ESSWE home

  • 2013-07-13 19:11 | ESSWE admin (Administrator)
    Special Issue of Preternature
    Edited by James A.T. Lancaster and Richard Raiswell

    The advent of novel approaches in early modernity to understanding and mastering nature - from natural magic, to natural history, to natural philosophy - motivated discourse about how best to distill true knowledge (vera scientia) from an increasing body of claims about the natural world. The need to develop a language with which to frame this discourse naturally led magicians, alchemists, historians, and philosophers to turn to that facet of society which already possessed the terminology necessary to deal with epistemological deviation; namely, the Christian religion. The adoption of traditionally religious terms such as "idol," "vanity," and "superstition" by investigators of nature afforded the opportunity to differentiate claims to true knowledge, at the same time as it facilitated virulent attacks between rival cultures of knowledge. Beyond the merely rhetorical, though, this process of adoption began to shift the established semantic landscape of early modernity. The very act of employing such religious terms within the context of the inquiry into nature infused them with new meanings; meanings which contributed, in turn, to the myriad new ways in which Europeans began to view both themselves and the world around them. Of particular importance was the notion of "superstition" (superstitio). More than many other terms, the meaning of superstition began an extensive transformation from its traditional sense of incorrect beliefs within the sphere of religion to incorrect beliefs within the sphere of nature. Discourses of superstition entered into numerous debates about the study of nature: they contributed to the development of definable relationships between the natural and the preternatural, for instance; helped to map new models of the mind and legitimize the practitioners of new, naturalistic vocations; and underwrote emergent ideas of "progress," "advancement," and "enlightenment" in tandem with beliefs about the nature of the (preter)natural.

    This special issue of Preternature seeks papers which address shifting conceptualizations of "superstition" as it relates to both the natural and preternatural in the early modern period. Papers should examine the ways in which various discourses of superstition contributed to the emergence of new cultures of natural and preternatural knowledge, thereby helping to shape the early modern world.

    Topics might include, but are not limited to:

    - The various ways in which the study of nature came to be conceived as a remedy for the apparent spread of superstition in the post-Reformation period.
    - How the concept of superstition was altered by emerging definitions of "true" and "false" knowledge with regards to the natural world.
    - How the idea of superstition contributed to the creation of a definable relationship between the natural world and the preternatural.
    - Whether new ways of thinking about nature ultimately led to the trivialization of superstition and superstitions.
    - The use of discourses of superstition in defense of natural magic, demonology, witchcraft, and the occult, etc.
    - The relationship between ideas of "progress," "advancement," "enlightenment" and superstition in early modern cultures of knowledge.

    Final papers will be due 15 January 2014. Submissions should be made through the journal's online submission module at:

    Contributions should usually be 8,000 - 12,000 words, including all documentation and critical apparatus. However, exceptions can be made in certain circumstances. If accepted for publication, manuscripts will be required to adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition (style 1, employing footnotes).

    For more information, please contact James A.T. Lancaster
    ( ).

  • 2013-07-07 19:14 | ESSWE admin (Administrator)
    It gives us great pleasure to announce the 2013 ESSWE PhD Thesis Prize Winner:
    Dr Egil Asprem (University of Amsterdam), for his thesis on “The Problem of Disenchantment: Scientific Naturalism and Esoteric Discourse, 1900-1939.”

    Here's what Egil says on his page:

    The dissertation presents a novel thesis on Max Weber’s notion of the “disenchantment of the world”. According to Weber, the disenchantment process was driven primarily by the modern natural sciences, leading to the disappearance of “magic” and the absolute separation of the spheres of science and religion. Combining history of science with the history of religion and esotericism, this work demonstrates that the modern natural sciences, pace Weber and his interpreters, cannot easily be described as having led to a disenchantment of the world. Instead, we find a number of significant overlaps between science, theology, and broadly “esoteric” outlooks, particularly in the form of “new natural theologies” and in philosophical positions defined as “open-ended naturalism”. These overlaps, moreover, signify areas where individual scientists and scientific institutions (journals, lecture platforms, scholarly societies) have suggested implications of their own work that go against the technical understanding of “disenchantment” – viz., countering strict mechanism, materialism, and/or reductionism, in favour of “re-enchanted” scientific worldviews, advocating the continuity between scientific research and the value spheres of religion, metaphysics, and ethics. While such reenchantment projects are well-known from “alternative” and “New Age” circles in the post-war era, a significant find of this work is that they were predated and prefigured in the intellectual production of influential pre-war scientists, scholars, and philosophers.

    While this challenges the notion that modern science has been a straight-forwardly disenchanting agent, that is not to say that we are forced to accept the opposite view, often argued by post-war spiritual activists and some postmodern scholars, that the radical scientific changes of the early 20th century “naturally” suggests a form of “reenchanted science”. Avoiding such simplifications, this book instead proposes a new model of disenchantment that is able to account for the ultimately ambiguous role of science in the production of worldviews and identities. This model implies a change in focus, which can be summed up as a shift from process to problem: disenchantment should not be seen as a trans-historical “process”, but as a historically situated intellectual problem, to which individual actors – within and outside of academia – have found different responses.

    Adopting and developing this model permits the writing of a historical narrative of the cultural entanglements of the pre-war sciences that brings surprising complexities to the fore. The book thus analyses responses to “the problem of disenchantment” in the established and emerging sciences of the early 20th century (physics, chemistry, biology, and psychology), the prospective science of parapsychology, and in prominent Western esoteric discourses (to wit, Theosophy, Anthroposophy and Crowleyan ritual magic). The work is concluded by a discussion of the broader implications of adopting a methodological stance of Problemgeschichte for the writing of intellectual history.

    For more information, and a preview of some of the thesis, click HERE.

  • 2013-04-26 15:19 | ESSWE admin (Administrator)
    A New Exhibition on Alchemy at London's Science Museum,

    27 April 2012 - 27 April 2013

    The quest for the philosophers’ stone was a major preoccupation of the early modern world. This precious substance was said to transform base metals into silver and gold, heal sickness, and unlock the mysteries of God and nature. Its recipe was a closely guarded secret and a bewildering array of signs and symbols were used, both figuratively and allegorically, to convey key processes and ideas in the search for the fabled stone. This exhibition follows the theme of a recipe using the same sources devised and decoded by the alchemists themselves.

    The exhibition displays 22 of the most striking images from the rich collection of the Science Museum’s Library & Archives. Dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries, these works reveal the power and intricacy of alchemical art, whilst allowing us to attempt an interpretation of the hidden meanings behind the symbols.

    At the heart of the exhibition is a newly discovered manuscript: a Ripley scroll. These rare scrolls include some of the most complex and fascinating alchemical imagery in existence. For the first time, this object can be viewed alongside selected texts and images from the Museum’s collections.

    Click HERE to visit the Science Museum webpage.

  • 2013-03-20 19:20 | ESSWE admin (Administrator)
    Call for Articles - Beyond Borderlands: A Critical Journal of the Weird, Paranormal, and Occult
    Deadline: July 1st, 2013

    Beyond Borderlands is a double-blind peer reviewed open access online journal and a forum for the interdisciplinary, artistic, and critical exploration of topics relating to esotericism, paranormality, and the culturally weird. Within our pages we hope to foster conversation between more traditional scholarly approaches and contemporary practitioners, artists, and writers exploring these themes. The journal provides a shared space for these divergent approaches without compromising the methodological integrity or free creativity appropriate to each.

    Our website will be launched on May 4th, and our first issue will be published in October 2013. Potential contributors are invited to submit academic articles of approximately 4000 to 8000 words, with an abstract of 250 words. We also seek to introduce readers to scholarship pertaining to weird and occult topics while providing a guide for their interpretation through critical analysis and contextualization. Knowledgeable commentators are encouraged to submit reviews of between 1000 and 2500 words. All submissions should be formatted according to the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, with citations as footnotes.

    The submission deadline for consideration in our first issue is July 1st, 2013. Please send all submissions to .
    For further information, please contact the editor at .


    York University
    218 Bethune College
    York University
    4700 Keele Street
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    M3J 1P3

    Beyond Borderlands: A Critical Journal of the Weird, Paranormal, and Occult
    Click HERE to visit the Facebook page

  • 2013-03-15 19:24 | ESSWE admin (Administrator)
    ESSWE announces three travel bursaries of €300 each to assist students and/or members from economically disadvantaged countries to participate in the forthcoming ESSWE4 conference in Gothenburg.
    One further bursary of €100 is available for other purposes. Guidelines and application form are available on the ESSWE website (under "ESSWE Bursaries"). The deadline to apply for funding to travel to ESSWE4 is 1 May 2013.

  • 2013-02-26 19:26 | ESSWE admin (Administrator)
    The Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion announces two funded positions as postgraduate student, one in Comparative Literature and one in Religious Studies (cf. announcements and general syllabi). Applications are assessed by the disciplines, respectively, and interviews may be arranged. The head of department will make decisions in May–June, and all applicants will be informed of the outcome.

    The first day of employment is September 1, 2013. Applicants must be aware that the University's principle of announcing full postgraduate positions, rather than stipends, means that the postgraduate as employee is required to be physically present at the workplace, interacting actively with the research environment in order to benefit from the education provided there.

    A complete application must be submitted no later than Monday March 25, 2013 (local time: CET, GMT+1). You can apply from Monday February 25, 2013. The application is made in The University of Gothenburg’s net-based Job Application Portal.

  • 2013-02-15 19:27 | ESSWE admin (Administrator)
    Friday 15 March, 10.30-17.00

    What role do museums play in visitors’ religious and spiritual lives? Join us for a unique day of discussions on the varied ways visitors practise their faith and encounter the sacred in museums. Featuring speakers from a mix of museum and academic backgrounds, this event will explore the visitor experience at venues including the Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall, the Creation Museum in Kentucky and the recent ‘spiritual journeys’ exhibitions at the British Museum.

    Confirmed speakers include:
    • Karen Armstrong, British Museum Trustee
    • Rickie Burman, The National Gallery (and former Director of the Jewish Museum)
    • Qaisra Khan, Project Curator at The British Museum
    • Dr John Troyer, Deputy Director of the Death and Dying Practices Associate, University of Bath.

    Event details:
    £35, Members/concessions £28
    The Stevenson Lecture Theatre, the British Museum, London
    Morning and afternoon refreshments will be provided
    The Museum will remain open until 20.30

  • 2013-01-26 14:50 | ESSWE admin (Administrator)
    Glasgow University Library,
    Henry Heaney Room (Level 12)
    Tuesday 5 February 2013, 5pm,

    As part of the Stirling Maxwell Centre Seminar Series, Luca Guariento (University of Glasgow) will be giving a paper on ‘Cosmos, man and their musical interrelation in Robert Fludd’s visual symbolism’.

  • 2013-01-26 14:48 | ESSWE admin (Administrator)
    Studiemiddag of the C.G. Jung Vereniging Nederland

    9 February 2013 at Antropia in Driebergen

    If you're interested in the life and thought of the psychologist Carl Jung and live in the Netherlands, you might like to attend a lecture by Punita Miranda, an MA student at the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and practising psychotherapist.

    The title of the talk is 'From Experiment to Method: Jung's Active Imagination in the Context of his Red Book'.

    Click Here to visit Punita's webpage and Here for the Jung Vereniging announcement.

  • 2013-01-09 14:52 | ESSWE admin (Administrator)
    The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) and the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry (SHAC) are pleased to invite applications for the 2013-2014 Rumford Scholarship.

    This annual award will enable the Rumford Scholar to travel to Europe in order to undertake original research in the history of chemistry or alchemy in libraries/archives/museum collections using their particular resources.

    The award may be held in any European country. The value of the award is £2300. Applications are due April 7, 2013. 
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software