Allan Johnson

Dr Allan Johnson

Associate Professor in English Literature & Associate Dean (Doctoral College), Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
BA (Baldwin-Wallace), MA (Leeds), PhD (Leeds)
+441483 683122
11 AD 02


Areas of specialism

Literary modernism; Modernism and mass culture; Esotericism; Psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic literary theory; Contemplative studies; Narrative theory

University roles and responsibilities

  • Associate Dean (Doctoral College), Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

    My qualifications

    PhD, English Literature
    University of Leeds
    MA, Twentieth-Century Literature
    University of Leeds
    BA, English with Art History
    Baldwin-Wallace College

    Previous roles

    2013 - 2016
    Assistant Professor of English Literature
    City University of Hong Kong
    2012 - 2012
    Associate Lecturer
    Birkbeck, University of London

    Affiliations and memberships

    Royal Society of Arts
    Associate Fellow
    Higher Education Academy


    In the media

    Witchcraft and Margaret Murray
    BBC Radio 3 - Free Thinking
    Florence Farr
    BBC Radio 3 - Free Thinking


    Research interests


    Postgraduate research supervision



    Allan Kilner-Johnson (2022)The other East: The Philosophia Perennis and the modern pilgrim, In: The Sacred Life of Modernist Literature Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
    Allan Kilner-Johnson (2022)The return to ritual: Embodiment and initiation in modernist drama, In: The Sacred Life of Modernist Literature Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
    Allan Kilner-Johnson (2022)The modernist shadow: Psychoanalysis, occultism and the taming of the unconscious, In: The Sacred Life of Modernist Literature Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
    Allan Kilner-Johnson (2022)The making of an overman: The superman and superwoman in modernist literature, In: The Sacred Life of Modernist Literature Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
    Allan Kilner-Johnson (2022)Divine reading: Absence and elision as occult form in modernist literature, In: The Sacred Life of Modernist Literature Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
    Allan Kilner-Johnson (2022)The sacred life of modernist literature Bloomsbury Academic

    Probing the relationship between modernist literary experimentation and several key strands of occult practice which emerged in Europe from roughly 1894 to 1944, this book sets the work of leading modernist writers alongside lesser known female writers and writers in languages other than English to more fully portray the aesthetic and philosophical connections between modernism and the occult. Although the early decades of the twentieth century-the era of cocktails, motorcars, bobbed hair, and war-are often described as a period of newness and innovation, many writers of the time found inspiration and visionary brilliance by turning to the mysterious occult past. This book's principle intervention is to reimagine the contours and boundaries of literary modernism by welcoming into the conversation a number of significant female writers and writers in languages other than English who are often still relegated to the fringes of modernist studies. Well-remembered poets and novelists such as Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats, and Aleister Crowley were tied to occult beliefs, and this book sets these leading figures alongside less well-remembered but equally splendid modernists including Paul Brunton, Mary Butts, Alexandra David-Neel, Florence Farr, Dion Fortune, Hermann Hesse, and Rudolf Steiner. From the little magazines where occultism and Fabianism were comfortable companions, to consulting rooms of psychoanalysts where archetypes were revealed to be both mystical and mundane, to the forbidden mountain trails that led to formidable spiritual teachers, the conditions of modernism were invariably those conditions which inspired a return to the occult traditions that many thinkers believed had long evaporated. Indeed, in many ways these traditions were the making of the modern world. By uncovering hidden hopes and anxieties that faced a newly modern Western Europe, this book demonstrates how literary modernists understood occultism as a universal form of cultural expression which has inspired creative exuberance since the dawn of civilisation.

    Allan Kilner-Johnson (2023)The Modernist Afterlives of Theosophy, In: Suzanne Hobson, Andrew Radford (eds.), The Edinburgh Companion to Modernism, Myth and Religionpp. 329-342 Edinburgh University Press
    Allan Kilner-Johnson (2020)Decadence in the Time of AIDS, In: Alex Murray (eds.), Decadence A Literary History pp. 394-407 Cambridge Univ Press

    The 1980s and 1990s saw a dramatic increase in popular and critical attention to Decadence, largely due to the growing awareness that the trials of Oscar Wilde had been an important milestone in the development of queer identity. Wilde was prosecuted for a lifestyle more than anything else, and the 1890s development of a set of queer cultural tropes and social practices began the process of publicly articulating non-normative sexual identity. This chapter charts the interest in Decadence and aestheticism in this period, paying particular attention to how the lives of Wilde and his circle spoke to the context of the time, particularly the HIV/AIDS crisis. This chapter looks at the role Decadent writing played in the literature of the period, studying in particular Peter Ackroyd’s The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (1983), David Hare’s play The Judas Kiss (1998), and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library (1988) and The Line of Beauty (2004). The recovery of Decadence at the fin de siècle of the twentieth century seemed to signal that the modernity of the twenty-first century could locate its origins in the radical attitudes and practices of the Decadent 1880s and 1890s.

    Allan Kilner-Johnson, Edidiong Udofia (2020)Using mindfulness meditation techniques to support peer-to-peer dialogue in seminars, In: Enhancing Student-Centred Teaching in Higher Educationpp. 311-326 Springer International Publishing

    This chapter reports on a small-scale investigation into the relationship between mindfulness meditation techniques and peer-to-peer dialogue in the context of undergraduate English Literature seminars. Over the course of the project, a group of second-year undergraduate Literature students spent a total of six hours learning non-therapeutic mindfulness meditation in extracurricular workshops which focused on techniques that can be used both in preparation for and during seminars. The chapter both indicates techniques for integrating mindful practices into teaching and aims to situate the role of mindfulness more broadly within the current state of higher education in the humanities. The research was conducted by a member of staff and a student at the University of Surrey and this chapter is co-authored by both student and staff researcher.

    Allan Kilner-Johnson (2023)Intermodernism and the Ethics of Lateness in Evelyn Waugh and Harold Acton, In: English studies104(1)pp. 120-133 Routledge

    Evelyn Waugh and Harold Acton had a deeply ambivalent relationship to the narrative of modernism, and their attempts to negotiate their position within the literary milieu of their own time clearly registers the tensions inherent in much of late modernist writing. Early modernism and high modernism were concerned with the nature of the 'firstness', of innovation and change, but as this article argues, intermodernism is best seen as an ethical mode that saw itself as increasingly removed from the organising attitudes of literary revolution. In their mid- and late-period writing, Acton and Waugh were concerned with structures of age-old history and prestige-notably Catholicism (Waugh) and China (Acton)-that they felt outweighed the innovations of modernism and made the modern aesthetic spirit seem clumsy, if not painfully late.

    Allan Kilner-Johnson (2023)‘A little bit naughty’: Storytelling and the logotherapeutic process in Matilda the Musical, In: Studies in musical theatre17(2)pp. 95-105

    Since its debut in 2010, Matilda the Musical has become a worldwide phenomenon, seen by over 11 million people in 91 cities. In the musical, Matilda’s love of reading and storytelling serves as a means of resistance and empowerment in the face of the oppressive forces of her parents and headmistress Miss Trunchbull, and she learns that the act of telling stories can help reshape reality. This article demonstrates that logotherapy, a branch of psychotherapy developed by Viktor Frankl, provides a valuable framework for analysing and understanding the themes of storytelling, identity formation and rebellion in the show. Logotherapy emphasizes the search for meaning as the key impetus in human life, and considers creativity and narrative determination as essential tools for realizing and claiming one’s purpose in society. This analysis of Matilda the Musical through the lens of Frankl’s logotherapy offers a unique perspective on the musical and opens up new insights into the importance of storytelling in the therapeutic process.

    Allan Kilner-Johnson (2020)Bernard Shaw's Gnostic Genius, In: SHAW: The Journal of Bernard Shaw Studies Penn State University Press

    During the penultimate year of the First World War—against the backdrop of the Battle of Passchendaele, the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, and Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war on Germany—sociologist Max Weber famously observed that “the fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world’.” Weber’s sense that modernity was delineated by a great cultural shift toward rationalism and secularisation offered a compelling explanation for the march of capitalism, rapidisation, and subjective detachment that characterised many of the most pressing cultural forces of the first two decades of the twentieth century. Weber’s disenchantment thesis would have a considerable influence on subsequent socio-historical assessments of the modernist project, however it has more recently been shown to provide an incomplete picture of the intellectual recourses of a period of significant transformation and change. James A.K. Smith argues that “the prophetic prognostications of Weber and his ilk proved to be only the predictions of false prophets,” and Peter Berger’s sustained questioning of Weber’s thesis leads, by his final book The Many Altars of Modernity (2014), to the opinion that Weber misread heterogeneity of spiritual practice as the rejection of faith:"Pluralism, the co-existence of different worldviews and value systems in the same society is the major change brought about by modernity for the place of religion both in the minds of individuals and in the institutional order." In Berger’s late work, modernity is defined not by the emergence of disenchantment but by the “huge transformation in the human condition from fate to choice,” a transition in no way antithetical to the pre-eminence of faith and religious fervour in cultural expression. The syncretistic energy of the late-nineteenth-century was not simply brushed aside to make way for the supposedly more rational modern world, but, rather, continued to evolve and expand into a sustained movement from orthodoxy to heterodoxy in spiritual belief, a pivotal cultural transition which is captured in both the dramatic writing and religious speeches of Bernard Shaw.

    Allan Johnson (2017)The Pleasure of “Conspicuous Leisure" in Sister Carrie and The House Mirth, In: English Studies Taylor & Francis

    The growth of leisure time for the middle- and working-classes during the Second Industrial Revolution gave rise to a newly modern leisure industry. This article argues that Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth center on this particular social and economical development as a means by which to establish that economic identity must be defined antithetically to the inescapable swell of mass, modern life. These novels illustrate a crucial economic transition in American history through their evaluation of the potential roles that Carrie Meeber and Lily Bart can play as objects of leisure, employees of the leisure industry, or bearers of what the economist Thorstein Veblen calls ‘conspicuous leisure.’ Dreiser and Wharton offer arch critiques of this new leisure class—not for populist or egalitarian purposes, but as a response to the toxic effects of a newly commoditized culture which supported and defined the leisured elite.

    Allan Kilner-Johnson (2019)‘[God] is a Flaming Hebrew Letter’: Esoteric Camp in Angels in America, In: Literature and Theology Oxford University Press (OUP)

    This article turns attention to the mystical theology of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America to demonstrate how Kushner aligns the long theological history of spiritual revelation and textual exegesis with the performative associations of camp, the stylised heightening of otherness, citation, and irony central to contemporary gay culture. Kushner’s play underscores the role of the divinely-inspired interloper in the development of both Western religion and the esoteric currents which run beneath, defining mystical experience as a form of camp which has historically ascribed questionable alterity to the receiver. As this article maintains, this suggestive correlation between high camp and esoteric faith works to resist a positivism firmly rooted in the scientific materialism of modernity and which had previously served as the most consistent artistic and academic response to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

    This book is about the modernist narrative voice and its correlation to medical, mythological, and psychoanalytic images of emasculation between 1919 and 1945. It shows how special-effects of rhetoric and form inspired by outré modernist developments in psychoanalysis, occultism, and negative philosophy reshaped both narrative structure and the literary depiction of modern masculine identity. In acknowledging early twentieth-century Anglo-American literature’s self-conscious and self-reflexive understanding of the effect of textual production, this engaging new study depicts a history of writers and readers understanding the role of textual absence in the development and chronicling of masculine anxiety and optimism.