Wouter J. Hanegraaﬀ / ARIES . () –
of birth. Tat year, however, is no absolute point of origin either, for the chairhad in fact been created under a diﬀerent title fourteen years earlier, in ,as “History of Esoteric Christianity”. If this ﬁrst academic chair for esotericismwasthereforeborninParis,attheEcolePratiquedesHautesEtudes,itsoriginalconception must be attributed to one of the professors, Henry Corbin, sinceit was he who proposed the idea to his colleagues.
Corbin, of course, was a central representative of the famous Eranos ap-proach to the study of religion, and certainly had his own vision of esotericismin mind when he made the proposal. As emphasized by Tomas Hakl in hisdeﬁnitive history
Der verborgene Geist von Eranos
, the “Eranos spirit” implieda view of esotericism entirely diﬀerent from Faivre’s later deﬁnition:
Against the scholarly deﬁnition of Antoine Faivre, “esoteric” here means simply theconscious concern with a religiously motivated way “inwards”, with a “know thyself”(your “divine” self). Or formulated in diﬀerent words, the “esotericism of Eranos”is concerned with “individuation”, the “descensus ad inferos = ascensus ad superos”,which takes places not in the rational and intellectual domain, but in the symbolicand spiritual domain of the soul, and nevertheless can be known by the intellect.Hence also the scepsis, which can time and again be noticed at Eranos, against a
purely and exclusively
rational attitude, and the deliberate inclusion of analogical “mythical”thought.
Tis diﬀerence between an Eranos perspective and Faivre’s later deﬁnitionis highly important, as will be seen. It closely parallels the basic oppositionbetween a “religionist” concept of esotericism and a historical-empirical one:
an opposition that is present not only in the modern and contemporary study
Michel de Certeau
,–),perhaps“Westernesotericism”would not exist as a ﬁeld of research the way it exists today.
See Faivre, “La parola ‘esoterismo’”. My metaphor of “birth” and “conception” shouldnot be understood as implying that the E.P.H.E. made any deliberate choice to start a new specialty called “esotericism”: instead, what happened is that almost by chance—simply by proposing this particular title—Corbin turns out to have “planted a seed” that wouldeventually blossom into the ﬁrst academic chair devoted to a new academy ﬁeld (and eventhat happened only because the second chairholder, Antoine Faivre, chose to interpret hisassignment in a much broader and more comprehensive sense than his predecessor). It isonly with the second academic chair (University of Amsterdam, ) that a university made a deliberate choice to create an academic setting for the study of Western esotericism(albeit under the title “History of Hermetic Philosophy and related currents”).
Verborgene Geist von Eranos
See e.g. Hanegraaﬀ, ‘Beyond the Yates Paradigm’; id. ‘Study of Western Esotericism’,; Faivre,
(th ed.), –.