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Summer Study at the University of Amsterdam

Read Nicola McEvoy’s account of her time doing a short course (Arcane Worlds: New Frontiers in the Study of Esotericism) at the University of Amsterdam over the summer.

For three weeks, I was studying in Amsterdam — in the only department in the world that specialises in esoteric studies. It is an intensive course that introduces the academic field of esotericism: the current approaches, where it is going and how it can be improved. We had lectures on different topics including chaos magic, alchemy, Sufiism, and Jewish mysticism, with many guest lecturers. The close-knittedness of the very small community made the experience invaluable, and the camaraderie of the course made my time there enjoyable.

I attended the preliminary programme last year with help from the Go Abroad scheme, so when I received an email from the University of Amsterdam Summer School department that there would be a more advanced programme, I could not pass up the opportunity to attend in person.

One of the highlights of this experience abroad was the chance to attend university in another country, as that is not something that most people get to do. If I was not about to start a masters in London, I would consider applying to the University of Amsterdam if it was financially feasible, as my time spent in the department was really inspiring.

Class excursion to the Theosophical Society, Amsterdam.

During the course, we went on excursions to the Amsterdam Theosophical Society and the Allard Pierson Museum of Antiquities, where we got to look through old alchemical books. At Goldsmiths,
we never went on such trips or received information on where we might be able to handle historical documents for research. It was nice to experience the historical approach of the University of Amsterdam, which was very different to what I was used to.

The structure of the day differed from studying at Goldsmiths as we had two classes that were longer than the lectures I received in London. Each day ran from 10:00-16:00 with an hour break, and I was given lunch coupons to use in the cafeteria. After class I had quite a lot of reading to do since it was an intensive course, but there was time to take in the sites over the three day weekends.

Alchemical book at the Allard Pierson Museum of Antiquities

Owing to its intensity, it was challenging to keep up with the course, although the course leaders did say that it was fine to take the reading home after the course. There was a large amount of reading which was hard to finish before each class. It was very fast paced and we covered a lot of different topics in a short amount of time.

However, it was a fantastic opportunity to gain insight into a distinctive field of study that is not widely accepted in academia. Despite that fact that it was a challenging experience, it was great to study a whole module’s worth of material in a short amount of time, in a subject that has enriched my art practice and prepared me for my MRes project about art and the occult. It also gave me the chance to meet other people from around the world who are interested in esotericism, who shared their different backgrounds and perspectives.

I would tell other students at Goldsmiths who are thinking of attending a programme in another country to just go for it. The Go Abroad scheme gives disadvantaged students a wonderful opportunity to experience other cultures and institutions, as well as the chance to gain invaluable skills that will complement your academic profile. Additionally, it is a good occasion to network with many different people like scholars, artists, curators and business persons who could advance your career or share their inside knowledge.