The Dark Arts Research Group: Studies in Gothic, Horror and the Occult, 1750-Present

The primary focus of the Dark Arts Research Group is to explore long-standing cultural fascinations with gothic, horror and occultic topics. This ranges from historical studies of occultic practices such as séances in the late Victorian era to literary studies of famous short stories such as H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu (1928).

There has long been a cultural fascination with otherworldly entities and the macabre. From the publication of gothic and horror novels such as Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), to popular forms of entertainment such as phantasmagoria and stage magic. Themes such as death, monsters, and supernatural forces have regularly featured in art, literature, architecture, theatre, and even the sciences.

The nineteenth century also witnessed the emergence of the modern spiritualist movement and séances. As the sensation surrounding spirit and psychic phenomena blossomed, a new kind of belief in the supernatural spread across the globe. This new form of occultic belief intersected with other long-standing extraordinary beliefs, not only in Europe and North America, but also in places such as Asia and Africa. This research group will explore some of the ways people in different cultural contexts have engaged horror, gothic, and occultic topics since the mid 18th century.


  • Print culture, publishing, and gothic, horror and the occult
  • Gothic, horror and occult in art, architecture, and visual culture
  • Science, perception, and extraordinary belief
  • Gothic, horror, and occult novels/storytelling
  • Gothic, horror, and occult as a literary mode
  • Death, grief, mourning, trauma
  • The history of psychical research
  • Material studies of gothic, horror and the occult
  • Magic, illusion and deception
  • Technologies/objects and gothic, horror and the occult
  • Digital studies of gothic, horror and the occult
  • Gothic, horror and the occult in the media

Examples of research questions

  • Why has there been a long cultural fascination with the occult?
  • What is the historical relationship between science, medicine and extraordinary belief?
  • How do gothic, horror and occult stories respond to societal concerns?
  • What are the origins of gothic, horror and occultic stories?
  • What has been the role of illusion, deception and trickery in the history of occultic practice?
  • How has gothic, horror and occult been represented in art, architecture, and visual culture?
  • How have issues of trauma, death, grief, and mourning been portrayed/discussed in gothic, horror, and occultic studies?
  • What is the historical relationship between popular media and gothic, horror, and the occult.
  • How has the supernatural been represented in film and television?
  • How can we explore the history of gothic, horror, and occultic topics through objects and visual works?
  • How can new digital resources transform understandings of gothic, horror, and occultic studies?



The Rise of Popular Occulture in Europe

The project, funded by a small research grant from CEMES, aims is to explore the many ways that horror, gothic, and occultic topics have been communicated, presented, and packaged for broad audiences from the late eighteenth century to today. The project is especially interested in the ways different kinds of media technology, ranging from print and woodcut illustrations to photography and film have shaped conceptions of horror, gothic and the occult. The project is co-led by Efram Sera-Shriar and Robert Rix, with a planned conference to be hosted at Engerom in November 2023. See event

Monsters in the Nineteenth Century

With the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Richard Marsh’s The Beetle (1897), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), monsters became a staple of nineteenth-century literature. However, their hold on the nineteenth-century imagination runs far deeper. Gargoyles and grotesques adorn the exteriors of neo-Gothic churches; experiments with blood transfusion elicit fears of monstrous hybrids; in 1885, Punch published a cartoon satirising Ireland’s desire for Home Rule through the image of a vampire. From literature to architecture, and from the visual arts to medical and political discourse, monsters emerged as useful vehicles for articulating cultural anxieties, but also for making sense of a rapidly changing world. This online workshop on 31 October 2023, co-hosted by CNCSI and the Dark Arts Research Group at the University of Copenhagen, features a series of talks exploring the role played by monsters in the nineteenth century, investigating how their uncanny corporeality subverts dominant discourses and how therefore we might understand the monster as a valuable tool in uncovering hidden epistemologies in the study of the nineteenth century and its legacies. See event.

Film “Screaming” Event: Hellraiser

See event

On 24 May 2024 the Dark Arts Research Group at the University of Copenhagen and the Bloody Weekend are teaming up for their first ever “film screaming” event at Empire Bio in Nørrebro, Copenhagen. Heralded as one of the greatest horror films of all time, Hellraiser was based on Clive Barker’s chilling novella, The Hellbound Heart, from 1986. After solving a mystical puzzle box, the hedonist Frank Cotton inadvertently summons into the human world inter-dimensional sadomasochistic beings known as the Cenobites. After Frank is torn apart by these gruesome beings and transformed into a supernatural entity, a hellish story unfolds. Ever since its original release in 1987, Hellraiser's visceral exploration of human desires has echoed through the horror genre. From Pinhead’s menacing interpretation of human nature in the underworld to its exploration of body horror within the realm of sadomasochism, Hellraiser has encouraged the genre to go deeper into the darker aspect of the human psyche and sexuality.

Hellraiser was released in 1987 during the height of the Satanic Panic in the United States. This period witnessed a significant cultural clash between Christian conservatives worried about the moral and religious well-being of American youths and a growing counter-culture fascinated by the occult. There was a genuine concern by these conservatives that horror books and films like The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser would lead young impressionable minds down dangerous paths toward Satanic worship. Prior to the screening, there will be a round-table discussion featuring researchers from the University of Copenhagen who will discuss the history of occultism in the United States, Lovecraftian fiction, and the era of Satanic Panic during the 1980s. 





Name Title Phone E-mail
Damkjær, Maria Associate Professor +4535330076 E-mail
Jensen, Kim Ebensgaard Associate Professor +4535333802 E-mail
Leese, Peter Associate Professor +4535328414 E-mail
Lock, Charles Professor +4535328622 E-mail
Lupton, Tina Jane Professor +4593509415 E-mail
Mogensen, Jens Erik Associate Professor +4535322362 E-mail
Rix, Robert William Professor +4535328170 E-mail
Sera-Shriar, Efram Teaching Associate Professor +4535329835 E-mail
Siegumfeldt, Inge Birgitte Associate Professor +4523251644 E-mail
Østermark-Johansen, Lene Professor +4535328583 E-mail

Affiliated researchers 

Kasper Opstrup Frederiksen
Lindfors, Daniela +4542775967
Tim Rudbøg