Western Esotericism: Continuities and Discontinuities
01 / 2007 - onbekend
Questions relating to the construction of tradition are central to the study of Western esotericism, and this in several regards. On the one hand, the idea of a chain of superior knowledge and revelation often referred to as prisca theologia or philosophia perennis has been a powerful element of esoteric identities from the Middle Ages through modernity. On the other hand, the attempt to construct an esoteric tradition has been central to many scholarly approaches in the history of religion: it was often taken for granted that there is a characteristic Gnostic or Hermetic tradition that shaped European culture and contributed to the formation of modernity. This research program, understood as a framework for individual research projects carried out by the staff members of the chair, addresses both the methodological issues involved and concrete historical cases that enhance our understanding of the complex dynamics of shaping tradition . The aim is to differentiate continuities in the history of Western esotericism for doing so, the concept of longue durée may serve as a suitable instrument of analysis and discontinuities that are an often underestimated feature of historical development. As a methodological background, all projects depart from the assumption that Western culture is best described as pluralistic. Three assumptions in particular are essential for this approach: (a) from antiquity on, Western culture has been characterized by a religious pluralism that fostered identities by constructing an opposing other ; (b) critical reflection on and negotiation of religious truth claims have been influenced by interaction between different cultural systems (such as religion, science, art, literature, politics, law, economics, etc.); (c) competing ways of attaining knowledge of the world are a key to understanding the role of esotericism in Western discourse.