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CNA Staff, Oct 30, 2023 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

Next fall, a university in the United Kingdom will be offering a graduate degree in occultism and magic, a program of study that will reportedly be the nation’s first master’s degree of its kind. 

Students who enroll in the University of Exeter’s M.A. in “magic and occult science” program will study topics including “magic in Greece and Rome, occult texts in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the history of witchcraft, magic in literature and folklore, deception and illusion, and the history of science and medicine,” among other topics, according to the program description.

Research will be conducted on sources for “rites and rituals, meanings of belief, Westcountry witchcraft and folklore, along with ancient and Arabic sources,” the description says.

At the “core” of the coursework are the themes of “decolonization, the exploration of alternative epistemologies, feminism, and anti-racism,” it says.

The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the course, including how much criticism it has received over the controversial offerings, nor did Emily Selove, the director of the program.

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, a priest and exorcist in the Archdiocese of Washington, told CNA on Monday via phone: “I can understand studying these sorts of things, but the question is, do people realize the reality is that this is dangerous stuff?”

“The problem with these courses is that people say, ‘Well, we’re studying this. There’s nothing wrong with it.’ And then the course encourages people to get into it,” the priest said.

“If you talk to some people who have been in the occult and gotten out, they’ll tell you how horrible their experience was,” he said. “You can study hell if you want, which is fine, but you don’t want to go there. And it’s the same thing with magic.”

Graduates of the program can go on to lead spiritual retreats, work in museums, or stay in academia, Selove told the New York Times this month.

Selove, who spoke at a conference for occultists in October, told the Times that there have already been hundreds of students interested in the degree. “A number” of applicants for the degree have been from China, another of the school’s professors told NPR.

“If we are looking for truly new and creative solutions to the problems that we as a society face, then we need to be honest and courageous about the fact that some of our tried and true methodologies do have a limit,” Selove told the Times.

“Let’s cautiously and responsibly try some new or some old ideas that we’ve thrown out,” she added.

Rossetti, meanwhile, said that his concern is that enrollees in the course will begin engaging in occult practices after learning about them out of curiosity, adding that “actions have consequences.”

“So I think it’s a dangerous thing when you just sort of dabble in these things with no awareness of what you’re really getting into,” he said.

He added that he suspects the school has included “these alternative spiritualities in the name of diversity.” 

“But diversity does not mean promoting evil … and witchcraft is by its nature very evil,” he said.

“And frankly, the way one protects oneself from the evil one is by living a holy and a good Christian, Catholic life,” the priest said. 

“And I’m sure one of the screening factors for entering the course is not whether you’re living a holy life. So if you got a bunch of people who are not living a holy life, and they’re starting to dabble and look into the occult and evil, it will have a special ability to hurt you,” he said.

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