New Antiquities – conference review at Albion Calling

New AntiquitiesThere was a conference in Berlin last month that I would have loved to visit: New Antiquities: Transformations of the Past in the New Age and Beyond. This event conceived by Dr. Dylan Burns and Dr. Almut-Barbara Renger is on a topic that I think deserves a lot more attention than it’s being awarded: the diverse uses of the historical past to construct new forms of practice, tradition, aesthetic and worldviews.

Well, we know a great deal already about the invention of tradition, of course. What would be really cool is to get archaeologists, classicists, historians, philologists and other experts of “what really happened” (or the best current approximations, anyway) to talk with those who study the imagined past (what’s sometimes called “mnemohistory” – the history of how the past is remembered). Something along those lines is what this conference aimed to do. One of the reasons why the task is crucial is that, unavoidably, the access that those who construct the past have to the past, goes eventually through scholarship – often, to be sure, outdated scholarship, and often, too, scholarship that has been filtered through other channels such as popular culture – or the less than reliable akashic records. Getting experts of the contemporary and the ancient to talk together thus seems a mutually enriching opportunity, especially for theorizing the role of scholars in the discursive production of the past and of invented traditions.

For those of us who missed that opportunity this time, there is a nice little review of the conference over at Albion Calling. Ethan Doyle White gives a good summary of the speakers and the topics they treated, with a specific focus on issues relating to contemporary paganism. Go read it.

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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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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.

Patterns of Magicity: A review of Defining Magic: A Reader (eds. Otto & Stausberg; Equinox, 2013) – part 3

[The third and final part of my review of Otto and Stausberg’s Defining Magic. This part discusses the five final essays of the book, all of which are new contributions written by contemporary scholars of “magic”. Follow hyperlinks to read part one (focusing on the selection of texts) and part two (focusing on the editors’ introduction) of the review.]

Defining Magic cover Stausberg Otto

3. Contemporary voices

That we need a systematic approach along the lines of what Stausberg and Otto suggest (or alternatively along the lines of building blocks) is confirmed by looking at the five contemporary pieces representing the current state of the debate. The five authors represent anything but a consensus. Through a broader framework of “patterns of magicity” we might nevertheless be able to put them in a fruitful dialogue.

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Satan in the academy (again)

I ended 2013 with a retrospective on some personal favourites from the wealth of publications on esotericism last year. Of course there were many omissions, some of which I’ve payed tribute to on Twitter. Julian Strube’s (German) book on Vril is notable, and has attracted some attention in the German press lately. Also from Germany, Monika Neugebauer-Wölk’s massive collected volume on Aufklärung und Esoterik: Wege in die Moderne is a milestone that will take time to digest and assess (I admit that I forgot about this one because the prohibitive price has made it inaccessible to me until now). Then in the antiquities section, there’s the English edition of Roelof van den Broek’s book on Gnosticism, Gnostic Religion in Antiquity. And still there’s much more that could’ve been mentioned (such as this milestone of a source work: Andrew Weeks’ new translation of Böhme’s Aurora).

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ContERN YouTube channel and lectures from 2012 conference

When Kennet Granholm and I organised the 2012 conference on Contemporary Esotericism in Stockholm, and established the ContERN website, we gave our promises that video material from the conference would appear online within a few months. I’m not sure if 14 months can be characterised as “a few”, but in any case: The first material has now been publicized. We started by releasing our own introductory lecture and welcome address. In the short lecture we discuss our reasons for establishing ContERN and organising the conference in the first place, and argue for the need of an interdisciplinary study of contemporary esotericism to take shape.

As explained on the ContERN website, the video is a lot more grainy and static than we had hoped for. We originally had two cameras, but the results from one of them unfortunately had to be discarded. Luckily, though, the audio is pretty clear, so we hope that the documentation value is still fair enough as far as the content is concerned.

Make sure to check it out if you’ve been curious what was said during the conference – and stay tuned for the keynote lectures, which will be released in the coming weeks! Also make sure to subscribe to the ContERN YouTube channel.

A cult leader in the (royal) family

Astarte Inspiration bannerWorking as a historian of religion/esotericism/”pseudoscience” one often has to deconstruct misleading and sensational tabloid headlines. They could look a bit like the title of this post. Sensationalistic appeal notwithstanding, this time around I assure that the title is entirely appropriate and accurate for the topic.

There are several people that this title could have referred to – one might think of Prince Charles, or perhaps the Dutch Princess Irene, whose abilities to communicate with trees and dolphins bring her closer to the cultic fringe of the environmentalist movement. But as most Norwegian readers may have guessed, it refers to a princess closer to home.

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“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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Review of Contemporary Esotericism

A blog review of Contemporary Esotericism

A blog review of Contemporary Esotericism

Watch out for the next generation of esotericism scholars! We’re already here; and, according to Wouter J. Hanegraaff, the volume on Contemporary Esotericism that appeared on Equinox earlier this year, edited by Kennet Granholm and myself, is the shape of things to come. We hope he’s right, of course.

The 20 chapters of that volume covered much ground, but, as Wouter comments:

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