CfP Symposium ‘Lifting the Veil: Science, Superstition, and the Supernatural’

Amsterdam | 2 February 2023, 9:30 – 17:00

Organizers: Bart Mulderij and Marijke Valk (University of Groningen)

Open to: PhDs and RMA students; OSL members have first access.

Credits: 2ECs can be obtained by presenting a paper or submitting the final assignment. NB: Credits can only be awarded to humanities ReMA and PhD students from Dutch universities.


OSL invites paper proposals for ‘Lifting the Veil: Science, Superstition, and the Supernatural’: a one-day symposium on Gothic interpretations of science and the supernatural within fiction, that will take place in Amsterdam on 2 February 2023. The symposium will feature lectures by two keynote speakers, including Dr Eleanor Dobson (University of Birmingham), author of ‘Oscar Wilde, Photography, and Cultures of Spiritualism: “The most magical of mirrors”’ (2020) and Victorian Alchemy: Science, Magic and Ancient Egypt (2022); and another scholar yet to be confirmed. In addition, there will one or two panels with presentations by students and early career scholars.

An increasing amount of scholarly attention is being paid to the interplay between science and the supernatural within fiction, predominantly concerning the emergence of occultism during the Victorian period as a reconciliation between the incomprehensible natural sciences and the familiar religious framework, and the tension between the Victorians’ desire to learn more about the world and being terrified of what they learned. Recent influential works on the topic include Ferguson’s article (2017) on the connection and overlap between the natural and occult sides of the scientific spectrum in Victorian occult fiction; Corcoran’s (2021) contextualization of the rise of spiritualism as a result of the technological advances that occurred during the nineteenth century and its influence on Gothic literature; and Kirland’s book (2021) on the influence of the horror within Gothic literature on modern video games. This growing body of scholarship also highlights promising avenues for future research, including interdisciplinary approaches – as shown by Kirkland’s literature/video games analysis – as well as Gothic and Victorian echoes in contemporary representations of science and the supernatural.

This symposium re-examines the role of occult elements in Victorian occult fiction novels as part of the cultural fear of the supernatural and spiritual. To this end, it intends to provide a new angle on (Victorian) Gothic and occult studies, by using canonical and non-canonical literary works to approach the Victorians’ fear of the natural sciences in a manner that emphasises the Victorians’ desire to control the unknown.


Submission Guidelines

We welcome proposals for papers related to the study of (neo-) Victorian and Gothic science and supernatural in literature and other forms of media from all nations, languages, and periods. All papers should be in English. Each twenty-minute presentation will be followed by a ten-minute Q&A session. Participants are invited to consider topics including, but not limited to:

  • The appeal of Gothic horror for the Victorians
  • Potential comparisons to the Gothic in other continents or regions
  • Comparative reflections on science and the supernatural during the Victorian era
  • The emergence of occult science as a result of a contesting interrelation between natural and occult sciences
  • The influence of the loss of religion on Victorian culture and literature
  • Modern and neo-Victorian interpretations in current media
  • The rise of the supernatural monster in the Late-Victorian period

To submit an individual paper, please provide a 300-word abstract of the paper you are proposing; your name, institutional affiliation, and email address; and a brief statement (no more than 100 words) about your work as well as any relevant publications, presentations, or projects-in-progress.

Interested participants are invited to submit their proposal as a single PDF file to by 1 November 2022. Accepted participants will be notified by 15 November 2022.

Please address any inquiries to


NB: Students can obtain 2ECs by presenting a paper (see guidelines above), or by submitting a critical reflection (1400-1600 words, excl. bibliography) to before 28 February 2023, 23:59. In their reflections, students should discuss one of the panels and/or keynote lectures in light of relevant secondary sources (at least five); they are also welcome to elaborate on how the panels relate to their own research interests. Credits can only be awarded to humanities ReMA and PhD students from Dutch universities.

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