Underlying Themes of Occult Practices Explored in Next Honors Preview

The course will begin in ancient Greece, looking at Plato and Aristotle, and proceed to modern day practices.
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The course will begin in ancient Greece, looking at Plato and Aristotle, and proceed to modern day practices.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – In most peoples' minds, the word "occult" conjures dark, mysterious images. To Timothy R. Landry, assistant professor of anthropology and religious studies at Connecticut's Trinity College, the word simply means "hidden."

"Occultists believe that there's an underlying truth to the world that is mysteriously hidden to most of us," Landry explained "We're all occultists, in a sense, because we all want to look under the hood of the universe. We want to see how the universe works."

Landry will examine the significance of a wide range of occult practices in a public lecture, "Witchcraft," which will be offered via Zoom at 5:15 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 12. If you are interested, please fill out this online form to gain access to the lecture. 

Landry's lecture will preview his January 2021 intersession seminar on witchcraft, a course in which students will begin to unravel the occult's hidden role in the formation of American society, especially as it relates to issues of class, race, gender and nationality. 

Landry hopes organizing the class this way will help students deconstruct their biases regarding the occult.

"When you take these things and decenter them out of what look like bizarre rituals, you start seeing the world differently," he said. 

Landry said that he isn't trying to change students' minds or convince them of one thing or another.

"Ruth Benedict, a very famous anthropologist, once said that the purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences," Landry said. 

"I think exposure is how we show people, particularly young students, that the world is made up of people with a huge, enormous spectrum of beliefs. I think that civilization is measured in the way that we treat people who are different from us." 

Drawing heavily on feminist theory and anthropological studies, the course will position magic as a meaningful cultural practice that is critical to understanding how people mobilize complex symbolic systems to manage increasing concerns over social inequity, global economic insecurity and distrust. The course will be especially timely in the wake of 2020's turbulent events. Landry said that many people turn to magic in times of upheaval.

"As humans, we can handle good things," Landry said. "We can handle bad news really well. But what we can't handle is uncertainty. Uncertainty throws us into spins. Magic enables us to stop that spin, psychologically."

Landry earned his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013. He is the recipient of the 2019 Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion. 

In his recent book, Vodún: Secrecy and the Search for Divine Power (2019, University of Pennsylvania Press) he explores the ways in which ritual secrecy helps to propel West African religions such as Vodún onto the global stage.

Most recently, Landry spent six months in Bénin, West Africa, as a Fulbright Scholar. There, he began a project focusing on witchcraft, magic and sorcery in which he sought to expand current anthropological understandings of magic by moving beyond the symbolic in order to consider the ways in which indigenous considerations of being and personhood shape and inform magical practice in a post-colonial society. 

In addition to his research in Africa, Landry has enjoyed a long-held interest in the occult. In the future, he hopes to highlight this interest in a new research project focusing on the magical lives of American and European witches. 


The Honors College brings in leading scholars from other institutions to teach some of its Signature Seminars. Landry's Witchcraft, a January 2021 intersession course, will be followed by three seminars scheduled for spring 2021. Other topics will include:

  • Conservatism, taught by Jay P. Greene, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Education Reform in the College of Education and Health Professions.
  • Food Matters, taught by Margaret Sova McCabe, dean of the School of Law; Jennie Popp, associate dean of the Honors College and co-chair of the university's Service Learning Initiative; and Curt Rom, associate dean for international education within the Graduate School and International Education. 
  • Global Social Change, taught by Rogelio Garcia Contreras, clinical faculty member in social innovation and social entrepreneurship at the Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Venture Innovation in the Sam M. Walton College of Business; Laurence Hare, associate professor of history and director of the International and Global Studies Program in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences; and Jared Phillips, teaching assistant professor of International Studies in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. 

Deans of each college may nominate professors to participate in this program, and those who are selected to teach will become Dean's Fellows in the Honors College. 

Honors students must apply to participate, and those selected will be designated Dean's Signature Scholars. The course application is posted online on the Signature Seminars web page. The deadline to apply is Friday, Oct. 30. 

About the Honors College: The University of Arkansas Honors College was established in 2002 and brings together high-achieving undergraduate students and the university's top professors to share transformative learning experiences. Each year the Honors College awards up to 90 freshman fellowships that provide $72,000 over four years, and more than $1 million in undergraduate research and study abroad grants. The Honors College is nationally recognized for the high caliber of students it admits and graduates. Honors students enjoy small, in-depth classes, and programs are offered in all disciplines, tailored to students' academic interests, with interdisciplinary collaborations encouraged. Fifty percent of Honors College graduates have studied abroad and 100 percent of them have engaged in mentored research.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 3% of colleges and universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.


Hiba Tahir, senior graduate assistant
Honors College
479-575-7678, ht005@uark.edu

Kendall Curlee, director of communications
Honors College
479-575-2024, kcurlee@uark.edu


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