Why fear the history of science? A brief response to Don Wiebe

The Problem of Disenchantment: Scientific Naturalism and Esoteric Discourse, 1900-1939 (Brill, 2014)I am more used to being labelled a “scientistic reductionist” than an “anti-science relativist”. While neither is particularly accurate, I was certainly surprised to see Don Wiebe review my book, The Problem of Disenchantment, as a “full-scale attack on modern Western science” (p. 1). Ironically, the review (published online in the journal Religion) appears side by side with an article of mine [free postprint here] that argues for consilience between the humanities and the sciences, so readers are likely to walk away a bit puzzled.

Since the charge of anti-science is a serious one, however, and since it comes from a well-respected scholar whose ardent support for a scientific and secular study of religion I have, in fact, admired since my undergraduate days, it seems necessary to take a moment to clarify some crucial issues that appear to get mixed up in the review.


New ESSWE website – and conference program available

New website, new look and feel.

New website, new look and feel. Breathing new fire into the field.

The European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism has just launched its new website. The old one dated from the foundation of the society ten years ago, and a new, cleaner, more functional website was certainly long overdue. Hopefully this does the trick!

We are also now only a few days away from the biannual ESSWE conference, which this year takes place in Riga, Latvia. The program has now been available, and can be downloaded from the website. The topic is “Western Esotericism and the East”, which should be an excellent opportunity for continuing the discussion on the “Western” in esotericism, and issues of comparison. In addition to keynotes by Wouter Hanegraaff, Charles Burnett, and Alison Caudert, it is a program packed full with a lot of interesting talks and topics, which should make for a stimulating (if exhausting) few days in the Baltic.

Finally, I’ll put on my membership secretary hat and take the opportunity to bring a message to members: you will need to reset your passwords to be able to use it. Luckily, this is a very easy automatic process now (before, I had to do this manually for every single person, so at least there is one person who is quite happy with this new arrangement!): simply follow this link, enter your email address, and take it from there.


ContERN meeting at ESSWE5 in Riga, April 18


The ESSWE conference is coming up again, this time in Riga, Latvia. Here is a post on the ContERN meeting that will take place during the conference, and news about a planned special issue of Correspondences on contemporary esotericism. Do also check out the schedule for the Riga conference (link in post).

Originally posted on Contemporary Esotericism Research Network:

The fifth international ESSWE congress is coming up very soon in Riga, Latvia (April 16-18). ContERN will not be hosting any special sessions this year, but we do have a reserved slot for a brief business meeting. The ContERN meeting is scheduled for Saturday morning (April 18), at 08.30. More details about locations will be available as the congress organizer publicize the full program.

We encourage everyone who is going to the ESSWE conference and is working on any aspect of contemporary esotericism to show up for this meeting. It’s a good opportunity to meet up, brain storm about future projects, and strategize together. Getting your views on possible initiatives and collaborative projects will be the main priority of the meeting.

The ContERN organizers do, however, also bring a new project to the table that we want your input on. We are planning a ContERN special issue in Correspondences

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Published in: on March 28, 2015 at 1:50 am  Leave a Comment  

New blog at Occult Minds

When I launched the website of my current postdoctoral research project (“Occult Minds: Esotericism as Cognition and Culture”) last August, it was with the intention of keeping a research blog that would be updated fairly regularly. Not much has happened on the blog front the past six months (let’s just say that I needed to prioritize my writing tasks), but now I have updated it with a post that looks at some precursors for the aim of the project: which is to bring together the study of esotericism and the cognitive science of religion. Spoiler: There really isn’t much to find – but esotericism scholars can learn from some of their colleagues studying Gnosticism.

I hope to update the Occult Minds blog more frequently in the coming months, so stay tuned for further updates.

Want to host an ESSWE conference in 2017?

This post is in the category “doing my duty as board member of ESSWE”, but it might also be of some interest to general readers. The European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism is, as you should know by now, holding it’s fifth biannual conference this spring, in Riga, Latvia. You can read about how to sign up for it here; and, of course, ESSWE members get a discount, so this is also a great opportunity to renew your membership or become a member.

There is no rest for the wicked, however, and we already need to look ahead to ESSWE6 in 2017. Therefore, the Society is currently calling for applications from scholars who might be interested in hosting the next conference at their institution. As we wish to discuss these proposals at the Board meeting in Riga, it’s strongly advised that those who may wish to do so contact the Secretary, Mark Sedgwick, as soon as possible (preferably by the end of January).

End of semi-official communication.

Published in: on January 21, 2015 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Esotericism in Antiquity: An Aries special issue

TauroctonyThere is much exciting work going on in the area of esotericism and the religions of antiquity at the moment. One of the people who have been instrumental in lifting the focus on antiquity within the study of esotericism (and bringing esotericism to a sometimes unwilling crowd of Gnosticism and ancient Christianities specialists – kudos for that!) is Dylan Burns, currently of the University of Leipzig. I’ve written about Dylan’s work previously, and of course, there’s been mention of the ESSWE Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity (NSEA) which he co-founded with Sarah Veale.

Now, fresh off those unobtanium-coated Brill printers (more…)

Database of journals/publishers’ copyright policies (RoMEO)

Academics and other people interested in peer-reviewed research are often frustrated about paywalls and publication delays, and confused about what’s allowed in terms of sharing drafts and published articles online. I was recently made aware of a great resource for dealing with the latter of those issues: The SHERPA/RoMEO database for publisher copyright policies and self-archiving rights. While published articles are often hidden behind paywalls, many journals allow authors to self-archive pre-prints (drafts prior to peer review) and/or post-prints (accepted drafts after peer-review, but prior to typesetting and final edits by the journal) on their own website, or in online repositories. Some even allow authors to distribute the final, typeset articles this way. What the RoMEO database does is to provide a search tool for finding the policies of individual journals. This can be very helpful for academics who are wondering which of their articles can be distributed in what form and fashion, and may perhaps be useful even for choosing where to submit a paper in the first place.

In my own case, I was pleased to find that the home of one of my long “in press” articles – which passed peer-review and was accepted for publication already a year and a half ago, but is still frustratingly clogged up in a publication queue – allows self-archiving of post-prints. So in order to make sure that this article does not become even more outdated than it already is by now, I have made “Dis/Unity of Knowledge: Models for the Study of Modern Esotericism and Science” available from the publication list here on Heterodoxology (and over at Occult Minds). The final article will hopefully appear in Numen some time later this year.

The Occult World – a new reference work for heterodoxologists

Occult World coverWith publication date set to December 24, 2014, this massive volume was a nice Christmas present for scholars of esotericism. Edited by Christopher Partridge and published on Routledge, The Occult World is a reference work for esotericism and the occult that should be useful to students as well as scholars and other readers interested in the topic. It consists of 73 chapters that are arranged both according to historical periods and thematic considerations, with a clear prevalence of modern and contemporary material.

One of the admirable feats (more…)

Correspondences third issue and statement on publishing strategy

Game of Thrones addict? No new series yet, but you can read about its representation of paganism in the latest Correspondences.

Game of Thrones addict? No new series yet, but you can read about its representation of paganism in the latest Correspondences.

Those who follow esotericism scholarship online will already know that Correspondences Vol. 2.2 has now been published, and is available for download at the journal’s website. It’s a healthy third issue from the young journal, with three research articles on topics ranging from representations of European paganism in the popular TV shows Game of Thrones and Vikings (Robert A. Saunders), to the question of how modern “modern ritual magic” really is (Christopher Plaisance), to a look at esoteric ideas forged in the context of Fascist Italy (Roberto Bacci). This selection makes it the most distinctly “modern and contemporary” issue to date – although there is certainly stuff in there for those interested in the broad historical lines as well, especially in Plaisance’s article on the continuities in European magical ritual practice.

Besides, there are five substantial book reviews this time, on some important recent volumes that span topics from Gnosticism and Theurgy to Aleister Crowley, Anthroposophy, and modern Satanism.  For a couple of these books, this may even be their first published review.


Max Weber Prize for “The Problem of Disenchantment”

Prof. Hans Kippenberg delivering his laudatio.

Prof. Hans Kippenberg delivering his laudatio.

On December 1, I was awarded the Max-Weber-Preis für Nachwuchsforschung from the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies in Erfurt for The Problem of Disenchantment. It was given in absentia, but upon receiving the manuscript of Prof. Hans Kippenberg’s laudatio, I was pleased to see that finally someone picked up on my namesake from the sagas, a certain “wayward Icelandic seafarer”. Kippenberg’s concluding words:

Es ist eine herausragende Arbeit eines Nachwuchswissenschaftlers in dem Feld zwischen Religionswissenschaft und Naturwissenschaft, ist bezogen auf Webers Forschungsprogramm, interdisziplinär angelegt und mit historischer Tiefe und langem Atem, wie man ihn von einem Seefahrer erwarten darf.

I guess Egil Skallagrimsson was actually more of a farmer than a sailor (incidentally that fits better with my own family background, too), but perhaps our shared warrior-poet mentality and ruthless brutality make the link stick nevertheless.

In any case, this is now the fourth prize for The Problem of Disenchantment, and perhaps the one that means the most to me. With Weber towering over the work for so long, and the book arguing for some serious revisions to Weberian approaches, it does mean a lot to get the recognition of an institution that, so to speak, carries Weber’s “routinized authority” in the present day.



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