March 09, 2004

Masters Thesis Topic Ideas

Posted at March 9, 2004 04:54 PM in .
I'm looking at pursuing an MA in either Religious Studies, History or Anthropology, depending on how things work out. Probably either of the first two. I have a BA in Cultural Anthropology from 1993.

I want to leverage my personal interests and/or understanding so I don't have to research an entirely new field unless it is some outgrowth of my current intellectual interests. Because of this, I have five main potential and overarching areas of interest:

  1. Neopaganism in the last few decades, specifically in North America.
  2. Western Esotercism since the Renaissance, specifically English speaking (unless I want to work on my Russian).
  3. Secret Societies/Fraternal Orders, either the "occult" or more strictly Masonic style.
  4. Tantric Buddhism and the West
  5. Fringe religious movements in North America within the last 200 years or so...

From this list, I did a really rough brainstorming of potential high-level thesis ideas. None of these are concrete to the point of being "What question with this thesis answer?" which is where one would want to be before I started work.

  • Neopagan History in North America
    • Pacific Northwest Neopaganism: it's early days, founding members, early or influential groups.
    • Bay Area Paganism in the 1970s: this was a heyday for the Neopagan movement.
    • Dianic Wicca: A man writing about a Womyn centric faith. Hmm...I could lose my balls but my mother is a Dianic. Possible issues of bias with my own Wiccan background.
  • Fraternal or Occult Orders in North America
    • Find a specific and obscure occult order and disect its writings, ritual work, organizational structure, etc. -- I know these are out there. I was a member of one and have a set of materials that match the kind of thing that I'd want to work on but because of obvious issues with bias, personal history, oaths to members, etc. I wouldn't use that one. There have been many others. One back before the last World War or in the 50s would be ideal. The goal here would also have to take into account treating people and beliefs with respect.
    • Scholastic Examination of one of the many 19th Century Masonic Style orders: similar to the idea above except this would not touch on Esotericism as much.
  • "Fringe" Religious Movements
    • Investigation of Noble Drew Ali and the "Moors": This is the prophet and group that was the grandfather of the Nation of Islam, among others. Given the fact that I am European American and these people were African American and also given the modern descendents, I could run into racial barriers.
    • Role of non-African People in African Diasporic Religions: Lots of European descended people seem to be getting involved with Santeria or Voudon. How's that work out?
    • Obscure Utopian Religious Cults: There have been a number of groups that I personally know about in the Pacific Northwest, some of which still survive: The Love Israel Family, the Venusian Church... There's probably an angle here for Religious Studies.
    • Liber Al and "Received" Texts: Liber Al vel Legis is the sacred text of Thelemites, the "followers" of Aleister Crowley. This text was "received" or "channeled" by Crowley in 1904. There are many other similarly received texts within 20th century occultism along the same lines (often inspired by Liber Al). I am convinced there is something interesting that could be done with this as a religious or spiritual phenomena within Religious Studies.
  • Tantric Buddhism in the West
    • No specific ideas here but it is an interest of mine as a practitioner and an intellectual student of Vajryana and Dzogchen.

I am open and interested in any comments on these ideas be they criticisms, ideas related to them, potentials in these ideas, other ideas that they bring to mind, etc. I'm asking my friends to help me brainstorm on thesis ideas.

Once I know for sure what I want to spend two years of academic work on for a thesis, I can find a professor to mentor me. The program I'm going to work with allows me to find a willing PhD in my field of interest to act as a mentor but I need to know what I'm studying first.


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