MAGIC, MYSTICISM, AND MODERNITY - 2018/9

Module code: ELIM039

Module Overview

Although the early twentieth century – the era of cocktails, motorcars, bobbed hair, and jazz – is often described as one of newness and modernity, many writers of the time found inspiration and visionary brilliance by turning to the mysterious occult unknown. Well-remembered poets and novelists such as Ezra Pound, E. Nesbit, D.H. Lawrence, Robert Graves, Sylvia Plath, and Ted Hughes were tied to esoteric beliefs, but was it all a lot of foolishness? Or was it something worse? In this module we will explore how the modernist interest in magic and mysticism led to new understandings of the relationship between ‘the self’ and ‘society’ that would seep into sectors as diverse as psychoanalysis, politics, and theatre. By exploring the mystical beliefs and practices that stirred many people between the wars this module will allow us to reconsider our understanding of the imagination and unconscious mind in relation to writing and the performing arts. Along the way we will uncover hidden hopes and anxieties that faced Britain between the wars, and see how some of modernism’s most influential writers understood magic and enchantment as universal forms of cultural expression which have inspired creative exuberance since the dawn of civilization. 

Module provider

School of Literature and Languages

Module Leader

KILNER-JOHNSON AD Dr (Lit & Langs)

Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 7

JACs code: Q323

Module cap (Maximum number of students): 20

Module Availability

Semester 1

Prerequisites / Co-requisites

None. This module has a capped number and may not be available to ERASMUS and other international exchange students. Please check with the departmental exchange coordinator.

Module content

The following areas are indicative of topics to be covered:


Western Esotericism from late antiquity to modernity
The writers of the Golden Dawn
The poetics of mysticism
Theosophy, occultism, and late imperialism
First-wave feminism and initiatory orders
Psychoanalysis and mysticism
Occult theatre and ritual drama

Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting
Coursework ESSAY (4500 WORDS) 100

Alternative Assessment

N/A

Assessment Strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate achievement of the module learning outcomes.

Seminar discussion with ongoing tutor feedback is designed mainly to assess transferable skills in working as part of a group and practical/professional skills in expressing ideas and critical analysis in oral communication. It also assesses subject knowledge in the different forms of critical theory used in English literature and cognitive/analytical skills in critical thinking and in using theory in the close reading of literary texts.

The close reading and essay assess subject knowledge in the different forms of critical theory used in the study of western esotericism and cognitive/analytical skills in critical thinking and in using theory in the close reading of literary texts. They also assess practical/professional skills in expressing ideas and critical analysis in written communication and transferable skills in working independently. 

Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of:


Essay (4500 words)


Formative assessment and feedback

Formative ‘feed forward’ is provided through seminar discussions, tutor feedback in seminars, and a range of other feedback mechanisms agreed between tutor and students in week 1 of the module, such as seminar contribution and writing exercises.' In addition, during Week 7 students will be expected to submit for formative assessment:


1000-word essay plan and annotated bibliography


As such, writing, presentation and critical analysis skills will be developed and honed which will feed forward to the summative assessment at the end of the module.

Module aims

  • Interdisciplinary research methods in the field of western esotericism
  • Key historical developments in western esotericism leading up to the modernist period,
  • A range of modernist Anglo-American texts
  • Key historical and philosophical expressions of esoteric and mystical thought
  • The shaping of modern cultural identity alongside the resurgence of popular occultism
  • Close reading, analysis, and critical thinking
  • Oral and written communication
  • Independent work and group work in seminars
  • Time management through essay submission and revision planning

Learning outcomes

Attributes Developed
001 Describe and analyse the relevant influences of esoteric philosophy and practice on a variety of modernist writers KC
002 Analyse an array of literary texts with an awareness of and engagement with critical materials and cultural artefacts drawn from a variety of global spiritual and mystical traditions KC
003 Understand and evaluate the relationship between modern literary cultural and western esoteric philosophy KC
004 Independently undertake research relying on interdisciplinary research methods utilised in the study of western esotericism KC

Attributes Developed

C - Cognitive/analytical

K - Subject knowledge

T - Transferable skills

P - Professional/Practical skills

Overall student workload

Methods of Teaching / Learning

The learning and teaching strategy is designed to deliver subject knowledge, to develop cognitive/ analytical skills, and to develop in-depth transferable, practical, and professional skills. Students will be expected to undertake extensive secondary source reading and to lead conversations on relevant contexts in the study of western esotericism. The weekly seminars involve student-led discussions that develop skills in communication and in working individually and as part of a group. The seminars also provide students with instruction on planning and implementing timetables for work and on presenting ideas coherently under time constraints. Seminars are designed to develop subject knowledge through an emphasis on student-led involvement, critical and historical analysis, and close textual analysis.

The learning and teaching methods include:

2-hour seminar per week x 11 weeks

Indicated Lecture Hours (which may also include seminars, tutorials, workshops and other contact time) are approximate and may include in-class tests where one or more of these are an assessment on the module. In-class tests are scheduled/organised separately to taught content and will be published on to student personal timetables, where they apply to taken modules, as soon as they are finalised by central administration. This will usually be after the initial publication of the teaching timetable for the relevant semester.

Reading list

Reading list for MAGIC, MYSTICISM, AND MODERNITY : http://aspire.surrey.ac.uk/modules/elim039

Programmes this module appears in

Programme Semester Classification Qualifying conditions
Creative Writing MA 1 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module
English Literature MA 1 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module
Creative Writing MFA 1 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module

Please note that the information detailed within this record is accurate at the time of publishing and may be subject to change. This record contains information for the most up to date version of the programme / module for the 2018/9 academic year.