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About the Association for the Study of Esotericism

Association for the Study of Esotericism Ninth Biannual Conference

The University of California at Davis, May 14-17, 2020

Call for Papers

Esotericism and the Scientific Imagination

Scientific ideas have not just fostered secularity and religious decline, as Max Weber famously argued, they have also been used to help people believe in the existence of unseen, heavenly realms and recover imaginative spaces for the supernatural. In a similar way, religious beliefs are not inevitably antagonistic to science, but have shaped scientific theories and practices as we can see in the case of astrology, alchemy, and the various strands of esoteric thought that have influenced natural philosophers and theologians across the ages and globe. This did not end with the birth of modern science. Einstein, along with quantum mechanics, showed, for example, that nature behaved in confounding ways: clocks ticked more slowly the faster they traveled; events that were simultaneous to one observer were not to another; gravity caused time to slow down; space could be bent and distorted by large objects; energy and mass were interchangeable; and, perhaps most bewilderingly of all, quantum mechanics couldn’t be reconciled with General Relativity, which implied there were two sets of laws and mathematical equations, one for large and another for subatomic particles. Modern physics consequently brought back those “mysterious incalculable forces” Weber thought had been banished forever. This led to an explosion of popular metaphysical speculations dealing with free will, the mind/body problem, the mystery of consciousness, and the possibility of multiple coexisting universes in the work of many artists, writers, philosophers, and speculative scientists, not to mention sci-fi authors and devotees of New Age religions.

We invite papers and panel proposals dealing with the way esoteric ideas, theories, and practices have shaped the scientific imagination from the ancient to the modern world in both the East and West.

By request, our deadline for panel or paper proposal submission has been extended to February 10, 2020.

If you wish to submit a paper proposal or a thematically focused panel proposal (with three presenters and short descriptions included) for review and possible presentation at the conference, please send email it to


No attachments, please: simply copy and paste your abstract into plain text email. Individual abstracts should be limited to one or two paragraphs, and must indicate academic affiliation and/or other academic qualifications. Independent scholars are welcome to submit proposals. Please note that our previous conferences were at maximum capacity, so it is best to submit your proposal sooner rather than later. We hope to post a preliminary list of accepted proposals early in 2020.

For more information on the ASE, see our website at www.aseweb.org

For further information check the conference homepage at  http://www.aseweb.org/

E-Mail:  ASEDavis2020@gmail.com


Keynote Speakers at the 2020 ASE conference


Keynote Panel on Friday morning to start off the conference:


  1. Christopher G. White, Vassar College A History of Remote Viewing

During the Second Boer War, the British officer J. W. Dunne realized that the only way to see and understand enemy defenses would be to rise above the field of battle and see everything from above.  At the time there was not a way to achieve this transcendent angle of vision, but after the war Dunne began designing, building and test-piloting airplanes for the British War Office.  Dunne’s monoplanes and biplanes would bring the UK enormous strategic advantages in the coming decades.  But these new technologies also helped Dunne examine problems that were more personal.  During the war he had begun to have unusual experiences in which he rose above his body and saw invisible things.  In addition, during both waking visions and nighttime dreams he saw earthquakes, train crashes and other catastrophes that later happened in real life. In 1927 he published a bestseller about these experiences called An Experiment with Time, a book that drew on the awesome experience of flying to talk about how human consciousness might be able to transcend the world of everyday perceptions.  In this paper I examine Dunne’s unusual spiritual experiences, his test flights, and the ways that new flying technologies made possible a new, more expansive type of subjectivity.  If Dunne’s flying machines made possible a new way to see everything-at-once on the flat surface of the earth, they also seemed to make more plausible the idea that some part of human consciousness could rise up and see all things at once, including events in the future.  Though early aviators sometimes said flying led to feelings of awe and a sense of transcendence, Dunne took this a step further.  He used flying as a way of making plausible and more scientific the idea that we could all overcome the secular limits of space and time.

  1. Andreas Kilcher, ETH, Zürich


The Scientification of Esotericism: The Knowledge Claim of Modern Occultism

Modern esotericism is commonly understood to have emerged in opposition to the processes of disentchantment and scientification in the 19th century: It not only was “rejected knowledge“ by the predominant scientific discourse, but it itself, in turn, rejected the contemporary sciences. On closer inspection, however, this rejection-thesis is highly questionable. With its strong knowledge claim and affirmative adaptation of scientific methods and techniques, modern occultism asserted itself as a decidely scholarly endeavor at the center of the contemporary sciences. It is therefore the thesis of this lecture that modern occultism can be understood as scientification of esotericism. As a consequence of this, I furthur suggest that we need to  revise the common understanding of the history of knowledge as a linear and homogeneous process (e.g. the narrative of progress) by replacing it by a more complex picture.

  1. Peter Bebergal, Author of Strange Frequencies

Enchanting Technology

In this paper I will examine how states of enchantment can and often have existed at the intersection of occult beliefs and technology.  In this ambiguous and liminal space deep wells of meaning can be found, and this is where magic is, has been, and continues to be an important tool to activate the imagination. Technology can bring us to the threshold where the possibility of enchantment begins as a creative and psychological experience immune to religious fundamentalism and hardened atheism.  Esoteric spiritual practices and technology both use tools to shape reality into new forms and gain control over nature and consciousness. John Dee’s speculum and Joseph Smith’s seeing stones, magic lanterns used in masonic rituals, spirit photographs, and ghost boxes, all are examples of our capacity to reengineer our spiritual lives. These, and other kind of occult practices require experimentation, breaking boundaries, and using devices in ways they might not be originally intended. The magician and the hacker both attempt to break open conventional ways of working with our imaginations. Magic–and other occult methods– are indeed, kinds of spiritual hacking: They are attempts to open the to reveal the marvels of the universe as it unfolded in ever new and astonishing ways to understand how it works and bend it towards a new purpose. Alongside the increased interest in the occult is the DIY and maker culture, all of whom are seeking enchantment and wonder. And when magicians and artists use technology to explore the occult imagination, they reveal new ways to enchant our lives.

Saturday morning keynote

Cathy Gutierrez

 From Skulls to Skullduggery: Atavism in the Spirit World

The history of criminology, physiognomy, and Spiritualism intersect in the nineteenth century.  While the idea that one can “read” a person’s morals from his face is an ancient one, the new sciences arising in this period gave new life—and a patina of objectivity—to this endeavor.  Founder of “modern criminology” Cesare Lombroso was also a top-tier Spiritualist believer and psychical researcher.  Lombroso, I argue, brought his methods of measuring the human body in order to predict criminal intent to the investigation of the other side—the same tools used to create (in his view, describe) the corpus of the “born criminal” created ghosts whose bodies were materialized in seances.  Lombroso was the patron of the medium Eusapia Palladino, a controversial figure who rent in two the Society for Psychical Research.  For Lombroso, both criminals and spirits were creatures of the past: in the criminal’s case, literally a Darwinian throwback to an earlier form of evolution with insufficiently advanced morals.  I contextualize physiognomy and criminology and examine both the concept of criminals in heaven and the capturing of fleeting bodies, dead or deviant, in the sciences of crime.

Keynote Speaker Sunday (before business meeting/round table about ASE future plans)


Christopher McIntosh

Half a Century of Western Esotericism

Christopher McIntosh has been studying and writing about the western esoteric traditions since the mid-1960s, producing such acclaimed works as Eliphas Lévi and the French Occult Revival, The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason and the first reliable translation of the Rosicrucian Fama Fraternitatis (together with his wife Dr. Donate Pahnke McIntosh). In this lecture he will look back over the past half century of the study of esotericism and will talk about key scholars and developments in the field as well as about his encounters with people in various esoteric movements.

Association for the Study of Esotericism


In May, 2002, the journal Esoterica hosted the First North American Symposium on the Study of Esotericism at Michigan State University. There, the invited participants created a new scholarly organization, the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE], along with a mission statement and a set of goals. This organization subsequently was incorporated in August, 2002, as a recognized 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The primary mission of this organization is to support excellence in scholarship and to foster communication among scholars who, though their work originates from a wide range of fields, find esotericism a common theme of their research.

Our Board includes Arthur Versluis (Michigan State University), President, Lee Irwin (College of Charleston) Vice President, Mel Draper (UC Davis) Treasurer, Secretary, M. E. Warlick (University of Denver).

Esotericism, Religion, and Nature illuminates the way that nature is understood by major esoteric figures and traditions. Taken together, these articles shed new light on the connections between humanity, nature, and religion. Authors include Joscelyn Godwin, Wouter Hanegraaff, Lee Irwin, Richard Smoley, Arthur Versluis, M. E. Warlick, and many others. The second in a series of volumes on Western esotericism, this book emerged from international academic conferences held by the Association for the Study of Esotericism.  In this groundbreaking collection, leading scholars in this emerging field explore how nature can be understood in a wide range of esoteric religious contexts. Included here are articles on subjects ranging from alchemy and panpsychism to music, Appalachian folk magic, and new religions.

Our third volume in the series Studies in Esotericism, Esotericism, Religion, and Politics was published in 2012.  In this groundbreaking collection, scholars explore how politics can be understood in a much wider range of esoteric religious contexts than is usually recognized. Included here are articles on subjects ranging across the modern era and from a broad geographical expanse, including Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, and North America. This is the first book to focus on how esotericism and politics intersect not only across the conventional spectrum, but also outside it. Taken together, these articles shed new light on the connections between politics and religion. Authors include Joscelyn Godwin, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Lee Irwin, Daniel McKanan, Arthur Versluis, M. E. Warlick, and many others.  The book can be purchased here.

Please visit the website of our sister organization, the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE, www.esswe.org), for information about other academic events in this field.