Up for review: Discernment of Spirits, Soviet New Age, and Magic

I’ve received three books for review over the last few weeks, making for a hectic book review phase (I’m not gonna mention the ones I’m already late with). They are three fascinating collections, dealing with very diverse material. Here’s a quick preview.

Angels of Light? (Brill, 2012)

Angels of Light? (2012)

Clare Copeland and Jan Machielsen’s Angels of Light? (Brill, 2012) is a collection of essays dealing with that delicious problem of Christian theology and practice: how to discern real sanctity from demonic trickery? If an angel appears in all its splendour – whether in a dream, a vision, or in front of  your bare eyes – how do you know that it is not the devil masquerading to lure the devout to the dark side? This, in a nutshell, is the problem of discernment. It has had consequences not only on the abstract level of theological philosophizing, but also on the social level. Above all during the tumultuous reformation era, when new reformers led to the emergence of new sects with new creeds, new leaders, and new lines of authority. The devout had to fear not only false angels, but false prophets as well. From the blurb:

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Kabbalah and Modernity – more than red strings and pop queens

Kabbalah and ModernityI have made a habit out of making the pre-print versions of some of my book reviews available here at Heterodoxology. I was recently reminded of one that I had completely forgotten about: a review of the excellent volume Kabbalah and Modernity: Interpretations, Transformations, Adaptations (Brill, 2010). It is edited by three good colleagues of mine (Marco Pasi, Boaz Huss, and Kocku von Stuckrad), and features contributions by many other friends and acquaintances, but hopefully my review is not too biased. Moreover, symptomatic of the extreme delay in academic publishing, I should say that this review was written in 2010, and only appeared in print last year. The review was published in Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft (summer 2012).

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Towards Esotericism 3.0 – W. J. Hanegraaff reviews seven esotericism textbooks

If you’re new to the field of Western esotericism, planning to set up an introductory course somewhere, or wondering what to  read as a crash-course to the field, here is something you have to read first. The upcoming issue of the journal Religion (“iFirst” version available online now for subscribers) publishes a lengthy review article by Wouter J. Hanegraaff, a leading expert in the field, going through as many as seven introductory level textbooks that have been published over the last eight years (since 2004). More than just a review of introductions, the article engages critically with the theoretical and methodological challenges of the field, and takes a clear stand on where one should go from here. The result is an article that analyses the present situation of esotericism research, provides an overview of strengths and weaknesses in the basic literature that newcomers are likely to encounter, and offers a pronounced and programmatic statement for future researchers and teachers.

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