As a PhD student who does research on the intersection of several strands of Western history – i.e. the history of Western esotericism, the history of science, and the history of religions – I come across a whole lot of intellectual weirdness on a daily basis. This blog is intended as a place to share some of the perplexing, bizarre, but always deeply fascinating curiosities of human thought and knowledge that I encounter. The style will be somewhere between a research blog, commenting on academic research into the undercurrents of Western intellectual history, both my own and that of others, and a place for general commentary and debate of semi-relevant issues that may arise. After all, the media is a treasure-trove of ostensibly “heterodox” religion and science these days, which may warrant the occasional comment.
Now, a little bit about the background. I am writing my PhD at the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Briefly and for the uninitiated, that means I am part of a research community of mostly intellectual historians and religious studies scholars who look at the role of esoteric knowledge systems in the history of Western culture – primarily from the renaissance until today. Although the extension and boundaries of the term “esotericism” in this context is disputed, it usually means concretely that we are interested in such currents as Hermeticism, Jewish and Christian kabbalah, neo-Platonism, Paracelsism, ceremonial magic, Rosicrucianism, the “occult sciences” of alchemy, astrology, and (natural) magic, illuminism, Swedenborgianism, Mesmerism, Naturphilosophie, spiritualism, occultism, and so on. For an overview of this field of research, one could read introductions like this, this, or this, and consult the state-of-the-art Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism.
But Western esoteric thought is not all that I do. In fact, I am primarily interested in the dynamic relations between esoteric systems of thought and the modern sciences – especially from the late 19th century to the post-war period of the 20th. This means I have had to self-educate in the history of science (formally, my background is in the history of religion and philosophy), and draw on conceptual tools from another vastly interdisciplinary field: science and technology studies. My starting-point has been a suspicion that the seemingly water-tight boundaries that have been built around the scientific enterprise during the 20th century, through professionalization and institutionalization, may hide a still ongoing process of negotiation with esoteric spokespersons and their ideas. My project is thus to uncover traces that have been erased, as well as theorizing and analyzing the process of exclusion and inclusion that occurs on the borders of modern science.
Ok – that may sound obscure. Maybe it still is. Hopefully, there will be ample opportunity to explore and clarify some of these issues on the blog. I will share my ideas and reflections, discuss both concrete examples and theoretical issues that occupy my thinking about them. I also expect to frequently step outside of the strict area of research for my PhD (which deals with science and esotericism, and primarily the early 20th century), to also comment on other curiosa that fascinate me.
In short, I will do heterodoxology in a very general sense: covering and commenting unconventional thought and behaviour across the spectrum of Western culture.