Call for papers: “Trans-States: the art of crossing over”

the-hanged-man-Thoth-Tarot

There’s an exciting, experimental conference coming up this September at the University of Northampton, England. Featuring the legendary graphic novel author Alan Moore, the Crowley-biographer Richard Kaczynski, and the specialist of modern occultism and art Marco Pasi as keynote speakers, Trans-States is looking to be a very interesting trans-disciplinary event.

The call for papers is open until March 20. But beware: it is not just another academic conference, so the powerpoint with paper that is too long to read in 20 minutes is not the only possible medium:

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New podcast interview on esotericism, CSR, and interdisciplinarity (in Norwegian)

Some months back, when I was still in California, Knut Melvær interviewed me for the Norwegian podcast Udannet. The episode is up now. In the unlikely case you have any interest in hearing me stutter on in Norwegian for an hour about my research, the academic study of esotericism, the difficulties of interdisciplinary work, CSR, and related trivia, go check it out. (Bonus feature: bizarre nervous giggling at  the 9’50 mark, in response to the question: “But what do esotericism scholars really find out?” –  I did have an answer in the end though, phew).

The scholastic imagination

The human cognitive system according to a late-medieval scribe. Illustration to a manuscript copy of Aristotle's De Anima (1472-1474), courtesy of Wellcome Collection (MS 55).

The human sensory and cognitive system, according to the German scholar Johan Lindner of Mönchenburg. Illustration to a manuscript copy of Aristotle’s De Anima (1472-1474), courtesy of the Wellcome Collection (MS 55).

I’ve recently been reading up on medieval theories of cognition. The background is a paper I’m writing on esotericism and “kataphatic practices” – contemplative techniques where the practitioner uses mental imagery, sensory stimuli, and emotions to try and achieve some religious goal: Prayer, piety, divine knowledge, salvation, etc. Kataphatic practices may be distinguished from “apophatic” ones, which, although they may be pursuing the same goals, use very different techniques to achieve them: withdrawing from sensory input and attempting to empty the mind of any content, whether affective, linguistic, or imagery-related (note that the kataphatic-apophatic distinction is more commonly used as synonymous with positive vs. negative theology – that’s a related but separate issue to the one I talk about here). My argument is that esoteric practices are typically oriented toward kataphatic  rather than apophatic techniques. The cultivation of mental imagery is usually key – which means that the notion of “imagination” needs to be investigated more thoroughly.

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Review symposium on “The Problem of Disenchantment”

The Journal of Religion in Europe has just published a review symposium on my book, The Problem of Disenchantment (2014). I’m excited to say that it contains critical reflections from three world-class scholars of religion, along with my own response. Hans Kippenberg, a well-known expert on Weberian approaches to the history of religion, evaluates some of the book’s claims in light of a broader reading of Weber’s oeuvre. Willem Drees, one of the leading figures in the “religion and science” field, takes a closer look at some of the points I made about the new natural theologies that emerged in the early twentieth century – specifically their relation to esotericism and “heterodoxy”. Finally, Ann Taves, a leading American scholar of religion working with (among other things) the cognitive science of religion and the notion of experience, continues a discussion that she and I have been having over the past few years regarding the perception, explanation and interpretation of “events” (for more on this, check out our forthcomming co-authored target article in Religion, Brain, & Behavior) . If you’ve got access, go ahead and read them!

While you are at it, you may also be interested in checking out my response, which I called  “The Disenchantment of Problems: Musings on a Cognitive Turn in Intellectual History” (non-final version uploaded here, and added to my Academia page for easy access).

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Why fear the history of science? A brief response to Don Wiebe

The Problem of Disenchantment: Scientific Naturalism and Esoteric Discourse, 1900-1939 (Brill, 2014)I am more used to being labelled a “scientistic reductionist” than an “anti-science relativist”. While neither is particularly accurate, I was certainly surprised to see Don Wiebe review my book, The Problem of Disenchantment, as a “full-scale attack on modern Western science” (p. 1). Ironically, the review (published online in the journal Religion) appears side by side with an article of mine [free postprint here] that argues for consilience between the humanities and the sciences, so readers are likely to walk away a bit puzzled.

Since the charge of anti-science is a serious one, however, and since it comes from a well-respected scholar whose ardent support for a scientific and secular study of religion I have, in fact, admired since my undergraduate days, it seems necessary to take a moment to clarify some crucial issues that appear to get mixed up in the review.

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New ESSWE website – and conference program available

New website, new look and feel.

New website, new look and feel. Breathing new fire into the field.

The European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism has just launched its new website. The old one dated from the foundation of the society ten years ago, and a new, cleaner, more functional website was certainly long overdue. Hopefully this does the trick!

We are also now only a few days away from the biannual ESSWE conference, which this year takes place in Riga, Latvia. The program has now been available, and can be downloaded from the website. The topic is “Western Esotericism and the East”, which should be an excellent opportunity for continuing the discussion on the “Western” in esotericism, and issues of comparison. In addition to keynotes by Wouter Hanegraaff, Charles Burnett, and Alison Caudert, it is a program packed full with a lot of interesting talks and topics, which should make for a stimulating (if exhausting) few days in the Baltic.

Finally, I’ll put on my membership secretary hat and take the opportunity to bring a message to members: you will need to reset your passwords to be able to use it. Luckily, this is a very easy automatic process now (before, I had to do this manually for every single person, so at least there is one person who is quite happy with this new arrangement!): simply follow this link, enter your email address, and take it from there.

 

ContERN meeting at ESSWE5 in Riga, April 18

The ESSWE conference is coming up again, this time in Riga, Latvia. Here is a post on the ContERN meeting that will take place during the conference, and news about a planned special issue of Correspondences on contemporary esotericism. Do also check out the schedule for the Riga conference (link in post).

Contemporary Esotericism Research Network

The fifth international ESSWE congress is coming up very soon in Riga, Latvia (April 16-18). ContERN will not be hosting any special sessions this year, but we do have a reserved slot for a brief business meeting. The ContERN meeting is scheduled for Saturday morning (April 18), at 08.30. More details about locations will be available as the congress organizer publicize the full program.

We encourage everyone who is going to the ESSWE conference and is working on any aspect of contemporary esotericism to show up for this meeting. It’s a good opportunity to meet up, brain storm about future projects, and strategize together. Getting your views on possible initiatives and collaborative projects will be the main priority of the meeting.

The ContERN organizers do, however, also bring a new project to the table that we want your input on. We are planning a ContERN special issue in Correspondences

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Published in: on March 28, 2015 at 1:50 am  Leave a Comment  

New blog at Occult Minds

When I launched the website of my current postdoctoral research project (“Occult Minds: Esotericism as Cognition and Culture”) last August, it was with the intention of keeping a research blog that would be updated fairly regularly. Not much has happened on the blog front the past six months (let’s just say that I needed to prioritize my writing tasks), but now I have updated it with a post that looks at some precursors for the aim of the project: which is to bring together the study of esotericism and the cognitive science of religion. Spoiler: There really isn’t much to find – but esotericism scholars can learn from some of their colleagues studying Gnosticism.

I hope to update the Occult Minds blog more frequently in the coming months, so stay tuned for further updates.

Want to host an ESSWE conference in 2017?

This post is in the category “doing my duty as board member of ESSWE”, but it might also be of some interest to general readers. The European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism is, as you should know by now, holding it’s fifth biannual conference this spring, in Riga, Latvia. You can read about how to sign up for it here; and, of course, ESSWE members get a discount, so this is also a great opportunity to renew your membership or become a member.

There is no rest for the wicked, however, and we already need to look ahead to ESSWE6 in 2017. Therefore, the Society is currently calling for applications from scholars who might be interested in hosting the next conference at their institution. As we wish to discuss these proposals at the Board meeting in Riga, it’s strongly advised that those who may wish to do so contact the Secretary, Mark Sedgwick, as soon as possible (preferably by the end of January).

End of semi-official communication.

Published in: on January 21, 2015 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Esotericism in Antiquity: An Aries special issue

TauroctonyThere is much exciting work going on in the area of esotericism and the religions of antiquity at the moment. One of the people who have been instrumental in lifting the focus on antiquity within the study of esotericism (and bringing esotericism to a sometimes unwilling crowd of Gnosticism and ancient Christianities specialists – kudos for that!) is Dylan Burns, currently of the University of Leipzig. I’ve written about Dylan’s work previously, and of course, there’s been mention of the ESSWE Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity (NSEA) which he co-founded with Sarah Veale.

Now, fresh off those unobtanium-coated Brill printers (more…)