Dark Academia – Dr. James Emery White’s Christian Blog
Dusty libraries, young people with long hair writing poetry, rituals by candlelight… welcome to TikTok’s love of old books and the “dark university”.
According to an article by Marianka Swain in the Telegraphwhen it comes to “black college”, think
“tweeds and corduroys, leather satchels, autumn leaves swirling outside the windows of an Oxbridge (or, in America, New England) college, a dusty library with secret tomes, hairless youngsters longs handwriting meaningful poetry, brooding lovers with turbulent inner lives, and, in the grim ending, worship rituals performed by eerie candlelight.
Yes, it’s about a “new generation commandeering a long-established Gothic aesthetic and making it their own.” Think The Brontes meet JK Rowling meets Stephanie Meyers meets stranger things.
This is no small cultural development. TikTok videos with #darkacademia have been viewed 2.4 billion times. Go to Instagram and you will find 1.7 million dedicated posts. Waterstones, a leading bookseller in the UK, has seen an increase of up to 325% in sales of dark academic titles since 2019.
The most popular books in the dark academic genre tend to be about magicians and wizards, guardians of lost knowledge from ancient civilizations, or putting a supernatural spin on Jane Austen fare. On the surface, it would be easy to overlook all of this. Or even grateful. I know I’m deeply drawn to the ethos of a lot of what goes with black academia in terms of architecture and setting. This is one of the reasons why I loved studying at Oxford.
But there’s more to the dark academia than ethos. One need not look too deeply into the books and the sensibilities surrounding them to see black academia as a potential gateway to the occult. It triggers a thirst for mysterious knowledge. The landscapes and architecture associated with it have been described as “dripping with a dark and eerie power”.
As I wrote in Meet Generation Zthe spiritual void for young adults is largely filled by the occult.
You can find a case study in Norway. While Norwegian churches may be empty and belief in God is on the decline, “belief, or at least fascination with ghosts and spirits, is on the rise. Even Norway’s royal family, who are required by law to belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, have flirted with ghosts, with a princess teaching people how to reach spirits. Roar Fotland, a Methodist preacher and assistant professor at the Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo, notes that “God is absent but spirits and ghosts fill the void.”
This is an important dynamic to understand.
Pitirim Sorokin, the founder of Harvard University’s sociology department, argued that the pendulum of civilization generally swings in one of two directions: the “ideational” and the “meaningful.” Ideational civilization is more theological and spiritual, while sensory culture is more rational or scientific. Sorokin argued that the classical ideational period was the medieval period. Since the Enlightenment, we have lived in a sensory world. Sorokin’s thesis rings true. Today, in our struggle against what the modern world has given us – or more accurately, taken away from us – there seems to be a return to the ideational.
We live in a time that is more open to spiritual things than ever before. No definition of religion, notice, but of spirituality. And more specifically, the supernatural. There is a deeply felt emptiness resulting from a secularized and materialistic world which has led to a thirst for something more, but many are unable to go beyond the search for a live. Accordingly, an alien will serve as well as an angel; a spiritualist as well as a minister. Borrowing from the late historian Christopher Dawson, we have a new form of secularism that offers “religious emotion divorced from religious belief.” So God is out, but the ghosts are there.
So yes, take the dark academia seriously – but less for what it is,
…and more for where this leads.
James Emery White
Marianka Swain, “TikTok’s Old-School Books Boom: Why Gen Z fell in love with ‘Dark Academia'” The TelegraphJuly 27, 2022, read online.
James Emery White, Meet Generation Z (Baker).
“Norway has a new passion: ghost hunting”, Andrew Higgins, The New York TimesOctober 24, 2015, read online.
Pitirim Sorokin, Social and cultural dynamics, revised edition in one volume. (1991).
Christopher Dawson, World History Dynamics, ed. by John J. Mulloy (ISI Books, 2002).
About the Author
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a former assistant professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. . Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president.
His latest book, After “I believe”, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. .
Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.