Books from the Esoteric Brat Pack

As a member of what’s been called the “brat pack” of esotericism scholars I am proud to note that a considerable number of us are appearing on the scene this year with monographs based on PhD dissertations. The brat pack presumably consists of a group of (then) students and emerging scholars who were around at the time of ESSWE 1 in 2007, and who have frequently been seen together at conferences since. While some of us have teamed up for joint gigs in the past (think The Devil’s Party or Contemporary Esotericism, and the conferences that went with both of these),  it looks like 2014 is the big year for solo work. I know of at least four titles either published or forthcoming in 2014 by (for the most part) recent PhDs working in the field of Western esotericism. There may be other publication plans I am not aware of (please leave a note!). Here’s a chronological list of the knowns.

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The end of EXESESO

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University of Exeter, former home to the Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism (EXESESO)

After the untimely death of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke back in 2012 (see obituary in The Times, and by Christopher McIntosh in Aries [pay-wall]) , there has been much speculation about what would happen with the Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism (EXESESO) that he ran at the University of Exeter. Since 2005, EXESESO has offered one of the three official university programs for the academic study of esotericism in Europe (the others being in Amsterdam and Paris), and produced a steady stream of MAs through its distance learning program. After an internal evaluation process at Exeter University, in dialogue with the Theosophically oriented Blavatsky Trust who funded the centre, a final decision has now been made to shut EXESESO down. Mark Sedgwick reports on the decision in the Spring 2014 ESSWE newsletter, which was released today:

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ASE in progress, next stop Budapest – Esotericism conference update

The Fifth International Conference of the Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE – the American older sister of ESSWE) is happening at Colgate University (Hamilton, NY) these days, with an interesting lineup and topic. It’s not the only esotericism event to take place this summer, however: As previously noted here there is a new regional network of ESSWE around – CEENASWE, focusing on central and eastern Europe – and they are holding their launching event in Budapest on July 4-5. The program is quite impressive for such a young network, including speakers from Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Israel, the Netherlands, the US, etc., giving papers on topics ranging from neopaganism in Serbia to Hungarian Freemasonry, from early-modern Christian Kabbalah to modern occultism, from literary expressions and visual art to neo-Gnosticism in modern Orthodox contexts. Much to look forward to.

And all the papers are in English, which gives a unique opportunity for international exchanges on these topics and sets a new precedence for work in this area in the years to come. It is really encouraging to see that solid scholarship on esotericism is not only expanding geographically, but that we’re also seeing new opportunities for integrating this work with the broader international community. It promises a healthy counterweight to a predominantly anglophone, French- and German-dominated field.

 

 

ESSWE PhD Thesis Prize 2015 – Submissions welcome!

A call has just gone out for nominating PhD dissertations for next year’s biannual ESSWE Thesis Prize. So if you are finishing a dissertation on an esotericism related topic, it’s time to slip this call to your supervisor and subtly suggest a nomination. The reward? Honour and glory and  € 500 prize money, awarded at next year’s ESSWE Conference in Riga, Latvia. There will be some money available for reimbursing travel expenses to Latvia. The awarded dissertation will be recommended for publication in the Aries Book Series. More information on who can apply, when, to whom, and so forth, see the call – which I also paste below.

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Comparison and the Study of Esotericism

Gordan Djurdjevic, India and the Occult (Palgrave, 2014)

Gordan Djurdjevic, India and the Occult (Palgrave, 2014)

A few weeks ago, Correspondences 2.1 appeared, featuring my article  “Beyond the West: Towards a New Comparativism in the Study of Esotericism”. I focus on the role of comparative methods in the field of esotericism, a subject that has been fraught with controversy due to excessive misuses of such methods in the past. The core of my argument is that we need to lift the more general ban on comparativism that has largely been in effect, and start developing new and responsible ways of opening up the field to both cross-cultural and other sorts of comparative research. I analyse the scholarly background, the current situation, and offer concrete suggestions – including a typology of different sorts of comparative research that might be undertaken, and for what reasons.

The reason for writing this post is not just to pique your interest in this article, however, but rather to point out that there is a broader discussion mounting at the moment. In religious studies generally, the debate is opened up again now with Jeffrey Kripal’s recent text  book, Comparing Religions (Wiley, 2013), and in my article I cite a growing literature in esotericism studies that move in this direction. It was however nice to receive another addition in the mail last week, Gordan Djurdjevic’s India and the Occult: The Influence of South Asian Spirituality on Modern Western Occultism (Palgrave, 2014). Leafing through it this afternoon inspired this post, because I realize that Djurdjevic makes a sort of contribution that should have been included in my discussion had it been available half a year ago. So here are some quick thoughts, relating our comparativist projects.

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Theosophical Appropriations – videos from a workshop

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INASWE workshop on Theosophy, kabbalah, Western esotericism, and appropriations of traditions

The INASWE [Israeli Network for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism] has done it again. Videos from a workshop held last December on the theme of “Theosophical Appropriations: Kabbalah, Western Esotericism, and the Transformation of Traditions” are now online, and they show an impressive number of great scholars talking about intriguing aspects of modern esotericism, angled through the Theosophical current one way or another. The conveners Julie Chajes and Boaz Huss have done a great job putting together this group. One of the nice aspects of this collection is the global scope, giving a panoramic view of Theosophical groups across a number of different countries.

As in previous years, it is wonderful that all of this is made available online. So go and watch Karl Baier talk about how the chakras were introduced into Theosophy, John Patrick Deveney lecture on Theosophy as Lesenmysterium, Moshe Idel pontificate on Theosophy and Kabbalah in Romania, Massimo Introvigne entertain on the topic of Canadian Theosophy, and let Marco Pasi enlighten you on the role of the Theosophical movement in Italian esoteric milieus. And much, much more.

Religion and Transhumanism conference – May 10

May will be a busy travel and conference month for some of us. One event that I regret having to miss is the newest initiative of the Brighter Brains Institute (the guy[s] who do the Transhuman Visions series): “Religion and Transhumanism”. I’ve been writing and speaking about this topic on and off for about a year, and was sorry to have to turn down an offer to speak at this event. It should be interesting:

“14 speakers from different Faiths – Islam, Raelism, Lutheran, Mormon, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Buddhist, Wicca, Urantia, Terasem, Atheism, Agnosticism – will discuss the similarities and contradictions of Religion and Transhumanism. 3 panels + plenty of time to get your questions answered.”

For others in or around the Bay Area who might be interested, the event takes place on May 10, from 9am – 9pm at Piedmont Veteran’s Hall, 401 Highland Avenue, Piedmont, California.

Gnosis & Alterations of Consciousness: ESSWE Thesis Workshop

Flammarion woodcut altered

Time for Thesis Workshop in Amsterdam: “Gnosis & Alterations of Consciousness”

It’s an odd-numbered year, and it’s spring (sort of, some places). And it’s soon time for a new ESSWE Thesis Workshop in Amsterdam, the third one in the line (after this and this). In years when there is no ESSWE conference, these open workshops designed for MA and PhD candidates who are involved with some independent research and thesis writing in the field of esotericism, are organised in conjunction with the annual ESSWE board meeting. We’ve had one on alchemy in 2010, and one on magic in 2012. This year’s workshop has just been announced: the topic is “Gnosis and Alterations of Consciousness”, the date is May 10 (a Saturday), and the place, as previous years, is Amsterdam. It is also completely free (although you should contact the HHP secretary to book a place – see the official call for details). A great excuse for spending a May weekend in Amsterdam!

 

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Correspondences – call for articles issue 3

The second issue of Correspondences is just around the corner. With that comes a reminder that the journal is happy to receive new submissions. If you submit by June 1, your article comes into consideration for the third issue, scheduled for Fall 2014. So if you have an article on esotericism you wanted to finish up and submit, now would be a good time! As usual, the journal has a broad interest in the field of Western esotericism and takes articles that span all historical periods (the first issue had an article on Valentinian gnosticism and another on contemporary Ritual Black Metal – both really excellent in my opinion), and come from different disciplinary perspectives. Manuscripts on theoretical and methodological issues in the field are also welcome. Usually those are a real treat for the hungry peer-review monster…

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As announced previously (I’ve got more here), I’m now the journal’s book review editor, and the third issue will be the first properly curated book review section.  So if you have any book review queries, books you’d like to see reviewed, books you’d like to review, or anything like that, don’t hesitate to write me.

 

New ESSWE network for Central- and Eastern Europe – conference launch event

Launching CEENASWE this summer

Central and Eastern European Network for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism.

Eastern and Central Europe has been an area of growth for ESSWE in recent years. Now a new regional network is joining the fold and representing ESSWE more firmly on the ground in the region: the Central and Eastern European Network for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism (CEENASWE) will be launched officially this summer. A Facebook page carries an invitation and call for papers for this event. For non-Facebook users (I hear they still exist), I attach the information below:

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