One characteristic of European history of religion is a two-fold pluralism—a pluralism of religious identities on the one hand, and a pluralism of various societal systems that interact with religious systems on the other. Addressing discourses of perfect knowledge in Western culture between 1200 and 1800, this book integrates the study of Western esotericism in a larger analytical framework of European history of religion. Viewed from a structuralist perspective, ‘esoteric discourse’ provides an analytical framework that helps to reveal genealogies of modern identities in a pluralistic competition of knowledge. Experiential philosophy, kabbalah, astrology, Hermeticism, philology, and early modern science are linked to knowledge claims that shaped the way in which Western culture defined itself.
Kocku von Stuckrad, Ph.D. (1999) in the Academic Study of Religion, University of Bremen, is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Groningen. He has published extensively on European history of religion, esotericism, shamanism, and astrology.
Von Stuckrad’s sophisticated and stimulating reevaluation of the place of esotericism in Western culture should be of great interest to anyone concerned with the complex religious, social, political, and intellectual developments that mark the transition from the medieval to the modern world...., this is an exceptionally interesting book eminently worthy of critical attention.
Allison P. Coudert,
Religion 42:3, 489-492
This volume will be of benefit to scholars interested in European religious and intellectual history, especially those focusing on esoteric traditions. For students of Jewish intellectual history, this study presents an engaging model for examining the “discursive unit” that Jews helped create through their direct and indirect engagement with the Christian majority. Stuckrad’s work demonstrates that Jewish texts and ideas are essential components of the discursive matrix of the West, and thus assume a central rather than marginal role in the study of European intellectual history. The comprehensive bibliography and index, as well as the rich footnotes, further enhance the value of Stuckrad’s contribution.
Muhlenberg College H-Judaic (August, 2011)
Von Stuckrad’s sophisticated and stimulating reevaluation of the place of esotericism in Western culture should be of great interest to anyone concerned with the complex religious, social, political, and intellectual developments that mark the transition from the medieval to the modern world. The dialogue he proposes between modern theories and ancient, medieval, and early modern texts raises important questions and offers further evidence that the nineteenth and twentieth century divisions between religion, magic, and science and between science, philosophy, and occultism have outlived their usefulness.
Professor Allison P. Coudert
Paul and Marie Castelfranco Chair in the Religious Studies Program
University of California at Davis
Table of contents
PART ONE: ESOTERIC DISCOURSE AND THE EUROPEAN HISTORY OF RELIGION
1. Europe and the Christendom Narrative: From Singularization to Pluralism
The Secularization Theory Revisited
The Two-Fold Pluralism
2. The Polemical Construction of Tradition
The Construction of Prisca Theologia
Genealogies of Wisdom
3. Conceptualizing the Study of Esoteric Discourse
Approaches to Esotericism
Secrecy as Social Capital
Discourses of Perfect Knowledge
PART TWO: SHARED PASSIONS
4. The Secrets of Experience: Wisdom beyond Demonstration
Neoplatonism and Theurgy in Late Antiquity
Experiential Knowledge in Suhrawardī’s Illuminationist Philosophy
5. The Secrets of Texts: Esoteric Hermeneutics
The Readability of the Cosmos: Europe’s Obsession with Words
The Textile of the Divine in Early Kabbalah
Linguistic Ontologies in Christian Kabbalah
Humanistic Philology: Universal Languages and the Quest for the Ursprache
6. The Secrets of Time: Astrology and Sacred History
Critical Response to Ancient Traditions: Medieval Arabic Astrology
Sharing Muslim Knowledge: Christian Astrology
PART THREE: INTERFERENCES
7. Scientific Encounters
“Occult Sciences”: The Science-Religion Divide Revisited
John Dee: A Scholar Gone Mad?
Natural Philosophy in an Apocalyptic Age
8. Visual Seductions
The Problem of ‘Renaissance Paganism’
Image Acts and Visual Culture
The Presence of Images as Visual Practice
9. Political Consideration
Johann Heinrich Alsted: Hermeticism and Universal Reform
Perfect Knowledge in the “Circle of Learning”: Alsted’s Encyclopaedia
10. Conclusion: Locations of Knowledge
Writing Histories, Narrating Pasts
Esoteric Discourse and Western Identities
All those interested in European history of religion, Western esotericism, history of science, as well as those interested in medieval, Renaissance and early modern cultural dynamics.