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access that those who construct the past have to the past, goes eventually through scholarship – often, to be sure, outdated scholarship, and often, too, scholarship that has been filtered through other channels such as popular culture – or the less than reliable akashic records.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

New Antiquities (extended deadline for CfP)

Akhenaten futuristicBack in September the call for papers for a very interesting workshop was released at the Ancient Esotericism blog (and elsewhere). “New Antiquities: Transformations of the Past in the New Age and Beyond”, put together by Almut-Barbara Renger (Freie Universität Berlin) and my good colleague Dylan Burns (Universität Leipzig), calls attention to the myriad uses and imaginings of antiquity in contemporary religious discourses.  A fascinating field that has received quite some attention from religious studies scholars interested in such things as the construction of tradition or mnemohistory. What’s particularly interesting about this workshop is that it aims to mobilize the antiquity specialists as well, who, a bit too often perhaps, have tended to avoid dealing with questions related to such modern “reception history”. It’s also an excellent platform for bridging the studies of ancient and contemporary esotericism.

The deadline for submitting paper proposals has now been extended to January 31. Below follows the description of the workshop, pasted from the extension notice:

(more…)

The discovery of esotericism in Italy in the 20th century – from the ContERN cyberproceedings

Benedetto Croce (1866-1952)

Benedetto Croce (1866-1952)

The latest addition to the cyberproceedings of August’s conference on contemporary esotericism is slightly different from previous installations in the series. It is not too contemporary, but it adds a discussion that should be quite interesting to anyone involved in the definition debate and the broader history of the academic study of esotericism. Francesco Baroni’s paper focuses on what one might call the  discovery of esotericism in Italy during the early-to-mid 20th century, by a generation of idealistically (in the philosophical sense) oriented scholars. Baroni shows how Benedetto Croce, Adolfo Omodeo and Piero Martinetti were all involved with uncovering esoteric aspects of e.g. Renaissance natural philosophy, early Christianity, and Western idealist philosophy, even while despising the “irrationalism” of modern and contemporary esoteric currents such as spiritualism and Theosophy.

(more…)

More esotericism at the Religious Studies Project: reflections on discursive (and other) methodologies

“Esotericism” – strange shapes and sights.

Just a couple of days after the Religious Studies Project posted a podcast interview with Wouter Hanegraaff on the academic study of esotericism, there is a follow-up in the form of a short-length essay, debating the possibilities and challenges of esotericism research. Its author, Damon Lycourinos, a current PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh,  brings up a number of concerns – related to questions of European cultural identities (e.g. “reason” vs. “faith”), “the West”, definitional problems related to emic self-designations and typological constructs, etc.

(more…)