PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
Denver, CO
November 17-20, 2018

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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: 

We invite papers on the following topics:

• Esotericism and the Transhuman
The “referential corpus” of esotericism, comprising writings by late medieval and early modern authors (Ficino, Pico, Reuchlin, Agrippa, et al.), has often been related to the development of “Renaissance humanism”. However, the humanism of these key figures was one that emphasized the divine potential of humanity, its ability ultimately to transcend the limitations of bodily existence. In recent decades, an ideology of transhumanism has developed around the techno-utopian promises of life extension, artificial intelligence, and a coming technological singularity. It is not surprising that a convergence with old and contemporary esoteric ideas is taking place. This session will explore historical and contemporary relationships between esotericism and the transhuman, including: ideas on improving and overcoming human nature, esoteric speculations on the technological singularity, and the interactions between transhumanist and esoteric milieus.

• Out of this World: Extraterrestrial Esotericisms
Extraterrestrial beings get entwined with esoteric religious ideas in a variety of ways. C.S. Lewis drew on medieval cosmology to create a fantasy with theological dimensions in his space trilogy starting with Out of the Silent Planet (1938), in which the planetary angels were depicted as creatures of light inhabiting interplanetary space. Half a century earlier, Madame Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled (1877) had already hinted at an alien role in the establishment of life on earth, while in the mid twentieth century, L. Ron Hubbard confirmed the notion in a cosmic theology holding in part that the immortal spirits of certain aliens adhere to humans, causing spiritual harm. Even in the past decade, Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam re-conceptualized the wheel in Ezekiel as an actual spaceship hovering over the earth. This session seeks to illuminate connections between esoteric religion, science, and fictions of life in outer space, and invites papers exploring all varieties of links between heavenly spirits and extraterrestrials.

• Revelatory Dreaming in Esoteric Religions
Attention to dreams, including rules and guides for the interpretation of dreams, and oneiric techniques enabling active dream cultivation, are common globally in many religions, and esotericism has been especially rich in them. In late nineteenth- and twentieth-century occultism, the astral or inner planes were understood to be a place where subconscious states converged with higher consciousness; one might accidentally wander out on the astral in dreams, but also deliberately enter them through ritual work. In Applied Magic, Dion Fortune describes the inner planes as the planes of “causation for this world of form and matter”. It is well known that Carl Jung actively sought both to induce and interpret transformative dream experiences, but perhaps less commonly known that Immanuel Swedenborg kept a dream diary in 1743-44 believing that his dreams contained spiritual messages for him. This session invites papers considering the esoteric use of lucid active dreaming and dream interpretation through time and across cultures.

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