Additional Information In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: BOOK REVIEWS description of these various communities was given through the use of obituaries, personal and communal histories, photographs, and listing of dowries. The three Poor Clare communities of Rouergue were: Millau founded in ; Granayrac- moved to Villefranche-deRouergue ; and Mur-de-Barrez founded in Villefranche began as a rural contemplative monastery, but later moved to the city where they taught young girls and allowed elderly women to live with them. Through the stormy history of the Calvinist revolt and the French Revolution, the Poor Clare communities were dispersed more than once, but they are re-established in Millau and Mur-deBarrez today. Besides the political struggles, the Poor Clares of Millau had a long history of religious controversy and intrigue as well as glory.

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Hanegraaff University of Utrecht The academic study of western esotericism is one of those new developments in the study of religions which may strike the casual observer as having appeared almost overnight, due to the fact that its gradual development over the past decades is easily overlooked. What is understood by "Western Esotericism"?

The substantive "esotericism", like the adjective "esoteric", carries different meanings in different contexts, and this is a major cause of confusion not only among outsiders, but even among specialists about the nature of the discipline.

No less than five meanings may be distinguished in current usage, only the last of which refers to the subject of the present article. For the full series, click here. However, the relationship of the discipline to approaches linked to the four other meanings of esotericism is a complicated one.

Although the popular and commercial meaning of the term "esotericism" is clearly not suited for scholarly ends, it has in fact a large impact upon the initial perception of the study of western 5 esotericism among academics no less than laymen: again and again, scholars of western esotericism are forced to explain that the study of popular New Age spiritualities concerns no more than a small subarea of their domain [9] , and that those who wish to study subjects such as the paranormal or altered states of consciousness should turn to other disciplines such as parapsychology or transpersonal psychology.

As for the association of "esoteric" with secrecy and concealment, it is important to point out that, although there is obviously a significant area of overlap between the study of secrecy in religious traditions and the study of western esotericism in the historical sense of the word, these two domains of study are by no means equivalent.

Secret traditions and initiations are not restricted to western esoteric traditions; and, reversely, many aspects of the latter have never been secret and are not linked to initiatory organizations. The relation between the two domains is in fact a quite subtle one, partly because the meanings and connotations of "secrecy" within western esoteric traditions are much more diverse than is usually realized.

The relationship between the study of western esotericism and the type of "comparative religion" known as perennialism or traditionalism is problematic for practical and organizational rather than scholarly reasons.

The frequent assumption that the two share a common domain of interest is mistaken: there is hardly any demonstrable connection between the perennialist concept of esotericism as the metaphysical point of unity where exoteric religions are believe to converge, and the historical concept of western esotericism as a specific series of currents in modern and contemporary western culture.

Experience shows that such artificial marriages do not last. The relation of the historical study of western esotericism to "religionist" approaches of esotericism is probably the most problematic of all, and needs to be discussed at somewhat greater length.

It roughly reflects a division within the study of religion generally, between those for whom the study of religion means the empirico-historical and comparative study of specific historical religions, and those for whom it means the study of a domain frequently referred to as "the sacred. Of course, scholars studying western esoteric traditions in the historical sense of the word may personally share such hopes for cultural renewal and a "rebirth of the sacred", and may hope that their work will contribute something to it [17] ; but the difference is that whether or not they do so is irrelevant to their understanding of what 7 is meant by "western esotericism".

When they refer to their domain of study by the term "esotericism" they do not mean some kind of universal and trans-historical sui generis phenomenon analogous to "the sacred" in religious studies , but a certain number of historical currents and traditions in western culture that are available for study regardless of how they are evaluated.

As a domain of inquiry, western esotericism in this historical sense of the word lies wide open to scholars of all persuasions: they may or may not happen to believe in the existence of "the sacred", they may personally regard specific esoteric beliefs as profound truths or as interesting superstitions, or they may simply see no reason to express opinions pro or contra.

The primary problem in the relation between the historical study of western esotericism and "religionist" approaches to esotericism therefore has to do with different ways of defining and demarcating the field of inquiry, rather than with the methodologies used in studying that field.

This point is frequently misunderstood and needs to be strongly emphasized. Understanding "western esotericism" in a historical sense i.

There is ample room for various approaches to complement each other as well as compete with each other in a constructive manner, within a general context of methodological pluralism.

Research into western esoteric currents has been going on for a 8 long time; but scholars in the field have either been working in relative isolation, or have done their research in the context of another discipline than "western esotericism".

For example, one may find historians of medicine specializing in Paracelsian traditions, art historians specializing in the occultist backgrounds of modern painting, and so on. Such scholars are de facto working, among other things, in the field of western esotericism; but in practice most of their professional contacts including participation in conferences or publication series are likely to be with their colleagues in the history of medicine or art history rather than with fellow specialists of western esoteric currents.

The first, "organizational" aspect of the emerging study of western esotericism consists in creating institutional frameworks for bringing such scholars into contact with each other and stimulate constructive exchange between them; this results in "making visible" the remarkably large amount of research that is already being done in a wide variety of academic settings, and making the results more readily available across disciplines.

Organizational frameworks may take the form of interdisciplinary conferences, professional academic journals, monograph series, and so on. Various initiatives in these directions are currently being developed, based upon the creation of a international network of scholars combined with a computerized database which keeps track of new research. I already referred to the fact that terms such as "esotericism" and "occultism" are particularly loaded ones, which tend to arouse suspicion and misunderstanding.

Indeed, experience shows that it is practically impossible to use the term "esotericism" even if qualified by the adjective "western" in standard academic discussions, if one is not prepared to take the trouble of explaining it over and over again at each and every occasion. Given this necessity, one might prefer a more neutral term, but experience shows that such a one is extremely difficult to find.

If, by want of a better alternative, one sticks to "western 9 esotericism" as the label for new institutional frameworks, one may find that some excellent specialists hesitate or flatly refuse to participate, simply because being associated with "esotericism" may cause them to lose academic credibility. I see only two ways of dealing with this unfortunate problem. One might choose to avoid the term "esotericism", and opt for neutral and non-offensive but inevitably somewhat clumsy descriptions for example, "hermetic and related currents in modern and contemporary western history".

Or, alternatively, one may hope that continued usage of the word "esotericism" in serious academic discussion will eventually cause it to shed its questionable associations and become broadly accepted as a neutral term. Obviously, this article is based upon a choice for the second option.

Whereas the "organizational" dimension merely makes visible the amount of research that is already being done in the field of western esotericism, the "constructive" dimension aims at developing that field into a genuine discipline.

An academic discipline is characterized by the existence of general questions and problem areas of a comparative or systematic nature, which are proper to the field in question; by the very fact that such questions and problem areas are of a more general nature, they may prove to be relevant to specialists working in widely different sub-domains of the field and can therefore serve to bring them together for collaborating in common research projects.

This makes it possible for the study of western esotericism not to restrict itself to empirico-historical description of narrowly-circumscribed currents and personalities, but also to develop interpretive theories pertaining to various dimensions of western esotericism in general - or, at least, large and significant sub-areas of it. Of course, many scholars working on aspects of western esotericism from the perspective of traditional academic discipines are already using a wide variety of existing theoretical tools and interpretive frameworks, sometimes with highly interesting results.

Not a few specialists working on specific historical currents or personalities feel no need at all for interpretive theories [22] , but prefer to "let the sources speak for themselves" as much as possible. In my opinion, such predominantly descriptive historical research based upon solid text editions is and remains the indispensable foundation of any serious study of religious traditions [23] , including western esoteric ones, and no research of a comparative or systematic nature would be conceivable without it.

My point here is merely that in order for the study of western esotericism to develop into a genuine academic discipline, this type of research must not be the only one; questions of a comparative and systematic nature deserve serious attention at least by part of the scholars in addition to the basic groundwork of historical and philological research.

Such a combination of historical and systematic types of research not only stimulates collaboration between scholars whose research is focused on different periods and subdomains of the field; it also opens the way to mutually fruitful exchange with entirely different disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences.

The writings of Frances A. Yates are an excellent example of this possibility: although they were intended as contributions to Renaissance historiography and are not overtly theoretical, their phenomenal success and influence is due largely to the fact that they broached general issues which were recognized as highly relevant to problems which occupied scholars in other disciplines.

Everybody knows examples of excellent historical research which remains devoid of interest to anybody outside a very small and narrow circle of specialists; and so too, there is the no less familiar This is the third image in the series Spiegel der Philosophen. For the full series of alchemical illustrations, click here. Undoubtedly the former type is to be much preferred over the latter, for it does produce real and lasting contributions to scholarly knowledge which may be picked up and put to further use by others; the latter, in contrast, merely produces errors and confusion.

Nevertheless, the ideal should obviously be a combination of what is best in both: research of the highest possible quality, which is not only based upon solid and precise historical research but also speaks to issues of more general interest in a way such as to make its relevance evident to the reader. Conclusion The realization that there may in fact be a relevance to the study of western esotericism has recently been gaining ground in academic circles.

The very idea of studying esotericism seriously and from a neutral perspective would have sounded bizarre and potentially dangerous to most academics no more than a few decades ago, [26] ] and such reactions are still not uncommon today. It has become more and more apparent, however, that the traditional neglect of western esotericism as a domain of historical inquiry has led to serious gaps in our knowledge, with predictably negative effects upon the understanding of our own cultural heritage.

The same point may obviously be formulated in a positive manner as well: it has become clear that serious research into western esoteric currents may often throw a fresh new light on old questions, and may occasionally turn out to be the "missing link" which makes a solution possible at last. One of these is the continuing although diminishing influence of the s counterculture upon the development of mainstream academic life: an influence, This is the fourth image in the series Spiegel der Philosophen.

This article will be published in Theosophical History in spring, Hanegraaff, eds. Whereas Faivre distinguishes four meanings, I propose to split up his third one. Wolfson ed. Quinn, The Only Tradition, Albany: Riffard, discussed in Hanegraaff, "On the Construction," pars.

As an innovative syncretism of various older traditions, the origins of Renaissance "hermeticism" reach back to antiquity. Hanegraaff eds. Such an extended usage would constitute a further, sixth meaning of "esotericism".

These points of contact between the two meanings of esotericism would constitute a highly interesting subject of investigation. My point is merely that perennialist authors study what they consider to be metaphysical Truth, whereas students of western esotericism study a certain number of historical currents regardless of whether their teachings are considered true or false.

Similarly, 15 Frithjof Schuon almost completely neglects western esoteric currents in the historical sense cf. Molendijk eds. See esp. This article is a particularly clear example of the misunderstanding referred to here.

Defending the merits of an empirico-historical methodology against "religionist" methodologies see my "Empirical Method" and "On the Construction" must not be confused with dogmatic attempts to impose such a methodology as the only scholarly valid one. Box , TC Utrecht; e-mail: whanegraaff theo. A new monograph series called Gnostica, concentrating on text editions, has been started by Garry W.

Trompf, the late John Cooper, and Wouter J. Hanegraaff publ. A trilingual journal ARIES has circulated on a limited scale since ; preparations for a new formula and format, to be published by a major academic publisher, are now in an advanced stage.

Hanegraaff, "Defining Religion," Introduction. Some particularly relevant examples of how non-essentialist theoretical approaches may affect the interpretation of historical materials may be found in the modern study of Jewish 17 "mysticism", a discipline from which the study of western esotericism has much to learn. These are only a few examples. Most obvious is its relevance to the interpretation of the scientific revolution for the debate on the controversial "Yates thesis", see H.

The study of western esotericism will always be 18 indebted to Yates, even if her work is now criticized on many points. Hanegraaff, "On the Construction," par. Debus, eds. Although the "Yates thesis" cf.


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Add to basket Add to wishlist Description This is the first systematic treatment of esotericism to appear in English. Here is also a historical survey, beginning with the Alexandrean Period, of the various esoteric currents such as Christian Kabbalah, Theosophy, Alchemy, Rosicrucianism, and Hermeticism. Common characteristics of these currents are the notion of universal interdependency and the experience of spiritual transformation. The author establishes a rigorous methodology; provides clarifying definitions of such key terms as "gnosis," "theosophy," "occultism," and "Hermeticism;" and offers analysis of contemporary esotericism based on three distinct pathways. The second half of the book presents a series of studies on several important figures, works, and movements in Western esotericism--studies devoted to some of the most characteristic and illuminating aspects that this form of thought has taken, such as theosophical speculations on androgyny, rosicrucian literature, and Masonic symbolism. The book is completed by a rich and selective Bibliography conceived as a means of orientation and a tool for research.


Antoine Faivre



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