With only a few hours left of 2013, I feel relatively safe that no new earth-shattering breakthroughs in the field of esotericism will be published this year. With that certainty in mind, I want to share with you a list of my favourite esotericism related publications that have appeared this year. The list is obviously biased in many ways, and I am even going to be obnoxious enough to put some personal darlings on the list. Judge this as you may; in any case I think you will agree that 2013 has been a good year for the academic study of esotericism. So here goes, my personal highlights of 2013 – ordered by subjective level of excitement:
On top of my list is the first volume of the new journal Correspondences. I have said a lot about this throughout the year (here, here and here), so there should be little doubt about my reasons for considering this the most momentous publishing event in the field for 2013. Let me nevertheless recount the arguments: A) it’s an entirely new, fully peer-reviewed, ISSN-registered academic journal; B) it’s open access and absolutely free to everyone; C) it has an explicit policy of recruiting the emerging generation of aspiring young scholars; D) the Editors in Chief are seriously cool dudes (and friendly – get in touch and you’ll see).
While we should not mistake intentions for achievements, the launching of this new initiative is very promising and certainly marks a notable event.
2. Asprem and Granholm, Contemporary Esotericism (Equinox/Acumen)
Okay. This is an obvious crime against modesty, but as co-editor it’s hard not to rank the release of Contemporary Esotericism as a very exciting publication event of the past year (I said this was going to be a biased list). I will not say much more about the volume here – feel free to read my postings elsewhere. Suffice it to say that Kennet and I both think there are some articles in this volume that really push the field in new and, from our perspective, desirable directions. At the very least, we appear to have succeeded in making “contemporary esotericism” one of the buzzwords of the field this year.
3. Wouter J. Hanegraaff, “Textbooks and Introductions to Western Esotericism” (Religion)
At the very beginning of the year, Wouter Hanegraaff published a controversial review article on the current state of introductory textbooks in the field. He was not impressed. I wrote a substantial summary and commentary on this already at the end of last year (prepublication was available online to journal subscribers). What I said about it then still holds now. This review article is indispensable for newcomers to the field, and should continue to be read, discussed, and responded to by established and emerging scholars in the field. For this, it is an individual article that ranks highly on my list of noteworthy publications of the year.
4. Review symposium: Esotericism and the Academy (Religion)
Volume 43.2 of the journal Religion turned out to be an exceptional one for esotericism. In addition to the review article mentioned above, this issue featured a review symposium on Hanegraaff’s 2012 book, Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture. With Michael Stausberg, Olav Hammer, Marco Pasi, Bernd-Christian Otto and Giovanni Filoramo as respondents, this had to be another momentous publication event of the year. Reading the thoughtful criticisms and the author’s response is now mandatory for anyone who wants to be on top of current developments in the field.
5. Marco Pasi, Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics (Acumen)
This must be the most anticipated of all esotericism related publications that have appeared in 2013. We have been waiting for the English translation of Pasi’s book on Crowley and politics since deep into the previous decade. Officially released December 1, it just made it on time for this list. More than a translation of the original Italian (and the German translation), this revised edition has a lot of extra material that brings the study up to speed with developments in Crowley scholarship of recent years – a field in which Pasi himself has been a central player. It also comes with a stunning front cover by Swedish esoteric artist Fredrik Söderberg.
6. Henrik Bogdan and Gordan Djurdjevic (eds.), Occultism in Global Perspective (Acumen)
Released late in the year (November), this edited volume deals with a topic that has been controversial in the field for a while: just how “Western” is Western esotericism? How do we deal with esotericism in other cultural contexts? It’s a great addition to the literature on this topic – which is almost non-existent. Unfortunately there is only one chapter that really deals with the important theoretical problems involved (Kennet Granholm’s “Locating the West”). The rest of the volume is preoccupied with giving various case studies of mostly quite standard Western esotericism imported to countries outside of the purported “West”. This is still an interesting field, and the book easily ranks as one of the significant contributions of the year.
7. Kennet Granholm, “Esoteric Currents as Discursive Complexes” (Religion)
Published in a special issue on “Discourse Analysis in Religious Studies”, I found this to be one of the most important single articles on theory and method in esotericism to appear last year. I’ve already cited it a number of times, and it was mentioned by several papers during ESSWE4 in Gothenburg this summer. The contribution is simple enough, but important because it makes some sharp distinctions and gives some fruitful methodological suggestions. Granholm makes the case for distinguishing between “esoteric discourse” and “discourses on the esoteric”, and has some cool reflections on what he calls “discursive complexes” and how to analyse them. It provides an alternative to the talk about esoteric “currents” and “traditions”, providing an important way forward.
8. Hanegraaff, Western Esotericism: A Guide for the Perplexed (Bloomsbury)
Just after the critical review article on existing textbooks and introductions, Hanegraaff released his own introduction to esotericism. Appearing in Bloomsbury’s handy “Guide for the Perplexed” series, this introductory book by the leading scholar in the field is impossible to ignore. Yet, with the expectations that were built up it also had to be judged by very high standards. This is why it only appears as number eight on this list. I took the opportunity to test the book’s merits as a textbook on my advanced undergraduates in religious studies this semester. My conclusion was that this is not really a textbook for students, but an introduction for scholars working in related fields. Thus, while the book is clearly up there with the best existing introductions (of which I would rank Kocku von Stuckrad’s Western Esotericism and Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s Western Esoteric Traditions as the main contenders, along with Faivre’s Western Esotericism), it does not automatically replace the others for all purposes. We are still in a situation without a catch-all general introduction that we can both assign to new students and lend to curious colleagues.
9. April DeConick and Grant Adamson, Histories of the Hidden God (Acumen)
An exciting collected volume arranged around the topic of concealment and revelation in theological discourses, with a focus on Gnosticism, esotericism, and mysticism across the Abrahamittic religions. The diversity of the topics and diachronic span from antiquity to contemporary times makes this volume truly one of a piece.
10. Aries special issue: Occulture and Modern Art
This special issue of Aries was composed by Tessel M. Bauduin and Nina Kokkinen, and was mentioned earlier this year. It is significant in two respects: as a continuation in the still growing academic interest in esotericism and art, and as an attempt to do something systematic with the concept of “occulture”. The exchange with Christopher Partridge should be of great interest to others concerned with this concept, and reads well together with Partridge’s “Occulture is Ordinary”-article in Contemporary Esotericism.
It turns out 2013 has been a fruitful year not only for esotericism research, but also for developing the concept of occulture for future research.
And with that, I wish everyone a Happy New year!
2014 already has several promising expected esotericism-related titles on the agenda. Welcome back!
This blog post by Egil Asprem was first published on Heterodoxology. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.