Monday, July 28, 2008

The Mysteries and Philosophy of Antiquity

International scholars, writers and artists will gather on Samothrace for the seventh in the New York Open Centerʼs series of conferences on the Western Esoteric Tradition. Entitled "The Mysteries and Philosophy of Antiquity," the conference will take place between September 3rd-8th 2008. For a thousand years, the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Samothrace was one of the most famous mystery centers of the ancient world, rivaling Delphi in stature and fame. The exploration of the roots of esoteric traditions will include plenary lectures, a variety of workshops and guided tours of sites of interest.

The conference will be followed by three optional journeys. Two will go to Turkey, the first to Istanbul and the second to Ephesus, Miletus and the Anatolian Coast. The other journey will visit Mystery Centers of Mainland Greece.

Featured lectures include:
  • Christopher Bamford: "The Samothracian Mysteries"
  • Scott Olsen: "Plato, the Mysteries, and the Golden Section"
  • Leonard George: "A Gift of Vision: Iamblichus and the Sanctification of the Senses"
  • Stanley Sfekas, Ph.D.: "Aristotle's Concept of God"

For information about all the lectures and registration visit

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sufism and Transnational Spirituality

PhD and Postdoc positions within research group on “Sufism and Transnational Spirituality,” Aarhus University

Applications are invited for one PhD position and one Postdoc position within a new research group on “Sufism and Transnational Spirituality” at Aarhus University, Denmark. Founded in 1928, Aarhus University is now the second largest university in Denmark, with approximately 35,000 students and a staff of about 9,000.

The research group has not yet received funding, and any appointment is therefore subject to funding being received. Successful applicants will be encouraged to develop an individual research project dealing with Sufism in both the West and the Muslim world (not just the West or just the Muslim world). The positions involve some teaching duties, but these are not onerous, and will start (subject to funding) in August 2009 or August 2010.

Applications are invited from any relevant disciplinary background, but candidates with a background in anthropology, Middle East/Islamic studies, or religious studies are especially encouraged to apply. Knowledge of Arabic or another appropriate language used in the Muslim world will be a distinct advantage. Knowledge of Danish is not required, and there are no restrictions concerning citizenship. Successful applicants will be expected to base themselves in Aarhus for the duration of their research, in either the Department of Anthropology and Ethnography or the Department of the Study of Religion. Residence and employment permits will be arranged by the university if necessary. Remuneration will be in accordance with the appropriate Danish Universities scale, and fieldwork expenses will be covered.

Applicants should email by August 22, 2008 a covering letter of no more than two pages describing in outline a possible research project, a full CV, and up to one writing sample, to Dr Nils Bubandt, Department of Anthropology and Ethnography, University of Aarhus, 8270 Hojbjerg, Denmark. Up to three letters of recommendation may also be submitted, but given the short time available before the deadline, such letters are not required. Any enquiries may be sent in advance of application to either Dr Bubandt ( or Dr Mark Sedgwick (

Sunday, July 6, 2008

American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

Kathryn LaFevers Evans, Independent Scholar

During March 2008, in Portland Oregon, I participated in two Sessions on esoteric subjects at the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS), an interdisciplinary meeting of eighteenth-century scholars.

The first of the two esoteric sessions, “The Use of the Supernatural,” included a paper by Kris Pangburn, recent doctoral recipient at UCLA, “The Science of the Supernatural: Late Enlightenment Vitalism and the ‘True’ Appearance of Johann Karl Woetzel’s Wife after her Death.” This dealt with Woetzel’s difficulties as a scholar of the supernatural within the Academy of his time. That marginalization demanded a good portion of Pangburn’s scholarship in our time as well, which he utilized as an argument for parity in the current Academy. Pangburn captivated the audience when reporting the satirical rebuttals written in response to Woetzel’s proof of his wife’s supernatural presence after her death, describing how Enlightenment authors had rebutted Woetzel’s claim with such satirical stories as, “The True Appearance of my Poodle after Death.”

During questions, Pangburn answered that there is support for esoteric studies at UCLA, through his doctoral advisor Peter H. Reill and the UCLA Center for Seventeenth- & Eighteenth-Century Studies.

The other presenters had equally impressive impacts. I will mention Bruno Forment’s (USC) paper, “Qual oracol tremendo! Operatic Responses to the Supernatural in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Berlin,” was presented in no less than five languages: his native German, English, Latin, French, and Italian. Truly a Renaissance man in that regard, Bruno Forment demonstrated the depth of scholarship that esoteric studies requires.

UCLA professor Dr. Peter H. Reill commanded the greatest respect in a session on “Symbols and Signs: The World of the Occult in Early Modern Europe,” presenting a paper on the Hermeticism of Johann Salomo Semler. Reill explained that one purpose of Semler’s Hermetic chemistry was to produce “air gold,” specifying the belief that Hermetical science could not be taught publicly, instead requiring a certain type of person to practice a science that deals not with the corporeal but with the imperceptible; creates a universal solvent; and probes the depths of nature through personal involvement. Occult issues of the day included: toleration; nature and theology; invisible nature; God as Logos; God as Will; subtle matter and perceptible matter; primary matter throughout all matter; emerging outer form; and embryonic substances. Practitioners sought true toleration for their research into “private religion,” versus joining organized religion.

Daniel Lupton, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, broke the spell of high seriousness with his animated delivery of “Wine, Women and Satan: Occult Rhetoric in Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hell-Fire Club.” This clandestine organization parodied religion through their satirical descriptions of sex, violence, baby-eating, and anti-Catholic erotica as allegedly found in Tantrism, Kabbalah, Paganism, and Magic. Lupton proposed the idea that perhaps the Hell-Fire Club was not merely a parody of religion, but instead we might wonder if its participants were indeed occultists.

Following this, my own performative reading of “Rabelais, Boehme, Rosicrucians, and Sterne: Hexagrams and Military Hobby Horses” was well-received. I closed with a food-for-thought comment that scholars of esotericism are choosing to utilize the term “esoteric” in Academia, rather than “supernatural” or “occult,” in part because of the negative connotations those terms have accrued in past Academic paradigms. Current scholars of esotericism strive for balance between subjectivity and objectivity, considering satirical constructs such as the true apparition of the poodle after death, Dashwood’s Hell-Fire Club, and Sterne’s Demoniacs for what they are—the esoteric satire of learned wit, a subject of serious study.