Registered for Contemporary Esotericism yet?

There is still time, but the early bird registration for the first international conference on Contemporary Esotericism is about to expire on May 31. So if you are considering to attend what looks to be a very interesting conference with many juicy topics on the agenda, you may save some euros if you register now.

If you still need more convincing, do take some time to check out the list of confirmed speakers and titles that has now been made available. There are about fifty of them, and thematically they range from afro-american esoteric milieus, to occultism in the occupy movement, to Philip K. Dick’s newly released Exegesis, to the films of Alejandro Jodorowski,  to  ancient astronauts, entheogens, esotericism in the environmentalist movement, Satanism, left-hand path magic(k), right-wing paganism, left-wing paganism, chaos, anarchy, underground distribution practices, and much, much else besides. Have a look.

Also while you are at it, you may check out the full abstracts for the four keynote lectures. Quoted below for convenience:

Christopher Partridge: “Occulture is ordinary”

While Western esotericism has its roots in the Hellenistic world of the first few centuries CE, and while much contemporary esoteric thought can be traced back to the rediscovery of early texts during the Renaissance and, particularly, to the modern occult revival of the nineteenth century, the late modern period since the 1960s has witnessed the emergence of a political and cultural context that has proved particularly conducive to the proliferation of broadly esoteric ideas.

No longer can such thought be considered occulted or esoteric, in the sense of being recondite and secretive. While there are, of course, occult traditions and organizations that are styled as such, concerned with the cultivation of a sense of Gnostic privilege, the culture in which they are embedded is no longer hidden or unfamiliar. It is ordinary and everyday.

Jay Jonston: “Productive Trouble – Gender and Esotericism”

The definitions, boundaries and constituents signified by both the terms ‘gender’ and ‘esotericism’ are necessarily troubling and dynamic: trouble for conceptual categories, for binary logics, and for dominant discursive practices. Such trouble is both inspiring and — as will be proposed in this presentation —imperative.

This paper will consider the major themes and strategies for thinking about gender and/in the discipline of esotericism, including scholarship that has considered marginalized subjects, gender bias, gender roles, and non–normative sexualities. The consideration of the deeply intersectional discursive relations of ‘gender’ and ‘esotericism’ includes examining the sexualisation of esoteric discourses and subjects, the way in which concepts of ‘nature’ are defined and deployed, and the construction of gendered identities and knowledges.

In outlining the above concerns, an argument will be made for the usefulness of employing ‘gender’ as a critical category to trouble western esotericism’s disciplinary identity and boundaries, core concepts and epistemologies. That is, the serious need to asktricky questions of the discipline’s own complex investment in stable identities and positions.

Kocku von Stuckrad: “Rejected Theory in the Study of Esotericism”

The academic study of what is labeled ‘Western esotericism’ has by now established itself as a flourishing field of research that contributes to disciplines such as the academic study of religion, history, sociology, and cultural studies.

While scholars in the field of ‘Western esotericism’ usually claim to contribute significantly to these academic disciplines, it is surprising to see that their publications only rarely take notice of methodological and theoretical discussions that have challenged and transformed these very disciplines.

Even leading representatives of the field do not critically engage concepts such as ‘knowledge,’ ‘secrecy,’ ‘polemics,’ ‘identity,’ ‘history,’ ‘pluralism,’ or ‘the West,’ even though these terms figure prominently in their historical analysis. The result is an unreflective, at times even naïve understanding of what characterizes the study of ‘Western esotericism’ and how it should be linked to historical, sociological, and cultural research.

The lecture reviews influential recent contributions to the field of ‘Western esotericism’ and critically addresses their lacking theoretical basis. It is argued that it will be essential to actively engage with theoretical and methodological discussions in the fields of historiography and sociology, if the study of ‘Western esotericism’ wants to be taken seriously in a wider academic context and if it wants to leave the niche into which it has maneuvered itself.

Wouter J. Hanegraaff: “Entheogenic Esotericism”

Contemporary esotericism is replete with references to impressive “mystical” or visionary experiences, which are typically credited with having radically changed people’s lives by bringing them into contact with a “spiritual” dimension of reality. Given the widely acknowledged fact that the contemporary neo-esoteric revival has its historical roots in the 1960s, known for its widespread experimentation with psychoactive substances such as LSD, it is remarkable how rarely specialists in this domain (including the speaker himself, in his 1996 monograph on the New Age) have seen this dimension as relevant at all.

In my lecture I will argue that widespread experimentation with psychoactive or “entheogenic” substances is a significant factor in contemporary esotericism and should be given more attention by scholars. With some notable exceptions, such as Terence McKenna, Daniel Pinchbeck, or Alex Grey, esoteric authors and spokes(wo)men have tended to play down or deny this dimension, especially after the beginning of the “war on drugs” around 1970, and on the whole, scholars have been somewhat naïve in taking such emic denials at face value. Especially since “higher knowledge” or “gnosis” is widely seen as an important aspect of Western esotericism, the widespread claim that it may be attained or facilitated by psychoactive substances must be taken seriously in the study of contemporary esotericism.

There should be plenty to look forward to.

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Published in: on May 13, 2012 at 10:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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