1 On the history of the discipline: Antoine Faivre & Karen-Claire Voss, "Western Esotericism and the Science of Religions," Numen 42 (1995), 48-77; Wouter J. Hanegraaff, "Introduction: The Birth of a Discipline," in: Antoine Faivre & Wouter J. Hanegraaff, eds., Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion: Selected Papers presented at the 17th Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions, Mexico City 1995 (Gnostica: Texts & Interpretations 2), (Peeters: Louvain, 1998).
2 Cf. Antoine Faivre, "Questions of Terminology proper to the Study of Esoteric Currents in Modern and Contemporary Europe," in Faivre & Hanegraaff, Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion. Whereas Faivre distinguishes four meanings, I propose to split up his third one.
3Faivre, "Questions of Terminology," 1. Cf. Christoph Bochinger, "New Age" und moderne Religion: Religionswissenschaftliche Analysen, (Gütersloh: 1994), ch. 8.1; and Wouter J. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, (Leiden: 1996/Albany: 1998), 385-388.
4 Antoine Faivre, "The Notions of Concealment and Secrecy in Modern Esoteric Currents since the Renaissance (A Methodological Approach)," paper read at the conference Rending the Veil: Concealment and Secrecy in Religions, New York University, April, 1997; see Antoine Faivre, ''The Notions of Concealment and Secrecy in Modern Esoteric Currents since the Renaissance (A Methodological Approach)," in: Elliott R. Wolfson (ed.), Rending the Veil: Concealment and Secrecy in the History of Religions, Seven Bridges Press: New York & London 1999, pp. 155-176.
5 See for example Frithjof Schuon, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, revised edition (Wheaton/Madras/London: 1984); and William W. Quinn, The Only Tradition, (Albany: 1997). Cf. the discussion in Wouter J. Hanegraaff, "Empirical Method in the Study of Esotericism," Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 7:2 (1995), 110; and id., "On the Construction of 'Esoteric Traditions'" in: Faivre & Hanegraaff, Western Esotericism and the Science of Religions, 26-28.
6 See the examples of Gilles Quispel and Pierre A. Riffard, discussed in Hanegraaff, "On the Construction," pars. 3.1.1. and 3.1.2. In the United States, this fourth type is linked in particular to approaches influenced by Mircea Eliade and Carl Gustav Jung.
7The best introduction and overview of western esotericism in this sense of the word is Antoine Faivre, Access to Western Esotericism, (Albany: 1994). As an innovative syncretism of various older traditions, the origins of Renaissance "hermeticism" reach back to antiquity. See for the continuities between ancient, medieval and modern traditions: Antoine Faivre, "Ancient and Medieval Sources of Modern Esoteric Movements," in: Antoine Faivre & Jacob Needleman (eds.), Modern Esoteric Spirituality, (New York: 1992); and the collective volume by Roelof van den Broek & Wouter J. Hanegraaff (eds.), Gnosis and Hermeticism from Antiquity to Modern Times, (Albany: 1998).
8 It will be noted that western esotericism in this sense remains limited essentially to the context of Christian culture (but extending to its post-Christian development since the Enlightenment). Elsewhere I have suggested that the concept may be broadened so as to include parallel phenomena in Jewish and Islamic culture, so that "western esotericism" might be perceived as a broad domain of study common to the Religions of the Book (Hanegraaff, 'Empirical Method', 121-124). Such an extended usage would constitute a further, sixth meaning of "esotericism".
10 Obviously I do not intend to suggest that scholars of western esotericism cannot, in certain cases at least, make use of the results of such disciplines in interpreting esoteric currents. See for example the work of Dan Merkur, Gnosis: An Esoteric Traditions of Mystical Visions and Unions, (Albany: 1993).
12 Obviously I do not mean to deny that the "concordance" of different traditions (in the form of discourses on a philosophia perennis or prisca theologia) has been a major concern in many historical forms of western esotericism, nor that some of the latter have had an influence on certain important perennialist authors. These points of contact between the two meanings of esotericism would constitute a highly interesting subject of investigation. My point is merely that perennialist authors study (what they consider to be) metaphysical Truth, whereas students of western esotericism study a certain number of historical currents (regardless of whether their teachings are considered true or false).
13 René Guénon considered his beliefs to be embodied most clearly in Hinduism, and converted to Islam. He showed little interest in hermetic traditions, and positive mention of such a central western-esoteric currents as Christian theosophy is limited to only a few lines in his whole voluminous oeuvre (Antoine Faivre, "Le courant théosophique (fin XVI-XXe siècles): Essai de périodisation," in: Accès de l'ésotérisme occidental II, Paris 1996, 93-94). Similarly, Frithjof Schuon almost completely neglects western esoteric currents in the historical sense (cf. S.H. Nasr, ed,, The Essential Writings of Frithjof Schuon, (Shaftesbury & Rockport: 1986), 19-20, 233-261).
14 Here and in what follows I am never referring to the sacred in the Durkheimian sense of the word (on the difference, see W.E. Paden, "Before 'The Sacred' became Theological: Rereading the Durkheimian Legacy: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 3:1 (1991); cf. the discussions of Durkheim and Eliade in Hanegraaff, "Defining Religion").
15 On this point, see Wouter J. Hanegraaff, "Defining Religion in Spite of History," in: Jan G. Platvoet & Arie L. Molendijk (eds.), The Definition of Religion: Concepts, Contexts & Conflicts, Royal (Leiden: Brill, 1998).
17 For example, no less than three thoroughly historical articles in Faivre & Hanegraaff, Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion significantly end with expressing hopes for cultural renewal: Arthur Versluis, "Alchemy and Christian Theosophic Literature," 141-144; Jane Williams-Hogan, "The Place of Emanuel Swedenborg in Modern Western Esotericism," 250; Garry W. Trompf, "Macrohistory in Blavatsky, Steiner and Guénon," 294.
18 Contra Karen-Claire Voss, "The University as a Space of Possibility," Rencontres transdisciplinaires 12 (1998), 100-101. This article is a particularly clear example of the misunderstanding referred to here. Defending the merits of an empirico-historical methodology against "religionist" methodologies (see my "Empirical Method" and "On the Construction") must not be confused with dogmatic attempts to impose such a methodology as the only scholarly valid one.
19 For further information on this network/database project, contact Wouter Hanegraaff (address: Dept. of the Study of Religions, Faculty of Theology, P.O.Box 80105, 3508 TC Utrecht; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). As for conferences, see especially the innovative section on western esotericism organized in the context of the five-yearly congresses of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR); the first edition was organized at the 17th IAHR congress (Mexico City 1995; see the proceedings: Faivre & Hanegraaff, Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion) and will be continued at the 18th congress (Durban, South Africa, 2000). A new monograph series called Gnostica, concentrating on text editions, has been started by Garry W. Trompf, the late John Cooper, and Wouter J. Hanegraaff (publ.: Louvain: Peeters). A trilingual journal ARIES has circulated on a limited scale since 1985; preparations for a new formula and format, to be published by a major academic publisher, are now in an advanced stage.
20 Some recent examples: contemporary literary theory applied to the study of kabbala (Andreas Kilcher, Die Sprachtheorie der Kabbala als ästhetisches Paradigma: Die Konstruktion einer ästhetischen Kabbala seit der frühen Neuzeit, (Stuttgart & Weimar: 1998)); Michel Foucault's archéologie du savoir applied to Renaissance magic (Gary Tomlinson, Music in Renaissance Magic: Toward a Historiography of Others, (Chicago & London: 1993)); psychoanalysis and altered states of consciousness-research applied to various traditions of western esotericism (Merkur, Gnosis, op.cit.); anthropological theories of "magic" applied to ritual magic in contemporary occultism (T.M. Luhrmann, Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England, (Cambridge Mass.: 1989)).
21 Such projects should be sensitive to the ever-present danger of universalizing at the expense of historical uniqueness. Any attempt to make statements about esotericism "as such" is indeed vulnerable to the same type of criticism which is - very legitimately - addressed by historians at grand theories of religion "as such" (Antoine Faivre, L'ésotérisme, Paris 1992, 4; cf. Hanegraaff, "Defining Religion," Introduction). Some particularly relevant examples of how non-essentialist theoretical approaches may affect the interpretation of historical materials may be found in the modern study of Jewish "mysticism", a discipline from which the study of western esotericism has much to learn. See Moshe Idel's plea for what he refers to as a "phenomenological" approach as an alternative to Gershom Scholem's "philological-historical" one (Kabbalah: New Perspectives, (New Haven & London: 1988), esp. ch. 2), and Joseph Dan's "contingental" approach ('In Quest of a Historical Definition of Mysticism: The Contingental Approach', Studies in Spirituality 3 (1993), 58-90); and cf. my discussion of Scholem and Dan in "On the Construction," par. 3.3.2. Antoine Faivre's much-quoted definition of western esotericism in terms of four intrinsic and two extrinsic characteristics (Access, 10-14) has far-reaching implications for the conception of the discipline; I have myself used it, in slightly modified form, for developing a general and non-essentialist theory pertaining to the specific problem of the secularization of western esotericism (New Age Religion, Part III). These are only a few examples.
22 On the inevitable tension (but, in my opinion, a creative one) between the systematic and the historical dimension of the study of religions, see my observation in "Defining Religion," Introduction.
24 The Wirkungsgeschichte of Yates' oeuvre would be an interesting research topic. Most obvious is its relevance to the interpretation of the scientific revolution (for the debate on the controversial "Yates thesis", see H. Floris Cohen,The Scientific Revolution: A Historiographical Inquiry, (Chicago & London: 1994), 169-183); but it has also served as an "eye-opener" to specialists in such divergent disciplines as the study of Romanticism (M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature, (New York & London: 1971), 154-163) and the anthropology of religion and magic (Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality, (Cambridge UP: 1990), 24-29). The study of western esotericism will always be indebted to Yates, even if her work is now criticized on many points.
25 The former type refers to a phenomenon so well-known as to need no further illustration; one characteristic example of the latter type would be Eric Voegelin's theory of "modern gnosticism" (cf. Hanegraaff, "On the Construction," par. 3.2.1.).
26 See the pertinent remarks made as early as 1976 by Paul Oskar Kristeller, who admits that in 1953 he had still felt somewhat embarrassed at having to report two cases of exorcism described by Marsilio Ficino: '... grâce à l'oeuvre de Thorndike, de Miss Yates et d'autres, nous ne sommes plus épouvantés quand nous rencontrons des idées scientifiques bizarres ou des conceptions astrologiques, alchimiques ou magiques chez les penseurs des siècles passés. Si nous découvrons des idées de ce genre dans l'oeuvre de Ficin, nous ne lui en faisons pas le reproche, mais nous le plaçons simplement dans une vaste tradition intellectuelle qui avait été négligée et évitée trop longtemps par les historiens, et qui est représentée par une littérature étendue et difficile qui a encore besoin ... d'un grand effort d'étude et d'exploration' ('L'état présent des études sur Marsile Ficin', in: Platon et Aristote à la Renaissance, (Paris: 1976), 63).
27 On this change with respect to the Renaissance, see Kristeller as quoted in note 26; cf. also Brian Copenhaver, "Hermes Trismegistus, Proclus, and the Question of a Philosophy of Magic in the Renaissancem," in: Ingrid Merkel & Allen G. Debus, eds., Hermeticism and the Renaissance: Intellectual History and the Occult in Early Modern Europe, (Washington: 1988), 79. Although the "Yates thesis" (cf. note 24) is no longer accepted in its original strong form, Renaissance magic is now generally taken seriously as an important dimension in the development of the scientific revolution. To give an example from another historical period, see how the factor of western esotericism, and its "hermetic" component in particular, affects the interpretation of Romanticism (for an overview of the development in Anglo-Saxon research, see my "Romanticism and the Esoteric Connection," in Van den Broek & Hanegraaff, Gnosis and Hermeticism).
28 Cf. my observations with respect to the popularity of Frances Yates's oeuvre, beginning with her book on Giordano Bruno published in 1964 (Hanegraaff, "Introduction," ix-xv), and the need for the study of western esotericism to move beyond the "Yates paradigm."