PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
Boston, MA
November 18-21, 2017

2017 Annual Meeting Program (PDF)

Preliminary 2017 Annual Meeting Program (MS Word)

To return to the Welcome Page, please click here.

For questions or support, email

To return to the AAR website, click here.

Western Esotericism Unit

Statement of Purpose: 

This Unit seeks to reflect and further stimulate the current process — reflected in the recent creation of new teaching programs, international associations, journals, book series, and reference works — of professionalization and scholarly recognition of Western esotericism as a new area of research in the study of religion. For more information on the field, see the websites of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE,, the Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE,, and the Center for the History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam ( Information about the academic journal Aries and the Aries Book Series can be found on the website of Brill Academic Publishers (; and

Call for Papers: 

The Pagan-Esoteric Complex: Mapping Intersecting Milieus. Cosponsored with the Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit

Despite the considerable overlaps that exist between contemporary paganism and Western esotericism, there have been no conscious efforts to bring scholars in these two fields together around intersecting research interests. To amend this situation, the Western Esotericism Unit and the Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit invite papers that deal with the following three intersections:

• Intersecting milieus of practitioners (e.g., shared spaces and material cultures, shared practices, overlapping group memberships).

• Intersecting identity discourses (e.g., the formation of identities around tropes such as “magic vs. religion”, “pagan vs. Christian”, or “tradition vs. modern”).

• Intersecting histories and genealogies (e.g., the roots of esotericism in the mnemohistory of paganism, and the roots of contemporary pagan practice in 19th century esotericism).

We are particularly interested in papers that focus on mapping contemporary milieus, but historical and conceptual papers are also welcome.

Ritual Creativity: Old and New, Inside and Out

The panel explores the development of new ritual practices in ancient, medieval, and contemporary esoteric sources. Specifically it attends to the processes by which practitioners construct new rituals, the discourses they draw upon from inside their own faith traditions and from outside them, as well as from other, non-sacred discourses and practices. At the same time the panel will also explore the means of theorizing new ritual expressions, with emic views from inside practitioners' traditions, and etic views by theorists of religion.

Differently Gendered Esotericisms: this World and the Next

Esoteric thought has often embraced both extreme and non-normative ideas of sex and gender. In the late-antique Asclepius, Hermes Trismegistus asserts that God has two sexes (i.e., is bigendered), an idea with cosmic implications that gets re-appropriated later in different ways. In the 19th century, Madame Blavatsky identified male and female principles in the world, suggesting the Holy Spirit embodied a female principle, while angels were dual gendered, like God and the first Adam. On the other hand her contemporary Ida Craddock professed to be the actual divine bride of an angel. What does this imply for angelic gender? This session will explore issues of cosmic sex and gender in esoteric thought, as well as how these ideas are impacted and engaged on the ground by contemporary communities including LGBT practitioners.

Black Magic and Dark Spirituality from Ancient to Postmodern

This session will open up discussion of darker more transgressive forms of spirituality. It is intended to include examinations of dark rituals in traditional institutional contexts (e.g., rites against witches, curses or exorcisms done by professionals), and counter institutional rituals and theologies (for example, rituals that invert institutional norms in ancient Gnosticism, necromancy, and medieval ritual magic). In modernity, we hope to discuss the embrace of differently defined ideas of evil in the works of Aleister Crowley, contemporary Satanisms, and Left-Hand Path movements. Some questions to be entertained: What functions does darkness serve in esotericism and religion more broadly? How do antinomian practices relate to ethics in different contexts? What do ancient and modern dark spiritualities have in common?

Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members
ChairSteering Committee