Paper Planning for 2015

I can’t believe I haven’t posted since September. The final part of 2014 went by really quickly and most of it was spent travelling around doing all my other jobs, so despite having a couple of other papers to write I didn’t get around to looking at them at the end of the year. This means I now have to plan my papers for 2015 and probably have a bit more work to do than I’d anticipated. But that’s not exactly something I’m unused to.

There are three main papers planned this year:

1. A study of atheists travelling the Santiago pilgrimage. We met quite a lot of them along the way and conducted some interesting interviews. We have a paper already written, but it needs to be expanded with a bit more of a literature review, and maybe made into something a bit more involved than just a research note.

2. A study of the psychological impact of investigating crimes against children online, and the different methods people use to deal with this. I still need to start reading the literature on this; I’ve read a lot about the investigative methods themselves, but not so much about the psychology behind the investigators’ motives for doing these jobs and their coping methods, so that’s step one for this project. And funding, I need to find funding. That’s always the exciting part…

3. And if those two get under way properly and aren’t too time-taxing, I’m also thinking about doing a study into the psychology of terrorism and its similarities with fringe religious cults. Specifically, looking at the ways in which counter-terror deprogramming methods parallel the steps taken to deal with people who have been brainwashed by religious indoctrination.

Studies #2 and #3 are quite ambitious projects, I think, which will take a lot of time and involvement, but I’m hoping I can get at least one of them started this year. Plus, the bulk of the actual work for #1 has already been done, I just need to write the literature review and add in a few more statistical bits, so I’m sure it will be fine. Or that’s what I’m telling myself.

What about you? What are your research plans for the year?

The Pilgrimage Project Photo Diary

Around the fire at the Stonehenge winter solstice.
Around the fire at the Stonehenge winter solstice.
The morning ceremony at Stonehenge in December was not warm.
The morning ceremony at Stonehenge in December was not warm.
Being mature academic researchers, we made faces in our salads.
Being mature academic researchers, we made faces in our salads.
The restaurant where we ate dinner had pet cats.
The restaurant where we ate dinner had pet cats.
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Wandering around Glastonbury was a necessary part of the project, of course.
What's a research project without a selfie?
What’s a research project without a selfie?
The view from the Tor.
The view from the Tor.
The Goddess weekend opening ceremony.
The Goddess weekend opening ceremony.
A procession of Pagan pilgrims through Glastonbury.
A procession of Pagan pilgrims through Glastonbury.
Ritual at the Chalice Well.
Ritual at the Chalice Well.
A Pagan procession.
A Pagan procession.

Today I Learned About Witch Camps in Ghana

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I am, among other things, a researcher in psychology of religion. My work for the past five years has focused on two distinct religious pathways: Catholicism and Paganism. Our main project has been about pilgrimage, looking at people’s motivations for going on religious journeys and their experiences during the treks. 

Mainly due to logistics, we’ve focused on European routes: Glastonbury, Stonehenge, Lourdes, and so on. I’ve spent a long time reading about and talking to pagans in the UK about their spiritual rituals and practices. Whilst witchcraft in the UK is still seen as being quite “odd”, it seems to be accepted as a quirky character trait; something that irritates many people within the pagan community, but that at least generally doesn’t lead to mass segregation from the mainstream. 

This weekend, I’m doing some work for a client in West Africa, looking at social media in a couple of countries there. One of these is Ghana, and I was perusing the Twitter feed of a Ghanaian news magazine when I came across a reference to witch camps. I decided to look into this further. I am fascinated by folk religions and spiritual beliefs around the world, and know very little about witchcraft outside of Europe. Beyond reading Witchcraft and Sorcery in East Africa a few years ago, I’d never really done any research on African witchcraft at all. 

In Ghana, there are a number of witch camps: small villages where people go when they have been accused of witchcraft in their home communities. Often the camps are friendly and open to strangers, with dedicated chiefs and priests to cleanse new arrivals before they are allowed into the village to live. 

Journalist Leo Igwe, visiting Kukuo witch camp in Ghana, reported that many of the witches had been there for many years, with a few in their nineties who had lived in the village since they were teenagers. Some wish to return to their old homes, but are afraid to do so because they fear for their lives; others, however, enjoy living in Kukuo and do not want to leave. 

Photographer Jane Hahn visited witch camps in Ghana to document the people living there:  

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witch camps   ghana   Jane Hahn  Freelance Photographer

witch camps   ghana   Jane Hahn  Freelance Photographer1

You can see more of Jane Hahn’s striking photography on her website.

Quotes from the Pilgrimage Project Interviews

The Pilgrimage Project began as an interdisciplinary research project at Oxford University in 2007. Covering Anthropology, Psychology, History, Sociology and Religious Studies, it aims to discuss the motivations and experiences of people from different Western religious groups as they journey to sacred spaces. The excerpts below are from interviews with Pagans who had travelled to Glastonbury for a summer Goddess ceremony.

On Paganism
“A lot of what I think makes me me is them.”

On War
“I can understand that [soldiers] are the people of peace… but I don’t believe that we’re gonna find peace staring down the end of a barrel and… like… “I’M GONNA SHOOT YOUR FUCKING HEAD OFF!”, and… what are you gonna do? Make your mind up. Are we gonna just say, OK, fine, yeah, I’m gonna be nice, I’m gonna do whatever he tells me to, so that I’ll find peace? No.”

On Reawakening the Abbey at Glastonbury
“So, it’s not a monk, it’s women, and we’re not Benedictines, but we are the new monks.”

On Dark Magic
“I think where people are being manipulated for the benefit of the manipulator, I would call that a dark path.”

On Women
“But I learnt some wonderful things about working with women there. I was used to working with men; we just make a decision and get on with it. And we’d have an important meeting about something here, and we’d all be together, it’d be me and the four other… whoever the trustees were. And they would start by saying “Isn’t it appalling what that girl Gladys is doing?” “Yes, I think she’s run away with somebody else…” All this stuff would go on. And I would sit there boggling, like I thought we’d come to talk about… we must just clear this first. And I learnt a really important thing: that these women, they needed to clear the emotional stuff that was hovering in the room. Once that was clear, we could get on with the discussion. It’s not at all how men work, but it’s really important, and I’ve learned – here I’m working all the time with women – that you must allow the emotional charge to be diffused, it’s perfectly valid. It’s hovering, you see. They’re worried about something. It’s got nothing to do with what we’re talking about, but it’s really important.”

On Intuition
“But my brain can’t solve it, it’s… my intuition accesses [spirits’] wisdom and back comes the answer.”

On Dying
“I’m delighted to die whenever it’s time. And in a way, I have to make a huge effort to be here now. I’m really actually somewhere else. Not physically. No, physically I’m very fit. But I’m actually – my consciousness is somewhere else, and I have to make a tremendous effort to be here. If you understand it.”

On Glastonbury
“I think Glastonbury’s just a little microcosm of where we’re all going. I do believe… self-employment, self-empowerment, but sharing, is the way that society’s moving. And it’s very threatening to a lot of people, it’s very frightening, the old structures are collapsing. You can see they’re not working. And I think we’ve got here a microcosm of what’s happening worldwide. And I think we have a responsibility to make it work here, and it doesn’t work completely. But if we can make it work, and there’s a model, then other people can begin to say “Right, that mad lot in Glastonbury have got something going there.” That’s what I think we are. I think we’re a sort of petri dish for the new consciousness.”

On God
“I have a problem with the term ‘god’, and I don’t know whether it’s because of the association with the Christian god, or certain dogma. Also it makes it very monistic, is it? Meaning it’s only one. Yeah. It tries to make concrete something that is very massive.”

On Pilgrimage

“It’s like a concentration of normalcy.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt more… it sounds so sappy, but more human, really. More human but not human as a special creature on the earth, just like another one.”

“This has the capacity to be profoundly not abstract.”

“It was not really a feeling of belonging, but it was a feeling of not belonging. Somewhere I’m not looking to belong, something like that.”

On the Motivation Behind Pilgrimage

“To find out something true. Not the truth, necessarily, but to find something that’s true.”

“I think I’ll be able to maybe… more fluidly be consistently abstract.”

“Over the last few years I’ve become a committed atheist, so I’m investigating this belief in nothing. That’s what I’m investigating. How much there is to this nothingness.”

On Consciousness
“I’m becoming more… maybe more conscious of my unconscious actions.”

On Prayer
“There came a point where prayer… where life became prayer.”