Esotericism in Practice: Sources, Methods, Theories

2018 ESSWE Thesis Workshop, Stockholm University

Western esotericism is usually encountered in texts and images and studied in its ideational and aesthetic aspects. We know a lot about esoteric ideas, worldviews, and aesthetic conventions; but what were the people engaged in esoteric ideas doing? From magic and alchemy to mediumship and channeling, esotericism has an emphatically practical orientation. Accessing and analyzing esoteric practice, however, invites challenges that are rarely addressed in the field.

This year’s ESSWE Thesis Workshop will focus on the methodological and theoretical challenges of studying esoteric practice. What kinds of textual and non-textual sources can we use to address practices of the past? Can we access practice through philology? How do we conduct responsible ethnographic work with contemporary esoteric groups? Can we connect historical research with social science methods? What sort of theoretical frameworks might help us grasp esoteric practices, past and present? How does one write a thesis about esoteric practices? The workshop will address these and other questions through a combination of (I) masterclasses with three specialists focusing on different
historical periods, and (II) thematic discussion groups where MA students and PhD candidates get the opportunity to talk about their own work with leading scholars in the field. The workshop also includes a career advice session led by a panel of early-career esotericism researchers.

The event is arranged by the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism and financed by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.

Workshop organizer: Egil Asprem,