Magic and possibility
: Medievalism and the idea of the occult

  • Stuart McWilliams

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis concerns the means by which the notion of medieval or premodem magic (and the occult or hidden) is articulated and theorized within the humanities. While anthropology has frequently contended with the issue of magic's problematic agency within scholarly discourse, the historiography of magic has been less selfconscious in this regard. Departing from the established discipline of writing "about" magic in history, the thesis addresses magic as it relates to the trajectories of
intellectual history as a whole, with particular reference to a series of crucial themes including periodization, representation, performance, the writing of history , and the writing of contemporaneity itself. The thesis also engages with the history and philosophy of science, and the recently-emerging discipline of science studies. Operating within this interdisciplinary framework, it is argued that magic has by necessity always been figured as "medieval" in the formulation of the discourses of modernity, and that thinking or writing about magic (or attempting to define it) has engendered multiple epistemological and aesthetic crises. Through these controversies, the idea of magic and the hidden has profoundly unsettled the understanding of time and knowledge. The resulting study is intended as a tentative investigation of the implications of magic (and the study of magic) for intellectual
Date of AwardJul 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorStephen Kelly (Supervisor) & Hugh Magennis (Supervisor)

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