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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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.

Esotericism, Religion and Science in Toronto – report on the IAHR (part 2)

Following up the last post, here comes a report on the esotericism panels at the IAHR in Toronto, organized by Marco Pasi. As you can read about below, they go straight into a central debate in the field of esotericism studies at the moment.

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IAHR: Two panels

As mentioned a couple of times before, I am going to Toronto next weekend to join the IAHR World Congress. It only happens every five years, and is a big happening in the fields of religious studies/Religionswissenschaft. This year there will also be a considerable presence of esotericism research. Marco Pasi, Cathy Gutierrez and Allison Coudert are hosting a large panel on “Western esotericism and its boundaries”, which, by systematically tackling the issue of the cultural and geographical boundaries of this concept will no doubt be an important occasion for this field of research. In addition there is the “Seduced by Science” panel, which I co-host with Tessel M. Bauduin. For anybody who’s interested, I attach more details about these two panels below.

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New articles from Aries

The latest issue (10.1) of Aries: The Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism has recently been published. It contains four research articles, on John Dee’s angel conversations (J. J. Sledge), a little-known text by Martinès de Pasqually ( Dominique Clairembault), the curious link between engineering  and spiritualism in the case of John Murray Spear (Joseph Laycock), and some aspect of Aleister Crowley’s sexual magic and the connection with some yogic traditions (Gordan Djurdjevic). Also seven book reviews. See below for bibliographic details and short reviews of the articles.

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