“ESSWE9 calls for a comprehensive exploration of the many dimensions of practice in Western esotericism. In recovering and documenting religious and philosophical currents, persons, and groups overlooked in “mainstream” histories, scholars of Western esotericism have developed considerable knowledge and analytical tools for understanding what esoteric practitioners have believed or thought about the world and themselves — while less is known about what esotericists did or do. Several challenges face the study of esoteric practices, related to sources (esoteric practices are often conveyed via oral tradition or practical demonstration, posing a challenge for the reconstruction of historical practices); research access and ethics (emic strategies of secrecy or concealment mean that scholars seeking to explore esoteric practices may face challenges or ethical questions in determining what to disclose); and interpersonal relations (rapport with close-knit groups may be required to access to certain practices).
“The conference theme encourages cross-disciplinary engagement from scholars of, e.g., religion, history, anthropology, art history, archaeology, folklore, sociology, ethnology, gender and sexuality studies, literature studies, and classical studies. By promoting interdisciplinary exploration of the important research frontier of esoteric practice, we hope to provide participants with an ideal opportunity to learn and advance our understanding of how esotericism has been embodied, enacted, and materialised. The conference theme is open to broad interpretation, and encompasses studies of specific forms of esoteric practice from antiquity until today and in a variety of geographical and cultural contexts, as well as explorations of conceptual, theoretical, methodological, and ethical issues relevant to the study of esoteric practices.
“Specific topics to be addressed may include: initiation rituals and/or rites of passage; magic; transgression and/or taboo-breaking; bodily adornment and/or augmentation; textual practices including esoteric printing culture, book trading, and writing or reading as esoteric practices; preparation and consumption of food and beverages as part of esoteric practice; divination; material culture such as production, use, and/or commodification of, e.g., ritual tools and clothing, incense, manuscripts, amulets, curse tablets, crystals, and talismans; imagination as practice and/or and techniques for generating exceptional or fantastical experiences or states of consciousness.
“Conceptual areas to be addressed may also include: typologies of esoteric practice; sources and methods for studying historical esoteric practices; ethical implications of studying esoteric practices historically and today in relation to secrecy, concealment, or consent from research subjects; potentials and pitfalls of oral tradition and/or oral history methods as sources for esoteric practices; space and/or spatiality; literary fiction, the visual arts, and/or popular (oc)culture as sources of inspiration or conduits for transmission of esoteric practices; esoteric pedagogies; approaches to “lived” or “everyday” esotericism; performativity of ritual actions, speech, and images; and sexuality and embodiment.”