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Esotericism Unit

Call for Proposals

For all proposals, we especially encourage papers that employ innovative theoretical or methodological approaches and that consider cross-cultural perspectives.

In addition, we will consider proposals for pre-arranged panels on a specific topic. We encourage panel organizers to consider the composition of panels which reflect diversity, which can include gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, and academic rank.


This year we invite proposals for the following themes:


Esotericism and Popular Culture

We invite papers that consider the intersections between Esotericism and Popular Culture. Possible themes could include the (mis)representation of esoteric traditions in popular culture; esotericism in digital or social media; genealogies or transmissions of specific esoteric ideas in popular culture.


Esotericism and Ecology

Esoteric traditions have consistently engaged environmental and ecological ideas and ways of thinking in their beliefs and practices. From Hermetic ideas of cosmos to modern esoteric attitudes towards ecology, landscape, and climate change, the clear connections between esotericism and ecology warrant closer analysis. We welcome papers that consider the ways that esoteric traditions have engaged with and responded to the natural environment.

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this unit is to promote, expand, and constructively critique the academic study of esotericism. “Esotericism” is now conventionally seen as an umbrella term covering a range of historical currents associated with notions of “hidden knowledge” that have been conceived of – by historical actors or by later scholars – as “alternative” to or “rejected” by established religious institutions in Europe and beyond. In this sense it typically includes a wide range of currents such as Gnosticism, Hermetism, and theurgy, occult sciences and ritual magical traditions, Paracelsism and Rosicrucianism, Mesmerism, spiritualism, and Theosophy, and various forms of “alternative” spirituality. The unit continues to supports new work on all aspects of such currents, from antiquity to the present day. However, it specifically encourages work that 1) challenges the cultural and geographic demarcations of the field by looking at esotericism in e.g. Islamic and Jewish contexts, colonial and post-colonial societies (e.g. India, South America, Africa, the Pacific); 2) seeks new ways to engage in cross-cultural comparisons of esoteric practices and discourses; and 3) explores innovative theoretical and methodological approaches to esotericism and interrogates key terms in the field (e.g. esotericism, gnosis, secrecy, initiation, marginality and rejectedness). By encouraging such work, the unit is committed to refining “esotericism” as a critical concept in the study of religion, and opening up and expanding the field through an engagement with other disciplines and theoretical perspectives.


Steering Committee Members



Review Process

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