Please tell us about your research interests.
I specialize in the study of esotericism, which includes inwardly and empirically oriented metaphysical worldviews. These may involve both traditional and free-form systems of belief and practice, usually embracing concepts analogous to synchronicity or magical causation. The field fascinates me because historically, esotericism was at the heart of the origins of civilization. In the West, esoteric worldviews such as those of the Pythagoreans and the mystical philosopher Parmenides fueled the rise of Classical civilization and ultimately formed the core of the humanities through the contributions of Aristotle and his teacher Plato, whose rediscovery in the West generated the Renaissance. Experimental science emerged from Renaissance magic, ensuring the relevance of esotericism in the modern period, producing occultism, which fostered the combination of esoteric ideas with ideals of progress. My research also investigates the rising contemporary resurgence and popularity of esoteric thought in a wide variety of areas, including : New Age religions and new religious movements; the increasing significance of consciousness studies and popular interest in altered states of consciousness and mysticism; the growing popularity of mythic, esoteric, and occult themes in popular fiction and media including and especially books and films dedicated to children and young adults; and, most prominently, the vast popularity of magical beliefs and practices rendered increasingly accessible by their availability in secular culture and through the internet.
My undergraduate degree in University Studies from here at the University of New Mexico was an excellent preparation for this specialized area of research, as I was able to concentrate and focus early on in ancient history and ancient religion, and include my previous study of psychology and philosophy in this endeavor. My good fortune continued with the opportunities to earn both of my graduate degrees abroad, beginning with a Masters in Religious Studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, and following with a PhD in Esotericism at the University of Exeter’s Centre for the Study of Esotericism. While at the University of London, I wrote my Master’s thesis on dualism and demonization in Zoroastrian tradition and also studied mysticism. As a result of my research there, I continue to have specific interests in the origins and development of conflict myths, antagonist projections, and beliefs in and surrounding the devil, including research into new religious movements and contemporary esotericisms of a Satanic character, particularly the “sinister” traditions which promote anti-Judaism, terrorism, political dissent, and criminality, as well as mysticisms emphasizing transgressive, heretical, blasphemous, and anti-social elements including Left-Hand Path tantra. My doctoral research and thesis at the University of Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism explored the concept of “occult war,” tracing its origins to prehistoric Iran and following its development into contemporary conspiracism, magical worldviews, and radical politics.
My current research interests veer increasingly toward: interdisciplinary consciousness studies; mystical traditions of sudden enlightenment; virtue ethics, eudaimonism, and the psychology of happiness and well-being; Sufism and the magic, mysticism, and philosophy of the Islamic world; the relationship of apocalyptic eschatologies to radical politics; the significance of the religion and philosophy of Thelema to the modern occult revival; and most generally, religions, philosophies, esotericisms, and occultism, that can be described as “Left-Hand Path” in their emphasis on personal immortality achieved through mystical or magical practice.
My next public lecture and forthcoming article will focus on recent scholarly inquiry into the influence of the 1923 publication, Magic: History, Theory, Practice, by German professor Dr. Ernst Schertel, on Adolf Hitler’s often speculated interest in the occult. Dr. Schertel’s book presents the idea that magical power can be gained through ecstatic states of spiritual consciousness, and a well-used annotated copy of it was found in Hitler’s private library. The discovery that a copy of this book was annotated by Hitler’s own hand and kept by him in his private library is the first indication that Hitler’s interests included practical magic as well as mythical theories about the Master Race.
What is your philosophy of teaching and learning?
I cultivate the “beginner’s mind” and try to support it in my students – and continue to regard myself as a student as well. I find that a willingness to ask questions and also begin at the beginning, recurrently, is the best protection against stupidity. Constantly revisiting our first principles and revising our understanding of their consequences is the best way to establish a good foundation for learning particular subjects, skills, and specialties that suit our needs and interests. Not only academic success, but personal success as well, in an increasingly complex and multi-systemic world, requires both an aptitude for, and skill in: critical thinking, rational assessment of values, and a logical mind flexible enough to cope with rapidly changing circumstances. I promote this approach in my own instruction, focusing on important relationships between world-views, interdisciplinary interactions, and the inclusive picture on which meaningful application of details depends. I avoid rote memorization, standardized tests, and redundant powerpoint presentations. My courses are interactive and emphasize dialogue. I make sure that information that is presented from the front of the room is engaging and personally relevant.
What do you like best about UNM West?
I love the opportunity to get to know students as individuals, and I constantly appreciate the high level of student enthusiasm, interest, and ability here at UNM West. I’ve observed students on this campus to be excellent and highly motivated. The administration supports a student-oriented approach and facilitates interesting and unusual courses available nowhere else, while offering a great selection of core courses. The atmosphere here combines being relaxed and informal with being academically advanced and professional – a high quality campus that includes fun along with accomplishment. Teaching at UNM West is an amazing and wonderful experience, and I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity. I can’t imagine teaching numerous undergraduate seminars on novel interdisciplinary subjects with intimate class sizes and bags of free popcorn anywhere else!
Agreed! UNM West is pretty awesome and the free popcorn is a nice bonus. Now for a little fun. James Lipton from the popular Bravo television show Inside the Actors Studio, asks all of his guest to answer the following ten questions. We would invite you to do the same.
1. What is your favorite word? Wyrd.
2. What is your least favorite word? Selfie.
3. What turns you on? The mind.
4. What turns you off? Arrogance.
5. What sound or noise do you love? Frogs and crickets at sunset.
6. What sound or noise do you hate? Nails on a chalkboard.
7. What is your favorite curse word? Illskaelda! (Literally in Old Norse, “Bad Skald,” or “Bad Bard,” famously used to insult the notorious 9th century plagiarist Audhunn.)
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Screenwriter.
9. What profession would you not like to do? Hatter. I’m mad enough already.
10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? “Let me show you the private entrance around the back.”
Dr. Sieg is teaching the following classes this semester at UNM West:
- Philosophy 101: Intro to Philosophy
- Psychology 450 ST: Psychology of Religion
- Religion 107 Living World Religions
- Religion 347 ST: Satanism & Diabolism