Thursday, June 22, 2017

Research projects and paradigms

In an email from Dr. Tim Rudbøg, Associate Professor, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, Copenhagen University, I was informed of his recently founded Copenhagen Center for the Study of Theosophy and Esotericism (CCSTE). A commendable effort that I hope will inspire scholars to in-depth research into the much neglected history of the Theosophical and Esoteric movements in Sweden. Dr. Rudbøg is one of the foremost international experts on Western Esotericism and author of several books relating to esotericism. He is also a specialist in rare occult books and proprietor of H.E.R.M.E.S.`Antiquarian.

When studying and documenting the influence of Theosophy and esoteric ideas on the development of the UFO movement I became aware of the lack of research in the history of Theosophy and its offshoots in Sweden. The new research center founded by Dr. Rudbøg has a vast uncharted territory to discover, especially in Sweden. From my vantage point these research projects would be of great interest:

1. A detailed history of the founding of the Theosophical Society in Sweden. Cultural influences, personalities involved, official debate.
2. A biographical study of Countess Constance Wachmeister (1838-1910). She was a close friend and important co-worker of Helena Blavatsky.
3. Theosophy and the Swedish King Oscar II (1829-1907). He was strongly influenced by Theosophical ideas and invited Henry Steel Olcott and Annie Besant for audiences at the Royal Palace.
4. The cultural influence of Theosophy in Sweden 1891-1930. During these years Theosophy had a very extensive cultural impact. Theosophical ideas influenced famous authors like August Strindberg, Gustaf Fröding and Selma Lagerlöf. Well known members very psychologists Sidney Alrutz, Bror Gadelius and painter and Gustaf Fjæstad, member of the Rackstad colony of artists in Värmland.
5. Krishnamurti and the crisis of Swedish Theosophy1929-1930. In 1925 there were 45 local Theosophical lodges in Sweden. Many of these lodges folded or ceased activities during the period 1929-1930. How did members and the general public react when Krishnamurti disavowed his role as World Teacher?
6. Esotericism and the founding of the UFO movement in Sweden. Many of the first generation ufologists in Sweden were active Theosophists or members of various occult societies. The first Swedish UFO organizations of 1957-1958 were actually founded by members of the Theosophical Society Adyar. In what way and how much did ideas from the Esoteric Tradition influence the Swedish UFO movement?
7. Henry T. Laurency and the Esoteric Tradition. The writings of Swedish esotericist Henry T. Laurency, pen name for Henrik von Zeipel (1882-1971) are to a large extent unknown even among scholars of Western Esotericism. In what way have his books contributed to our understanding of esotericism as a worldview?

There is an interesting and rather sensitive dilemma associated with this area of research. A problem addressed by Dr. Jean-Michel Abrassart in his essay Paranormal Phenomena: Should Psychology Really Go Beyond the Ontological Debate? Should academic scholars state their own beliefs on the topic they are studying? That is, being honest in regard to religious, esoteric affiliations or adherence to some specific paradigm or worldview? Being open minded in this respect can be detrimental to the academic career and result in a loss of intellectual integrity in the academic community.
In spite of this problem Dr. Abrassart advocates the view that an open position statement from scholars is of great importance: ”I think that transparency (stating one´s own beliefs about the subject one is studying) is preferable to staying safely outside the ontological debate… If we can imagine that a committed Christian can legitimately study personal prayer, why not a medium studying mediumship?”

I agree with Dr. Abrassart in his views but the idea is fine in theory but the practice may not be so easy. As blog readers have noted I have personally clearly and openly stated my position or worldview as esotericist in books, articles and blog, an adherence to the Esoteric Tradition as presented by Helena Blavatsky, Alice Bailey and Henry T. Laurency. This is no problem to me as I have no affiliation with any University or official research institution and as retired librarian I can be as heretical and iconoclastic as I please. It is only my esteemed colleagues in UFO research that may raise a few eyebrows at my writings and wonder if I have committed intellectual harakiri.

For the academic scholar interested in esotericism, UFO or paranormal phenomena research becomes a bit more complicated as in academe you are restricted by the predominant materialist, reductionist worldview and certain rules regarding research. And with topics like esotericism, UFOs and paranormal phenomena you are standing at the gates of Forbidden Science. This is why I have always advocated privately funded research institutions. Let me once again state my four reasons for private UFO research:

UFO research is scientifically controversial
The study of UFO phenomena is a complicated multi-disciplinary task with no natural connection to any academic discipline. There are of course academic research on UFOs performed by historians, folklorists, psychologists and historians of religion a.o.. But it is important to understand that these scientists do not address the ontological issue, the basic question of the reality of the phenomena. This requires a different approach and 
methodology which is not regarded as scientific within these disciplines. Mainstream academic science is intrincically materialist and reductionist and is therefore automatically challenged when confronted with phenomena indicating a multiverse of forces and entities
Field investigation with the object of determining the reality of UFO phenomena has no natural academic connection. Any academic scholar trying to address to ontological (reality) issue will immediately be questioned by collegues and university administration and face public media ridicule as the strange scholar who believes in little green men. He or she will also be heavily criticized by the new inquisition (not the Catholic Church this time) but by the representatives of the Skeptic community, condemning the heretic for promoting pseudoscience and irrationalism. Few scientists are willing to put their academic career at stake when faced with such obstacles. An Invisible College of critical but open minded researchers affords the best option and protection in such a cultural situation. The common media strategy of asking an astronomer or other mainstream academic scholars to comment on the the reality of UFO phenomena is like asking an ornithologist for a view of Byzantine architecture.

UFO research is militarily controversial
The basic mission of the military and intelligence community is to protect the nation from inner and outer enemies. By necessity much of military research and intelligence operations must remain secret. UFO research sometimes involves cases where the field investigator probably documents activity associated with secret military projects, remotely piloted vehicles (RPV), drones or other forms of covert activity. The possibility of black projects like military abductions, MILABS,  is a case in point. Research into these more or less secret areas will of course be very controversial and only a privately financed institution could hope to achieve results in these areas. Basic research into the reality of UFO phenomena is not a part of military mission.

UFO research is politically controversial
Politicians today are very much at the mercy of various media and often quite defenseless if they happen to make a mistake or say something inappropriate or wrong. Any politician advocating serious UFO research would immediately receive negative publicity in the press and become an embarrassement to political colleagues. Demands for resignation would follow. "We don´t want a UFO nut in our political party". As very few people are aware of the depth and extent of the UFO enigma and the serious issues involved there is no possibility in official funding of UFO research nor of help from politicians.

UFO research is religiously controversial
Perhaps this aspect is not so much noticed in our secular Swedish society but for many religious fundamentalists UFO is taboo. This becomes very obvious when studying all the books in the AFU library written by representatives of various religious groups. UFOs are simply regarded as demons or djinns in the islamic world. That UFO research is something you should stay away from was made clear to me by my former physiotherapist. He was active in Seventh-Day Adventist Church and during one therapy session he asked about my interests. I frankly told him about my passion for UFO research. His stern comment was: You know they are demons! This is also the view advocated by Anthroposophists as evidenced by the late Gordon Creighton, former editor of Flying Saucer Review, who was deeply influenced by Anthroposophy.

This criticism should not be seen as depreciating academic research in these controversial areas, but only to show the problems and restrictions involved. As mentioned earlier I really commend the founding of Copenhagen Center for the Study of Theosophy and Esotericism, looking forward to many interesting monographs and dissertations.