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Supernatural Connections

For millennia, the human imagination has been fascinated by phenomena that defy scientific explanations and the laws of nature – or, to use the more popular term, the supernatural.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

                                   — Cornish Litany

Things that go ‘bump’ in the night
Should not really give one a fright.
It’s the hole in each ear
That lets in the fear,
That, and the absence of light!

                         — ‘Bump’ by Spike Milligan

For millennia, the human imagination has been fascinated by phenomena that defy scientific explanations and the laws of nature – or, to use the more popular term, the supernatural. Belief in the existence of something beyond the natural world lies at the cornerstone of the religious and spiritual traditions that have guided societies through the ages. From historical concerns about the machinations of witches and demons to the recent appropriation of supernaturalism as a narrative device, the occult has permeated all areas of human existence and inflamed the popular imagination. Perhaps it is because the belief in magic, spirits and immaterial beings manifests itself in a diverse array of contexts, bridging the gap between the sacred and profane, that so many cultures continue to be preoccupied with the supernatural.

Although rational thought and scientific knowledge have generally supplanted superstition as the foundation upon which contemporary societies function, there has been a resurgence of interest in the occult amongst young people. An increasing number of millennials are being drawn to Wicca, witchcraft and astrology. This preoccupation with the supernatural has also played out in the realm of popular culture, as evidenced by the success of the Twilight series of books and film adaptations (2008 – 2012), television series like Supernatural (2005 – present) and American Horror Story (2011 – present), The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 – present), The Haunting of Hill House (2018), Siempre Bruja (2019) and critically acclaimed films such as The Witch (2015) and Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria (2018). The current proliferation of fictional and real-world supernaturalism presents an ideal opportunity for exploring the connections between the supernatural and contemporary society, particularly in relation to how and why we continue to fall under the spell of the paranormal and the occult.

At a time when we face countless threats posed by developments such as climate change, terrorism and economic instability, the paranormal offers a space in which we may channel our fears about things we cannot control, or even escape from them entirely. It is also crucial to recognise the ways in which the supernatural also operates to reflect as well as shape particular norms and power structures in society. Getting rid of non-conformists by declaring them to be witches is well documented in the annals of history, as is the practice of citing divine intervention as a basis for waging wars or persecuting those who look or act differently from ourselves. Convenient coincidences between the operation of supernatural forces and the views held by the individuals seeking to justify a particular action highlight the importance of scrutinising the relationship between humans and the supernatural. Is the supernatural an external force to be feared and ultimately accepted as something beyond human control, as described in the ‘Cornish Litany’? Or, is it simply a construct of the human mind – a product of fear and ignorance – as ‘Bump’ suggests? Perhaps the answer lies in a combination of these two explanations. What is clear is that the supernatural is a multifaceted, often nebulous, concept that is open to interpretations that require careful examination and analysis.

The Supernatural Connections Project offers a space for interdisciplinary dialogues that explore the origins, evolution and uses of the supernatural. Topics for exploration include, but are not limited to:

  • Critiques and defences of the supernatural and related belief systems
  • Comparisons between contemporary and historical understandings of the supernatural
  • How creative practice shapes our perception of the supernatural (e.g. film, television, videogames, music, theatre, literature, art)
  • Ideological implications of the supernatural: how the supernatural reflects and informs political anxieties and general attitudes about the human body, race, gender, sexuality, class and nationality
  • Interface between science, technology and the supernatural
  • Commodifying the supernatural (dark tourism, spiritualists/fortune-tellers, etc.)
  • Supernaturalism and Indigenous cultures
  • Physiological/neurological perspectives on the supernatural
  • Impact of beliefs in the supernatural on everyday practices, and the implications of these practices
  • Interface between education and belief in the supernatural
  • Health, wellness and supernatural beliefs

Activities

Conferences
1st Global Inclusive Interdisciplinary Conference
Supernatural Connections
Saturday 4th April 2020 – Sunday 5th April 2020
Lisbon, Portugal

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