Education

Iain Edgar obituary | Anthropology

My friend and colleague Iain Edgar, who has died aged 72, was a leading figure in the study of dreaming, who had investigated the role of dreams in Islam and in particular how the interpretation of dreams had influenced the actions of the 9/11 terrorists.

As a lecturer at Durham University, Iain enthralled many, and infuriated a few, by guiding students on inner journeys with shamanic drumming, sometimes setting off smoke alarms with the use of his smudge stick. But by taking people’s dream stories seriously he was able to carve out a body of work that broke new ground, helping people to appreciate and analyse their inner experiences.

Iain was born in Southend-on-Sea, son of Fred Edgar, a dentist, and Margery (nee White), a homemaker. He attended Bedford school for boys, a boarding school, and then took a gap year hitchhiking through Europe, the Middle East and the USSR. He studied philosophy at the University of York, graduating in 1970, and taught English for several years in Spain and London. He then trained in social work and practised in Aberdeen for five years. In 1981 he became a lecturer in social work at Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University).

However, Iain was always attracted to anthropology, and in 1986 completed an MPhil from Durham University, based on research undertaken at the Peper Harow therapeutic community in Surrey. His PhD from Keele University was published as Dreamwork, Anthro­pology and the Caring Professions in 1995. That year he joined the anthropology department at Durham University, where he retired as a senior lecturer in 2014.

A Guide to Imagework (2004) looked at ways of exploring the inner worlds of the human imagination. After the events of 9/11, he studied the role that dreams had played, when the terrorists saw their dreams as legitimation for their actions.

He took increasing interest in Islamic dream traditions and undertook field research in Bosnia, Cyprus, Pakistan, Turkey and around the UK, culminating in his 2011 book, The Dream in Islam: From Qur’anic Tradition to Jihadist Inspiration.

In retirement he stayed in his much loved house in Alum Waters, just outside Durham, and continued to give talks and lectures about dream interpretation. He loved nature and was always out and about for walks with his close friend and neighbour, Gwynned de Looijer.

Iain is survived by Nick and Sophie, the children from his marriage to Anna, from whom he was separated, and by his grandchildren, Luke, Oliver, Morris and Sally, and his brother, David.

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