The biggest esotericism conference yet – ESSWE4 and the schizophrenic life of academics

A few days ago I returned from Gothenburg, Sweden, after the fourth international conference of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (or #ESSWE4 for those following the tagboard). It was slightly larger than the three previous conferences (in Tübingen, Strasbourg, and Szeged); more than 90 papers were presented, there were discussion panels, keynotes, and night-time events. The conference was spread out over four days, and it needed every minute of the daily 9-hour schedule.

In other words it was a very busy time, with too many fascinating panels to see, and lots of old and new friends and colleagues to meet. In my case there were also two board meetings and other obligations intertwined with the social and academic programs.

I sometimes imagine the conference experience being a bit like schizophrenia: especially during mingling-time you’re constantly interrupted by voices calling you, new conversations constantly intrude on old ones, and if you’re somewhat involved with organization, there’s the feeling that you have to watch this or that, otherwise everything might fall apart.. This experience is of course boosted by the obligatory sleep-deprivation that comes with events like this, turning most academics into borderline psychotics to begin with.

I’m probably exaggerating. But as someone said, it’s probably good that the ESSWE conferences are held on two-year intervals: it leaves just sufficient time to recuperate for the next one.

I am not going to give a full review of the conference and its contents – that’s not my place seeing that I’m on the board and was part of the academic committee. Instead, I recommend keeping an eye out for updates at the Invocatio blog: Sarah Veale flew in from Toronto to attend the conference, and will be giving her take over the course of several blog posts.

However, from a purely subjective perspective, I really enjoyed it a lot. There were some extremely good panels I though, and an overall very high quality of papers. Of the panels that I had the pleasure to see, the ones that really stood out were the short one on esotericism in antiquity (with brilliant papers by Dylan Burns and Matt Twigg), the panel on “occultist women” (papers by Allison Coudert, Jimmy Elwing, and  Elizabeth Lowry), the Aleister Crowley panel (a topic that too often attracts mediocrity, but in this case all three panelists – Johan Nilsson, Shawn Gray, and especially Damon Lycourinos – presented innovative  and stimulating perspectives),  and the literature panel (Sandra Rudman, Per Faxneld, and Aren Roukema). As should be the case with a truly great conference,  each time you choose to go for one excellent panel you miss out on two other great ones.

My own paper on transhumanism and contemporary esotericism was delivered on the very last day. I was quite happy with the reception and the discussion afterwards, and got the impression we could have continued for quite some time. This was interesting as a try-out, and it became clear that it’s a topic to pursuit further. If you are interested in my preliminary thoughts on the matter, I have uploaded the manuscript of the paper to my Academia.edu page.

Oh, and there was one more thing. On Friday morning I was awarded  the ESSWE Thesis Prize for, as the certificate says, “an outstanding European Ph.D. thesis on Western Esotericism”. I’m deeply honoured.

And on that note I return to editing the dissertation manuscript for a forthcoming book publication.

PS. For photos and impressions from the conference, go and check out the ESSWE$ Tagboard.
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This blog post by Egil Asprem was first published on Heterodoxology. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m still astounded by how good the conference was. My plan is to contribute something more substantial than silly blog posts to the next conference.

    And congratulations on the prize! Having read a bit of your work, I’m sure it was well deserved.

  2. It was a great conference, and I enjoyed your talk on transhumanism! Good stuff.
    Since you missed my talk, I’ll allow myself to add that I’ve posted something of a summary of it on Praeludia Microcosmica.

  3. […] Attendees are starting to get some distance from the ESSWE4 conference in Gothenburg now, and a number of reviews and impressions have appeared on blogs during the last week. Below you’ll find a round-up of pieces written from different perspectives. My own two cents you’ll find here. […]


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