested that they start a ~Secret Doctrine~
study group: something they had never done before.  The President
finally OKed the suggestion, and said that he would lecture to them
on ~The Secret Doctrine~ based upon inside information that he
receives from the Tibetan Masters on the astral Plane!  Needless to
say, she quite the Lodge.  One's credibility can be stretched only
so far.  Occult organizations are full of people like this Lodge
President, sometimes they even become major influences in them--or
sometimes the leaders.  I believe the effect of these unbalanced
and self deluded people have had on the Theosophical Movement has
been a major reason for theosophy to move from the direction of
academic acceptance to ridicule.  You will have to do a lot more
study of theosophical history before you will be able to appreciate
the full impact of what I mean here.

     Teaching Bailey or Blavatsky, like one would teach Hume or
Hegel is just not done.  Even Dr. Santucci's course in Theosophy
was bent more towards historicism and its connection to other
areas, such as literature etc.  The texts he had them use were
academic and critical.  They were not what would have been
sanctioned by the theosophical organizations.  As for teachings,
they received only cursory attention.  Remember, the purpose of
liberal studies (By this I mean: English, Philosophy, Cultural
Studies etc.) in American University system, is not to stuff
students with knowledge, but to teach them to challenge what they
have learned--to learn discrimination.

     Academics who publish books in the occult field, usually do
so on the side.  The tone of these works are more objective and
usually unacceptable to the organizations written about.  It is not
that Academia is closed to the occult per se--they are just closed
to anything that is expressed in a religious paradigm.  Blind
faith, rituals etc. all are part of a greater paradigm that assumes
an authoritative hierarchy.  Humanity has been victim to this
paradigm for thousands of years and has suffered for it with the
marginalization of women and other "minorities."  Ironically,
Blavatsky worked to break this paradigm, but her followers worked
even harder to reinstitute it.  Now, very few people are even aware
of H.P.B.'s stance and efforts.

     One way to pursue esotericism professionally independently of
academia, is simply to write and publish books.  Many people with
little education do this.  Others who are educated, but hold
beliefs that would be open to ridicule academically, also publish
books through non academic presses.  Much of it is garbage from an
academic point of view, but that doesn't affect the sale of these
works.  There is a huge audience of readers of the occult who don't
know the difference between psychic babblings and research.  They
also couldn't care less.

     I hope this answers your questions, and perhaps it will
create some comments.  If I find time this long weekend, I will
try to address your responses on theos-roots.

Jerry Hejka-Ekins

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