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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Launching “Occult Minds”: official website of my postdoctoral research project

Occult Minds: New website on esotericism and cognition

Occult Minds: New website on esotericism and cognition

It has been more than six months since I left Amsterdam for California, and some have maybe been wondering what I’m up to. To finally prove that I’m not just surfing all day, here, at long last, is the website of my postdoctoral research project, Occult Minds. The website contains quite a bit of information already, about the project itself and some of the directions it is taking. It also includes a blog, where I will be posting updates on the project as well as reviews and reflections on relevant studies. The first post contains some reflections on a book with a title very close to my project: Christopher Lehrich’s The Occult Mind: Magic in Theory and Practice (Cornell UP, 2007). With a music metaphor, it is a form of counterpoint to what I am aiming to do: there are harmonies between the two, but the rhythms and structures of the individual melodies are so different they could belong to separate musical genres.

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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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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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On choosing between alternative futures (and the solution to a luxury dilemma)

The future: "Occult Minds"

The future: “Occult Minds”

2013 has been a very busy year on my end, characterised by several relocations, the opening and closing of projects and the managing of very different possible futures. By the end of the year I will have worked on 5-6 different contracts (depending on how you count), in three different countries. Right now I am in the middle of the final great transition of the year, which is the main reason why not much new material is turning up here these days. Let me, at least, let you in on the developments.

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A fresh take on “magic” on the Societas Magica blog

merleau-ponty

Bodies, brains, magic, culture.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s new uses.

Some time ago I mentioned that Societas Magica were going to launch a blog. Well, that happened soon after, and I did not pay attention. So, quite overdue, here is the link to this new and valuable addition to the esoteric-et-cetera blog community.

So far there is only one post, but it is also a very good one that sets a high standard: “Ritual Magic and Conjured Bodies: A Philosophy and Methodology” by Damon Lycourinos. I was impressed with Damon’s paper at ESSWE4, on the use of Merleau-Ponty and embodiment theory in the analysis of contemporary ritual magical practice. In his first blog post at Societas Magica, Damon continues this exploration and offers, I think, some very valuable and stimulating reflections on how to theorise magical practice.

In particular, I couldn’t agree more with his complaint that talk about the body and embodiment in “postmodern” theorising has in fact not taken the body seriously at all – and that this could be remedied by returning to the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty:

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