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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Sydney Sheedy, Humanities

Queer occult: How queer people in Montreal “reclaim” practices of astrology, tarot, and magic to divest from legacies of settler colonialism, whiteness, and imperial modernity

Date & time
Friday, May 24, 2024
9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Nadeem Butt


J.W. McConnell Building
1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Room 362

Wheel chair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Over the past few years there has been an explosion in popularity of so-called ‘occult’ practices like astrology and tarot, particularly among left-leaning people who tend to politicize their investments as forms of counterhegemony. Queer practitioners have claimed kinship with the occult through a perceived shared abjection, deeming it an inherently queer resource for self- and community empowerment, and naming anti-racism and decolonization key aims of their work. At the same time, these forms of occultism draw suspicion, not least among practitioners themselves, who are critical of the ways these knowledge traditions have been complicit in ‘spiritual genocide’. 

In ethnographic fieldwork among queer occultists in Montreal, I explore how practitioners imagine themselves to be divesting from legacies of violence, opting instead for apparently queer genealogies of knowledge that are known in terms of the ways they have been repressed. Drawing from work across history of science, critical race theory, queer studies, and affect theory, I theorize the occult as an historiographic mode, always already about epistemic crisis and the struggle between sanctioned methods of inquiry. I theorize the occult’s appeal among queer people as a process of affective expansion, wherein practitioners attune to heretofore repressed lifeways, knowledges and worlds that machineries of empire have rendered invisible. What's more, I depart from debates over cultural appropriation to develop a theory of the occult as a biopolitical affect regime, wherein the development of sensitivity is linked to social healing and progress. I locate the contemporary phenomenon of queer occultism within a broader conversation on inheritance, historical repair, and divestment from empire, wherein participants confront the possibility of connecting to the "elsewhere" of imperial modernity. How does the occult represent an attempt to build a capacity for that connection, and how do participants reflect on this capacity as key to healing from white supremacy, capitalism, and colonialism?

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