Looking through the Occult: Conference on Instrumentation, Esotericism and Epistemology in the 19th Century (Humboldt U, Berlin)

Humboldt

Humboldt University at Unter den Linden 6, Berlin.

I’m excited to participate in a wonderful conference at Berlin’s Humboldt University on November 14-15: “Looking through the Occult: Instrumentation, Esotericism and Epistemology in the 19th Century”. The conference is free and open to the public, so if you are in Berlin and have an above average interest in topics such as spiritualism and mediums, ether physics, spirit photography, early radio technology and x-rays, this should be a good treat. Check out the nice website for more information on the programme, how to get there, and what to read up on in advance.

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ContERN YouTube channel and lectures from 2012 conference

When Kennet Granholm and I organised the 2012 conference on Contemporary Esotericism in Stockholm, and established the ContERN website, we gave our promises that video material from the conference would appear online within a few months. I’m not sure if 14 months can be characterised as “a few”, but in any case: The first material has now been publicized. We started by releasing our own introductory lecture and welcome address. In the short lecture we discuss our reasons for establishing ContERN and organising the conference in the first place, and argue for the need of an interdisciplinary study of contemporary esotericism to take shape.

As explained on the ContERN website, the video is a lot more grainy and static than we had hoped for. We originally had two cameras, but the results from one of them unfortunately had to be discarded. Luckily, though, the audio is pretty clear, so we hope that the documentation value is still fair enough as far as the content is concerned.

Make sure to check it out if you’ve been curious what was said during the conference – and stay tuned for the keynote lectures, which will be released in the coming weeks! Also make sure to subscribe to the ContERN YouTube channel.

A cult leader in the (royal) family

Astarte Inspiration bannerWorking as a historian of religion/esotericism/”pseudoscience” one often has to deconstruct misleading and sensational tabloid headlines. They could look a bit like the title of this post. Sensationalistic appeal notwithstanding, this time around I assure that the title is entirely appropriate and accurate for the topic.

There are several people that this title could have referred to – one might think of Prince Charles, or perhaps the Dutch Princess Irene, whose abilities to communicate with trees and dolphins bring her closer to the cultic fringe of the environmentalist movement. But as most Norwegian readers may have guessed, it refers to a princess closer to home.

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Relocation

Welcome to the Greenhouse

The Greenhouse at night.

This weekend I have relocated to my old home town, Trondheim. In the coming few months I’m going to fill an associate professor position, temporarily, due to a set of complicated circumstances that I’ll not go into here. Having left the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents in Amsterdam behind, I’ll now be found at the newly restructured Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). My office and all teaching happens at campus Dragvoll, which looks pretty much like a giant greenhouse, in a rural and woodlands area on the outskirts of town. Certainly a change of scenery from Amsterdam’s overcrowded streets!

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A fresh take on “magic” on the Societas Magica blog

merleau-ponty

Bodies, brains, magic, culture.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s new uses.

Some time ago I mentioned that Societas Magica were going to launch a blog. Well, that happened soon after, and I did not pay attention. So, quite overdue, here is the link to this new and valuable addition to the esoteric-et-cetera blog community.

So far there is only one post, but it is also a very good one that sets a high standard: “Ritual Magic and Conjured Bodies: A Philosophy and Methodology” by Damon Lycourinos. I was impressed with Damon’s paper at ESSWE4, on the use of Merleau-Ponty and embodiment theory in the analysis of contemporary ritual magical practice. In his first blog post at Societas Magica, Damon continues this exploration and offers, I think, some very valuable and stimulating reflections on how to theorise magical practice.

In particular, I couldn’t agree more with his complaint that talk about the body and embodiment in “postmodern” theorising has in fact not taken the body seriously at all – and that this could be remedied by returning to the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty:

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Review of Contemporary Esotericism

A blog review of Contemporary Esotericism

A blog review of Contemporary Esotericism

Watch out for the next generation of esotericism scholars! We’re already here; and, according to Wouter J. Hanegraaff, the volume on Contemporary Esotericism that appeared on Equinox earlier this year, edited by Kennet Granholm and myself, is the shape of things to come. We hope he’s right, of course.

The 20 chapters of that volume covered much ground, but, as Wouter comments:

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Faking it

Bad science is normal. Outright fabrication and fraud is luckily less normal, but much more wide-spread than it ought to be. Results may be fabricated entirely to support desired conclusions; conversely, inconvenient results may be challenged by fabricated doubt – whether the fabricators are payed by tobacconists fearing the consequences of cancer research, or oil companies afraid of climate taxes and infrastructural changes. The result is false knowledge and fabricated ignorance – both serious threats to a complex global risk society that needs decisions to be made on the best possible foundation.

While industrial interests and funding structures in the sciences are no doubt accountable for much bad science, they are far from the only reasons. There is of course the personal factor; but even the inevitable moralizing discourse on frauds – the black sheep of the academic flock, who act on egoistic intentions, manipulating colleagues, friends, students to their benefit with a lack of conscience that borders on the psychopathic – is ultimately unconvincing. Especially considering that bad science is normal, while psychopathy is not.

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The Problem of Disenchantment – invitation to a PhD defence

Problem of DIsenchantment cover

Last autumn I completed my PhD dissertation, and now it’s time to defend it. The defence is public, and will take place on February 5, 2013, at 12:00 in the Agnietenkapel of the University of Amsterdam. The event is open to anyone (with a max. capacity of 90 people), and I will give a short public lecture on the topic of my research prior to defending it in front of the committee.

While I have given hints about my research in a number of posts here at Heterodoxology, I am now happy to present an official abstract of the final product – the dissertation itself:

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Scientific delusions, or delusions about science? (part two: Mechanism, life, and consciousness)

moses-and-the-ten-commandments

Do you know the meaning of dogmatic?

In the previous post on Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Delusion, I noted that the overall argument is based on a number of misrepresentations and stereotypes of what “science” is up to. The reader gets the impression of a monolithic structure, big-S-”Science”, now dominated by Ten Dogmas, like commandments cut in stone tablets. The history of science has, of course, been rather more complicated. Several of the dogmas do not even correspond well with the actual theories that are pursued today: at best they represent a pointed caricature,  at worst, they build on stereotypes crafted about a century or longer ago, that hardly have any relevance for contemporary scientific practice. Even to the extent that some of the “dogmas” refer to presently widespread theoretical or methodological conventions, holding these to be fixed dogmas obscures the fact that they are the outcome of long and sometimes complicated historical developments, both internal and external to science. In short: that is a widely held belief does not make a “dogma”; that is a commonly recommended way of pursuing a task does not make a dogmatic procedure.

As promised in the previous post, I will go through the ten dogmas one by one to demonstrate some of these points. In the present one we shall focus on the first two, which have to do with questions about mechanism, vitalism, scientific method, materialism, and the problems of defining “consciousness”. We will visit some historical backgrounds and parallels to Sheldrake’s criticism of science, and test his claim that science has closed certain questions “dogmatically”, by holding them up against the actual historical developments of some of the special sciences. Without further ado, here goes dogma #1:

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The discovery of esotericism in Italy in the 20th century – from the ContERN cyberproceedings

Benedetto Croce (1866-1952)

Benedetto Croce (1866-1952)

The latest addition to the cyberproceedings of August’s conference on contemporary esotericism is slightly different from previous installations in the series. It is not too contemporary, but it adds a discussion that should be quite interesting to anyone involved in the definition debate and the broader history of the academic study of esotericism. Francesco Baroni’s paper focuses on what one might call the  discovery of esotericism in Italy during the early-to-mid 20th century, by a generation of idealistically (in the philosophical sense) oriented scholars. Baroni shows how Benedetto Croce, Adolfo Omodeo and Piero Martinetti were all involved with uncovering esoteric aspects of e.g. Renaissance natural philosophy, early Christianity, and Western idealist philosophy, even while despising the “irrationalism” of modern and contemporary esoteric currents such as spiritualism and Theosophy.

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