Dis/unity of Knowledge: Models for the Study of Modern Esotericism and Science

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  • 1 University of California, Santa Barbara, Department of Religious Studies, Santa Barbara, ca 93106–3130

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Research on relations between esotericism and science exhibits a fundamental asymmetry. While historians of science have been eager to uncover esoteric contexts for early modern sciences, scholars of modern esoteric movements look almost solely at esotericism in the context of scientific progress. This asymmetry is largely due to a division of intellectual labor following lines of specialization in the humanities. The early modern period has been of supreme interest for historians of science, who have applied their expertise to uncovering important connections. In contrast, late modern esoteric thought has almost exclusively fallen under the purview of religious studies scholars, who lack the tools (and often the interest) to dissect the workings of the sciences. The result has been that, for relations of science and esotericism in the late modern period, the prevailing picture has been one of a unidirectional influence from “proper” science to a culturally parasitic esoteric discourse.

The present article aims to remedy this asymmetry. A systematization and evaluation of existing approaches to esotericism/science leads to an argument that new methodology and conceptual tools are needed for a sufficient analysis of esotericism/science relations in the modern world to develop. These tools are found in the interdisciplinary field of science and technology studies.

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