Religion in the Age of Cyborgs. An essay and a lecture

metropolis-robotWhat happens to religion if the future belongs to the cyborgs? I’ve just written a weird essay addressing this topic, and am currently finishing up a lecture on the same topic for the Transhuman Visions conference in Piedmont on Saturday. The published piece is a response essay that I was asked to write for The Religious Studies Project, answering to an interview with the influential cognitive neuroscientist / evolutionary psychologist Merlin Donald. It’s a strange concoction of evolutionary theory, cultural history, futurist forecasting, transhumanism, distributed cognition, extended mind hypothesis, and cognitive science of religion. Pretty speculative all over, in fact, but fun to write. Check it out if you’re into that sort of thing. The talk to the transhumanists is going to be even more speculative, so you’re warned!

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Forbidden Histories – a blog worth following

Last autumn, Andreas Sommer defended his PhD at UCL, moved on to Cambridge  and started a blog. His PhD thesis was on the relationship between psychical research and the origins of modern psychology, a topic on which Sommer has published some very interesting articles over the last few years (recommended). The blog Forbidden Histories continues and expands these interests: if you haven’t seen it yet, it is a highly recommended history of science blog focusing on, well: “Everything you always wanted to know about science and ‘the miraculous’ (but were afraid to ask)”.

Here is how it’s introduced:

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Looking through the Occult – talks available as podcasts

Voices through the ether

Voices through the ether

Last November I took part in an interesting interdisciplinary conference at the Humboldt in Berlin, on “Looking through the Occult: Instrumentation, Esotericism, and Epistemology“. It moved in the landscape of media studies, history of science and technology, religious studies, art history, and esotericism, and was organized by a scholarly network interested in what they call “nonhegemonic knowledge”:

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Looking through the Occult: Conference on Instrumentation, Esotericism and Epistemology in the 19th Century (Humboldt U, Berlin)

Humboldt

Humboldt University at Unter den Linden 6, Berlin.

I’m excited to participate in a wonderful conference at Berlin’s Humboldt University on November 14-15: “Looking through the Occult: Instrumentation, Esotericism and Epistemology in the 19th Century”. The conference is free and open to the public, so if you are in Berlin and have an above average interest in topics such as spiritualism and mediums, ether physics, spirit photography, early radio technology and x-rays, this should be a good treat. Check out the nice website for more information on the programme, how to get there, and what to read up on in advance.

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The Magus of Silicon Valley – multiple afterlives of a conference paper

Transhumanism and religion proves a popular topic.  I started exploring some aspects of the transhumanist movement from the perspective of a scholar of religion and esotericism earlier this year, in connection with a conference.  I have never had more responses from so many different audiences to a conference paper. After uploading my “Magus of Silicon Valley” paper to Academia.edu this summer, I’ve had private messages, emails, reblogs and comments (including a few annoyed transhumanist reactions) – several requests for spinoffs. First of this was a public lecture in the occulturally oriented Forum Nidarosiae in Trondheim. There’s also been interest from more old-fashioned humanists (the type that’s not too impressed by flashy prefixes such as trans-, post-, or neo-). Thus, a spin-off article is underway with the Norwegian secular humanist magazine Humanist, while another has just now been published in the Australian online magazine MercatorNetdescribing itself as being of “dignitarian” orientation, which I take to be a non-confessional, non-partisan, cross-worldview form of humanism (the editor in chief, Michael Cook, is open about his Catholic leaning – while justifications appear to be classic European Enlightenment: no revelation, just reason, evidence and critical practice).

So if you haven’t read it yet, “The Magus of Silicon Valley” is now relaunched in a new medium – slightly edited and modified for the occasion (the jargon should be a little less Academese this time around). They also added a link to a very recommendable documentary on Ray Kurzweil: “Transcendent Man”. Watching it a few years back contributed to my interest in doing something on the movement from a religious studies perspective.

It’s time to sit back and await the first accusations of being in league with this or the other vested interest, dissing the transhuman visionary movement – or perhaps even supporting the coming Inquisition against it.

 

 

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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.

“2045, Rapture of the Nerds!” A public lecture in Trondheim, Norway

Singularity Is Near KurzweilIf you’re in Trondheim next week, I am giving a public lecture on some aspects of the transhumanist movement. It’s organized by the excellent club- and lecture initiative Forum Nidarosiae. The lecture will be in Norwegian, but I attach an English translation of title and  blurb below:

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Relocation

Welcome to the Greenhouse

The Greenhouse at night.

This weekend I have relocated to my old home town, Trondheim. In the coming few months I’m going to fill an associate professor position, temporarily, due to a set of complicated circumstances that I’ll not go into here. Having left the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents in Amsterdam behind, I’ll now be found at the newly restructured Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). My office and all teaching happens at campus Dragvoll, which looks pretty much like a giant greenhouse, in a rural and woodlands area on the outskirts of town. Certainly a change of scenery from Amsterdam’s overcrowded streets!

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Getting ready for ESSWE4: interdisciplinary panels, international networking, magickal musick – and the transhuman apocalypse

Screen shot 2013-06-22 at 8.03.27 PM

ESSWE4: Gothenburg, Sweden, June 26-29, 2013.

I’m only doing one conference this summer season, but that is already turning out to be a massively busy and exciting event. Now that the final program is available, and the book of abstracts can be downloaded, the ESSWE4 conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, stands out as everything that an international conference of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism should be: strongly interdisciplinary (the inclusion of historians of science and medicine is particularly noticeable, and a greater number of sociologists and anthropologists is also a highly welcome development), with a rich and varied program that includes panel sessions, discussion groups, roundtables, and keynotes. There is also a dinner in the Masonic Hall and a final esoteric concert event: Genesis P-Orridge and Carl Abrahamsson (known in the esoteric world as editor of The Fenris Wolf) perform live with their act, White Stains. P-Orridge and Abrahamsson will even appear in a half-hour discussion group at the conference itself on the final day, entitled “Music and Esotericism from the Inside Out”.

Browse the program on the website to find out more.

In addition to that, you should check what people are saying about the event in social media on this Tagboard (join the conversation with the tag #ESSWE4). This promises to be the first ESSWE conference with live twitter feeds to follow, so do check that out and contribute if you are going! (I hear there will be free wifi available, so no need to worry about insane roaming charges) .

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The (all too) secret history of Vril

Julian Strube's first book, Vril, becomes a standard reference for knowledge about this peculiar concept and its even more peculiar history.

Julian Strube’s first book, Vril, becomes a standard reference for knowledge about this peculiar concept and its even more peculiar history.

It is astonishing how much of modern occultism is dependent on works of fiction. The machinations of secret societies, the malicious rituals of satanic cults, and the magicians’ adventures on the astral plane have all been portrayed in great detail in works of fiction, which have in turn directly influenced the creation of real organisations and inspired new ritual practices among self-styled occultists. The entire current of Rosicrucian initiatory societies even had its main impetus in a text considered by its authors to be a playful ludibrium – although no doubt one that expressed deep convictions. This dynamic of fiction turning to fact is itself perhaps nowhere better explored than in Umberto Eco’s work of fiction, Foucault’s Pendulum. In recent years there has been quite some interest in such dynamics among contemporary scholars of religion as well – focusing on what they call “invented”, “hyperreal”, or “fiction-based” religions. While these scholars tend to focus on relatively recent cases – Jediism, Tolkien-spirituality and the sort – we have every reason to believe that this is a much older process. Particularly, it would seem, in the Western esoteric context.

A case in point is the concept of “vril” – an occult fluid or force that can be manipulated, controlled and directed by spiritually advanced initiates. It was invented by the the author and politician Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) in his novel, The Coming Race (1871).

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Synthesis: Esotericism & the Sciences

Synthesis conference AmsterdamThere’s a conference in Amsterdam this coming Monday (April 29), on the relationship between esotericism and the sciences. And art, and music, and literature, and other things. “Synthesis: Esotericism & the Sciences” is described as a young scholars conference, which means that it has been organized entirely by a crew of enthusiastic and energetic MA students, and primarily caters to scholars at a very early stage in their careers (i.e. graduate and post-graduate students). Check out the exquisitely looking website for more information on the event, and an overview of the program. In addition to eight papers and several artistic and musical intermezzos, the show starts with a keynote lecture by yours truly. The title of my keynote is “A Nihilist’s View of Scientific Meaning-Making: Analytical Approaches to Synthesizing Minds“. I attach the abstract below:

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