On a lecture occasion, I was asked by the lecturer, do you believe in Karomah (supernatural privileges possessed by the chosen ones)?. I replied that I believed it. The lecturer explained that as academics, we cannot use personal tendencies in believing in the supernatural by directly stating absolute belief. The most appropriate step is to say that people believe that A has Karomah by including interview sources for several respondents.
Other lecturers also conveyed the same thing by illustrating about a society that he had researched having the same dream about one thing. Based on the interview data, he presented it as a study of the phenomenon of dreams. The two examples above can be seen in Amira’s work, which also offers academic writings that can be accounted for based on scientific sources.
When news of Occult Studies at the University of Exeter appeared on the Instagram homepage, many assumed that Occult Studies would mould occult practitioners. This is not quite right. Given the pre-existing academic work and looking at information regarding Occult Studies at the University of Exeter, Occult Studies aims to explore the impact of Witchcraft and the Occult, which has directly been an essential element of every human civilization from the past to the present.
Occult Studies at the University of Exeter will begin in September 2024. The University of Exeter in the UK opens a course with a concentration in magic and occult sciences for the master’s level. This is a new chapter for a science that has been marginalized and considered a science that cannot be categorized as part of science. In the explanation of the department on the University website, it is stated that this department aims to explore interdisciplinary magic rituals that exist in world civilization, such as in Greek and Roman civilization, Occult sciences that exist in major Judaic, Christian, and Islamic religions, magic literature including folklore, magic-based health sciences, and related topics.
An academic work describing how Occult Studies works can be seen in Amira El-Zein’s 2009 work Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn. This book explains to the Western world that the religion of Islam does not merely contain fundamental teachings such as jihad and the veil that Western scholars always discuss but also discusses the two creations of God, man and Jinn, whom he calls intellectual beings. Amira packs her work with scientific methodology sourced from Classical Islamic literature, Islamic folklore, and Sufism studies.
The research technique of Occult Studies will have pros and cons. As part of academics, it will undoubtedly undergo a validity test to determine whether the practice of witchcraft, myths, and supernatural experiences can be repeated and experienced by everyone, not just as a personal experience.
The easiest thing in presenting occult studies is to find the motive behind it. A study that departs from the question of whether supernatural things are deliberately made with a specific purpose. For example, the lecturer who asked questions about Karomah stated that sometimes Karomah is not a gift from God but something deliberately created to gain political and religious authority in a society. As another illustration, I have heard a story about a haunted tree that is said to be believed to be a sacred tree because it has astral creatures. The story was passed down from generation to generation. The real reason why the tree is sacred is to keep the springs in the area. A scientific study that takes a historical approach also states that ghosts are deliberately created. Like the ghost of Kuntilanak, which is closely related to the history of the VOC and Pontianak Sultanate in West Kalimantan and is considered part of urban legends.
Occult Studies is also susceptible to being considered a pseudo-science. However, on the other hand, it is also an interesting new discourse for courses that have been marginalized. The birth of the exploratory spirit of the researchers of Occult Studies will be an important foundation. This research will be descriptive without revealing the motives behind it, while other research on occult studies will lead to proof of the motives hidden behind it. Both conflicts, contestations, and negotiations are the source of the creation of supernatural things with certain aims and purposes.
As a person who lives in the midst of Indonesian culture, which is thick with magical stories, I realized that people’s lives cannot be separated from mystical stories in everyday life. On the other hand, religious values and norms that directly teach that there is life other than human life also foster beliefs about the unseen. Certainly, every region in Indonesia has its own mystical story. With the presence of space for Occult Studies, it becomes an appropriate academic forum.
The label of Occult Studies with anthropological methodology will be beneficial in distinguishing it from false science (Pseudo Science). Occult Studies depart from mystical beliefs that grow and develop in human life. Pseudo-science is false science that was created as if it were part of science from the beginning.
These two different bases will provide different perspectives. Occult studies tend to be considered just certain beliefs that are well explained with anthropological and historical approaches with ethnographic techniques that will be able to reveal the impact of mystical beliefs in society.