The latest issue of Aries has just been published: A special issue on Esotericism and the Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR), edited by Markus Altena Davidsen and myself. As we explain in our editorial, “What Cognitive Scienece Offers the Study of Esotericism”, Western esotericism and CSR have developed in parallel over the past couple of decades, each, in their own ways, pushing the academic study of religion into new territory. Given that esotericism is full of psychologically rich sources (from visions and trances to hidden correspondences and esoteric hermeneutic techniques), it seems that much could be gained from bringing these two fields together. My Occult Minds project has already been taking steps in this direction. The intention behind the Aries special issue, however, is to push this agenda in a collaborative way, by publishing articles on esoteric subject matter informed by a range recent theories of cognition, together with a response article by someone in the field of CSR. We were happy to get Jesper Sørensen in this role, a central figure in the “Aarhus school” who has worked on problems that are directly relevant to esotericism.
After a peripatetic existence that’s involved four international moves over the past eight months, and eight countries visited over the summer, I have now landed in Stockholm, Sweden. (Big thanks to everyone who offered their hospitality along the way – from the Holy Land to the Pacific coast, and the French riviera to the Scottish highlands!) Having been on six temporary contracts over the past three years (with a few short stints of unemployment in between), I am happy to announce that I am taking up a position as assistant professor in the history of religions at Stockholm University. As their in-house heterodoxologist, I will be teaching a course this autumn on “New religions and spiritualities” with a heavy focus on the alternative and esoteric, and contribute to courses on stuff like “Mysticism and meditation” and “Theory and method” in the study of religion. Next year, I’ll also reboot an introductory course on Western esotericism that has existed as a summer course at the department since 2007 (although not always taught). I also look forward to start collaborating with the growing community of colleagues here in Sweden who share these interests, on all levels, and both within and outside of academia.
For some time now, a debate has been rolling about the status of “pagan studies” as a field of academic research. It’s not that there’s been any doubt about the importance of studying contemporary paganisms; on the contrary, academic as well as mainstream interest in reconstructionist pagan groups as well as magical groups along the lines of Wicca and Thelema, still appears (anecdotally) on the increase. The problem has rather been with the aims and goals of pagan studies as a prospective discipline, as well as the approaches advocated for studying it. In an article just published in The Pomegranate – the foremost (or, rather, the only) peer-reviewed academic journal dedicated to this field – the up-and-coming (and highly productive) scholar, Ethan Doyle White (known from the Albion Calling blog), argues that the time has come for reform.
This summer, ESSWE organizes its fourth biannual Thesis Workshop – a one-day event where MA and PhD candidates get together with established scholars to discuss papers on a given topic as well as research strategies and career advice. (For a basic idea, check out what I’ve said about the 2010, 2012, and 2014 workshops) This year’s topic is “Magical Traditions and Medieval Religions of the Book”. Unlike earlier years, when this event took place in Amsterdam, this year’s workshop will be hosted by the Warburg Institute in London, on July 7.
As in previous years, the day has two main sessions: an “oratory” (lectures by specialists), and a “laboratory” (group-based discussions of MA/PhD research related issues, divided by period and/or thematic focus based on what people are working on). In addition, this year there will be a round table discussion following the oratory, and an “early career advice” session (which will be lead by Liana Saif and myself).
The oratory will feature papers by Siam Bhayro, Liana Saif, and Adelina Angusheva-Tihanov, with a keynote by Jean-Patrice Boudet. These scholars will be available to participants in the laboratory session, as will the chairs Yuri Stoyanov, Charles Burnett, organizer Sophie Page, and most of the board members of ESSWE.
Check out all the details in the programme. And, please note that this is a free event with a limited number of places. Questions and reservations should be addressed to the organizer Sophie Page (see the programme).
It has been more than a decade since the Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism (2005) was released, the flagship volume of what was then a fledgling field with few reliable introductions and reference works. At the time this was a milestone achievement, pulled off by a dedicated editorial team, 147 authors, and taking the better half of a decade to complete.
That is not to say that the result was perfect. Although the Dictionary was selected a Choice Outstanding Academic Title in 2006, a number of criticisms of selection policy, range, and terminology were put forward and discussed in the academic community from the beginning.
There’s an exciting, experimental conference coming up this September at the University of Northampton, England. Featuring the legendary graphic novel author Alan Moore, the Crowley-biographer Richard Kaczynski, and the specialist of modern occultism and art Marco Pasi as keynote speakers, Trans-States is looking to be a very interesting trans-disciplinary event.
The call for papers is open until March 20. But beware: it is not just another academic conference, so the powerpoint with paper that is too long to read in 20 minutes is not the only possible medium: