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the access that those who construct the past have to the past, goes eventually through scholarship – often, to be sure, outdated scholarship, and often, too, scholarship that has been filtered through other channels such as popular culture – or the less than reliable akashic records.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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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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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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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!

Esoteric summer course in Groningen, Netherlands

esotericism mysticism summer course University of Groningen 2014

Esoteric summer course – a unique opportunity in Groningen this summer.

For a few years now, and following the arrival of Kocku von Stuckrad at their religious studies department,  the University of Groningen in the Netherlands has offered an MA track on esotericism and related topics, called “Concealed Knowledge”. This has made Groningen one of the few places in the world where proper academic instruction in this field is available to MA and PhD-level students, alongside Amsterdam, Exeter, Rice in Houston, and the Sorbonne in Paris (by the way, the Amsterdam HHP website has a great list of these programs and related networks).

Now Groningen is making a new move, by launching a summer school program on “Mysticism and Esotericism in Pluralistic Perspective”. It is intended primarily for MA and PhD students, and will take place during an intensive week from June 29 to July 5 2014. It’s co-organized by the Universities of Groningen, Erfurt (Germany), Aarhus (Denmark), and Rice University (USA), and promises to “address fundamental questions of concepts and approaches” in the study of esotericism. Definitely worth keeping an eye out for. If you’re working on a dissertation in the field of esotericism or planning to get started on one, this seems like an important place to be.

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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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Patterns of Magicity: A review of Defining Magic: A Reader (eds. Otto & Stausberg; Equinox, 2013) – part 2

[This is the second part of my longish review of Otto and Stausberg’s Defining Magic: A Reader. This part focuses on the introductory chapter. For part one of the review, focusing on the selection of texts, please go here.]

Magicians?

Magicians?

Patterns of Magicity: A Review of Defining Magic (part 2)

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Patterns of Magicity: A review of Defining Magic: A Reader (eds. Otto & Stausberg; Equinox, 2013) – part 1

Defining Magic cover Stausberg Otto[This blog post is a little milestone: it is the first official review of a book sent to me by the publisher for being reviewed directly at Heterodoxology. (Yes, publishers, I am open to suggestions like that!) Since the book was of great interest to me, and touches on issues that occupy me at the moment – and since the blog format allows me to say whatever I want and as much of it as I’d like – it has ended up more like a review article than a book review. Hence I will publish it here in three parts. The full pdf version (only slightly modified) is available from my Academia page. For convenience and ease of sharing. So on we go!]

Review: Bernd-Christian Otto and Michael Stausberg (eds.) Defining Magic: A Reader. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing Ltd., 2013. 281 pages.

[Part 1 of 3]

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Occultism in Global Perspective – an anthropologist’s review

9781844657162-Case.inddGordan Djurdjevic just spread a link to a review of the book he edited with Henrik Bogdan on Occultism in Global Perspective. I found it interesting enough to mention here because the review was written by anthropologist Jack David Eller in Anthropology Review Database. This is a good sign for those of us who want to see more collaboration between esotericism scholars and anthropologists. Eller clearly agrees with this from the anthropological side, concluding that:

Occultism in a Global Perspective is a book of profound significance for anthropologists, despite the fact that none of its contributors are anthropologists. Indeed, other than the Comaroff’s work on “occult economies” (which does not take ‘the occult’ particularly seriously), anthropologists have paid fairly little attention to occultism, which is strange and unfortunate. These essays illustrate that occultism is a widely practiced congeries of ideas and rituals, and occultism clearly raises issues of syncretism, globalization, and the porosity if not inadequacy of standard categories like ‘religion.’ Hopefully this collection will inspire more research and theorizing on occultism, esotericism, and such modern forms of vernacular religion, psychology, and social change.

Kennet Granholm and I made a parallel argument for our Contemporary Esotericism volume, which included a call to esotericism scholars taking anthropology more seriously.

Read the whole review of Occultism in Global Perspective here.