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Discourse theory trumps discourse theory: Wouter Hanegraaff's Esotericism and the Academy
Bernd-Christian Otto
a

Institute for Religious Studies, University of Erfurt, Germany Published online: 05 Apr 2013.

To cite this article: Bernd-Christian Otto (2013): Discourse theory trumps discourse theory: Wouter Hanegraaff's Esotericism and the Academy , Religion, 43:2, 231-240 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0048721X.2013.767610

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231–240. and historical details reaching into the very last footnote. even if one is already familiar with the field.767610 Discourse theory trumps discourse theory: Wouter Hanegraaff ’s Esotericism and the Academy Bernd-Christian Otto* Institute for Religious Studies. advanced it onto new levels of theoretical. would embody discourse theory. http://dx. What is more.) Reading this book is a truly educational experience. European history of religions. the history of *Email: bernd. 2. (A testimony of this is the 67-page bibliography. A comparison of Hanegraaff ’s Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.1080/0048721X.otto@uni-erfurt.org/10. methodological. Hanegraaff ’s interpretation of many authors and currents significantly exceeds the current state of research. As a consequence. no doubt. who. a masterpiece. Germany ABSTRACT This review article argues that Wouter Hanegraaff ’s Esotericism and the Academy is deeply influenced by a methodological cluster usually referred to as ‘discourse theory. It is the culmination of many years of research into ‘Western esotericism’ by an outstanding scholar who has shaped the field in the last two decades and. 2013 Vol. Wouter J. Esotericism and the Academy is the very first study on ‘Western esotericism’ that offers a convincing justification of this particular label as an overarching discursive category. according to Hanegraaff. No.doi. 2012) and von Stuckrad’s Locations of Knowledge in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Esoteric Discourse and Western Identities (Leiden: Brill. whereas Hanegraaff would embody history.de © 2013 Taylor & Francis . and historical reflection. Not least through the consistent and persuasive structure of his overall narrative (and methodology).2013. KEY WORDS Western esotericism. the history of philosophy.Religion.’ but it also yields new insights into many other fields of research such as the history of science. Kocku von Stuckrad Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 08:46 23 May 2013 Wouter Hanegraaff ’s Esotericism and the Academy is.’ That the author is not willing to classify his own approach as such is explained with recourse to his dispute with Kocku von Stuckrad. the European history of religions. Hanegraaff. Let me just mention a few characteristics that make this book a landmark study: (1) Hanegraaff impresses with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of a plethora of authors. University of Erfurt. not least by means of this monograph. the book not only contributes to a profound understanding of the emergence and complexity of the field of ‘Western esotericism. discourse theory. currents. 43. 2010) reveals that this is a misleading classification and that Hanegraaff ’s study comes closer to what discourse theory is all about.

historians of philosophy or. theologians) will lay their hand on this outstanding monograph. about magia naturalis. Due to the outstanding synthetic skills of the author and the incredible scope of reading. Hanegraaff manages to systematically transcend disciplinary boundaries. why not. Hanegraaff is right to note that only the rejection of both these (innately ahistorical) approaches renders it possible to investigate thoughts and currents associated with ‘Western esotericism’ in a methodologically sound.232 B. be they from ‘polemical’ or ‘religionist’ perspectives. With this theoretical restructuring. The wide timespan of Hanegraaff ’s (extremely dense) narrative reflects the interdisciplinary shape of the study of Western esotericism in an exemplary manner. English. about the Chaldeans. and Italian and the inclusion of the most recent literature in these languages. Hanegraaff is right to note that a list of semantic essentials of ‘Western esotericism’ (à la Faivre) cannot be the (2) (3) Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 08:46 23 May 2013 (4) (5) 1 See for example Hanegraaff 2012: 254: ‘Modernization is therefore the key to understanding the emergence of Western esotericism (or whatever alternative term one might prefer). mesmerism. occultism. Hanegraaff brings the study of Western esotericism to terms with state-of-the-art methodology in Religious and Cultural Studies. One can only wish that not only the usual suspects. French. or Orpheus. but also ‘outsiders’ of the field (such as historians of science. Rosicrucians. Templars. thereby not only demonstrating the interrelatedness of these textual corpora but also contributing to understanding the emergence and inherent problems of the very field of study of which he is one of the main protagonists. the Study of Religions.’ . astrology. of Enlightenment.1 he presents overwhelming evidence for the interconnectedness of Western discourses about Plato. Hanegraaff likewise transcends the boundaries between academic and preor non-academic literature. of Romanticism. Zoroaster. German. Illuminati. or Theosophers. sophisticated manner. of different variants of the ‘polemical’ approach on the one hand (such as ‘anti-apologetic’ or ‘enlightenment’ narratives) and the ‘religionist’ approach on the other – calls for a fundamental revision of the entire field. Hanegraaff ’s convincing distinction between two different approaches that have shaped the perception of ‘Western esotericism’ thus far – namely. Academic books very seldom cover so many diverse areas in such an erudite. or parapsychology from the 15th to the 21st centuries. alchemy. Pythagoras. unbiased. and indeed historical manner.’ Even though Hanegraaff himself appears to be cautious while putting the label to use. last but not least. Hanegraaff ’s exhaustive analysis of the various discursive fields and strategies that have led to the emergence of categories of ‘rejected knowledge’ in Western history offers the first convincing legitimization for using an overall category that covers all these sub-discourses and -topics: ‘Western esotericism. What is more. due to his fluent reading of (among other languages) Dutch. Hanegraaff ’s fascinating synopsis of the entire field in all its complexity and diversity yields the conclusion that there is a meta-structure that holds all these seemingly disparate ‘strings’ together. Otto Renaissance. and. thereby advancing its academic acceptance and plausibility. Hermes.-C. In this respect. the author also manages to overcome the subtle voids between various ‘national’ academic discourses.

If one compares the two works (Locations of Knowledge and Esotericism and the Academy) one notes many similarities. while returning the fire to von Stuckrad in one of the final chapters of Esotericism and the Academy (362–367). namely Kocku von Stuckrad. even without acknowledging it).) and argues that ‘discourse analysis [.Religion 233 adequate way to conceptualize this meta-structure (as they ‘magically turn the most disparate materials into species of “esotericism.) that would characterize the ‘European history of religions’ in general (see on the latter concept also Kippenberg. let us try to understand his resentments first. ahistorical implications (2010: 51 ff. and 364: ‘Von Stuckrad’s agenda for the study of religion in Europe is ambitious and interesting. among them Hanegraaff ’s (2010: 45–54). . they seem to be derived from a dispute with a colleague. to the polemical and often arbitrary construction of religious identities in Western cultural history.] would provide a useful referential framework for Hanegraaff ’s position’ (2010: 52). Before recollecting some evidence for this hypothesis (that Hanegraaff is a discourse theorist par excellence. I will argue here that this may be due to Hanegraaff ’s own (unjustified) resentments towards a methodological cluster usually referred to as ‘discourse theory’ – a methodological cluster that. it would shift one’s attention to the interdependence of historical discourses (including ‘esoteric’ ones) and.3 2 3 Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 08:46 23 May 2013 Here and in the following all unreferenced page numbers refer to Hanegraaff 2012. but as his final discussion of what his book is all about remains somewhat vague (‘What is it. After criticizing various former approaches.. who has recently published his own revised perspective on the Study of Western esotericism in a book entitled Locations of Knowledge in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Esoteric Discourse and Western Identities (2010).’ 367). von Stuckrad criticizes Hanegraaff ’s reception of Assmann’s concept of ‘mnemohistory’ due to its potentially fictional. in particular. one gets the impression that Hanegraaff does not fully realize the impact and far-reaching implications of his own methodological approach. instead of perpetuating the label ‘Western esotericism. This novel phrasing (‘esoteric discourse’) would help to embed the authors and currents in question within the larger framework of the ‘Two-Fold pluralism’ (2010: 18 ff.. From this point of view. Rüpke and von Stuckrad 2009). claiming ‘that “esoteric discourse” is a useful term for addressing structural elements of European culture in historical perspective’ (2010: 45).’ von Stuckrad proposes a (slight) terminological shift. Furthermore. Interestingly. With respect to the latter observation. but also witnesses a seemingly fundamental controversy over the way to conceptualize and investigate ‘Western esotericism. as we will see. forms the very basis of his study. that we have been talking about? A definite answer is perhaps neither possible nor desirable.’ In his Locations of Knowledge. See Hanegraaff 2012: 362: ‘His [von Stuckrad’s] theoretical and methodological apparatus comes at a price’. Kocku von Stuckrad appears to cut the umbilical cord to his own affiliation with the Amsterdam Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents (where he was Assistant Professor from 2003 to 2009) by rejecting the idea that ‘Western esotericism’ is ‘an objectively identifiable “tradition” or coherent “system of thought and doctrine” that can be studied as a separate topic’ (2010: xi). von Stuckrad concludes that only a discourse-theoretical agenda allows for a proper conceptualization and investigation of the authors and currents in question. Apparently. Accordingly. really. Hanegraaff uses almost identical words.”’ 3602).

we come up with a surprising discovery: while Kocku von Stuckrad somewhat undermines his own discoursetheoretical agenda by adhering to the notions of ‘secrecy’ and ‘perfect knowledge’ (2010: 54–64) and rather neglects the issue of power (a core concern of discourse theory) by shedding little light on the powerful antagonists of ‘esoteric discourse’ throughout Western history (see my critique in Otto 2012).’ but also falsifies von Stuckrad’s claim that they started only in the 18th century. the very nephew of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. 5 See also von Stuckrad 2010: 54: ‘What can be dubbed the “process of distancing” is a discursive event that took place during the past 200–300 years. Hanegraaff ’s Esotericism and the Academy could quite rightly (and contrary to the author ’s own perception) be interpreted as a materialization of von Stuckrad’s discourse-theoretical agenda. one is not surprised to see Hanegraaff bashing Foucault in various instances (see 190. attempted ‘to destroy what his uncle had built. n. for example. and ends up promoting discursive approaches as the only valid methodology in the study of religion. Hanegraaff seems to identify von Stuckrad’s approach as a discourse theoretical one and his own as a historical one when he claims that ‘discursive and historical approaches construct their objects of research in very different ways’ (365). One wonders how Hanegraaff would explain that the material has not ‘vanished’ from the 240 dense pages of von Stuckrad’s study.4 Finally.” makes history subservient to theory. ‘it is not just the term “esotericism” that vanishes as a useful concept. but much of the historical material will vanish as well!’ (365).’ 6 Hanegraaff 2012: 80. and complexity’ (367).. 413). 366. Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 08:46 23 May 2013 .] have been “distanced away” by what I call the processes of disjunction since the 18th century’ and thereby functioned ‘as a “significant Other ” of post-Enlightenment Western identities’ (von Stuckrad 2010: 200). While von Stuckrad lacks a systematic elaboration of this phenomenon in his Locations of Knowledge.. Hanegraaff ’s monograph systematically implements an observation only alluded to by von Stuckrad: that basic genres of ‘esoteric discourse’ such as ‘the disciplines of astrology. Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola. Given these statements. When applying the method. the latter indeed contributes to understanding the ‘content. esoteric or otherwise’ (365). Hanegraaff traces back polemics against the ‘ancient-wisdom narrative’ to the early 1500s (when. Hanegraaff ’s Esotericism and the Academy not only offers overwhelming evidence for these ‘processes of disjunction. he claims.-C. Hanegraaff portrays discourse theory as a rather destructive tool that stands in the way of true historical research.234 B. Hanegraaff maintains that history ‘trumps’ theory (as if the two would exclude each other) and that good historians shouldn’t allow ‘philosophy to paralyze them’ (366).’ Compare with von Stuckrad 2010: 53: ‘[Hanegraaff ’s] falling back on Assmann’s conceptualization of monotheistic and “cosmotheistic” mnemohistory comes with a price. with reference to Schmitt 1965: 312. Now what are we to make of this dispute? As a matter of fact.’6 by means of his Examen vanitatis doctrinae gentium) and convincingly but it comes at a price. 143. Hanegraaff ’s claim that if ‘what von Stuckrad calls “esoteric discourse” were to take the place of what others call “Western esotericism”. Hanegraaff rejects von Stuckrad’s claim that only discourse theory can solve the riddles endemic in the concept of ‘Western esotericism:’ ‘The problem lies in an exclusivist and reductionist subtext that automatically devalues “contents and ideas” in favor of “structures. Accordingly. and complexity’ of numerous ‘esoteric’ currents. depth. is certainly unjustified.’ 4 In this respect. Otto Basically. and magic. alchemy. depth. far too many of the historical materials that have barely begun to return to the academic agenda would once again vanish from sight or lose much of their content. [. in contrast. n.5 To the contrary. if we compare the two books against the backdrop of discourse theory.

even if they do not possess the same formal level. can only be explained by the fact that Hanegraaff indeed adopted (apparently without realizing) a vast variety of discourse-theoretical arguments (maybe even from von Stuckrad himself). Hanegraaff seems to employ ‘discourse’ as a sum of statements (i.e.. It may overshoot the argument a bit but there seem to be grains of truth in considering. even if the statements do not have the same author.Religion 235 Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 08:46 23 May 2013 unveils the complex discursive interconnections between these early polemics against Platonism and various later polemics against offshoots such as magia naturalis. In line with this approach.] to be able to grasp other forms of regularity.. thereby. of affirmative counter-reactions by people who at some point started identifying themselves with these various forms of ‘rejected knowledge. social. Now how is this possible? One may ascribe this unexpected discovery to the dynamics of academic disputes which themselves sometimes imply processes of ‘othering.. Hanegraaff often assigns individual authors to supraindividual (i. thereby not following an everyday understanding of the term (in the sense of mere ‘dialogue’).. or the ‘occult sciences’ (164–207).. fields. and in line with Foucault.e.’ It is also important to note that von Stuckrad’s Locations of Knowledge mainly discusses ‘emic’ sources traditionally associated with ‘Western esotericism’ (albeit. relations between statements and groups of statements and events of a quite different kind (technical. even if the authors were unaware of each other ’s existence). economic. to the extent of even neglecting important ‘emic’ protagonists (note. much of von Stuckrad’s discourse-theoretical agenda. of ‘identity formation. for example. whereas Hanegraaff ’s Esotericism and the Academy puts much more emphasis on the discursive opponents of ‘esoteric’ currents.’ . Hanegraaff ’s study could indeed be understood as a genuine discourse analysis of power relations in regard to the field of ‘Western esotericism. however. other types of relations. statements) when he argues that the Enlightenment construction of polemical ‘waste-basketed’ categories of ‘the Other of science and rationality’ (254) urged subsequent authors to identify 7 See on this Foucault 1972: 28–29: ‘It is [. relations between groups of statements thus established (even if these groups do not concern the same. let us start with some basic observations: (1) Hanegraaff uses the very term ‘discourse’ extensively throughout the entire book (there are many more instances than the four referred to in the index on page 463). or even adjacent. the almost total absence of Madame Blavatsky in Hanegraaff ’s narrative). alchemy. political). whether Hanegraaff comes closer to what discourse theory is all about. mostly texts. discursive) powers and strategies of which these individual authors may not be aware.7 For example. at least while comparing these two books. at least in my opinion. the fact that Hanegraaff ’s Esotericism and the Academy epitomizes. see Foucault 1972: 23). widening the field). To illustrate Hanegraaff ’s discourse-theoretical approach. Hanegraaff seems to suggest discursive dynamics that lead almost teleologically to discursive counter-reactions (i. finally.e. Taking these observations into account.’ of the latter ’s construction as the respective ‘other ’ of both European religions (mostly Christianity) and science and. In contrast. in our case) that (to some extent) form a coherent terminological and argumentative structure and thus give sense to any single statement formulated by an individual author (a book is like a ‘node within a network’.’ and. Relations between statements (even if the author is unaware of them.’ for example by negotiating methodology. Be this as it may. even if they are not the locus of assignable exchanges).

[.-C.] the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true. the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements. compared to all those works on ‘esoteric’ topics published in the last decades. its “general politics” of truth. (2) As already mentioned... ‘religionist’ interpretations (‘every new development comes at a price. in the form in which they can be heard or read. the means by which each is sanctioned [. thereby. See for example Foucault 1977: 27: ‘There is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge. Hanegraaff reveals the plurality and haziness of historical semantics and thereby reconstructs multiple histories of various singular concepts associated with ‘Western esotericism’ such as ‘magic’: ‘the term could mean very different things to different parties.’ thereby outlining its inherent structure and problematics in a much more elaborate way than has been done thus far (especially by taking both ‘polemical’ and ‘religionist’ narratives into account). 9 8 . where Hanegraaff speaks of the ‘remarkable discursive power of mnemohistorical constructs. of his systematic adoption and deployment of numerous discourse-theoretical methologems. on the formation of identities (see 254 ff. we can easily align his words with Foucault’s description of the ‘formation of objects’: ‘I would like to show that “discourses”. visible. according to some interpreters8 (and the later Foucault himself 9).’ 10 See 376–377. not a straight-forward historical reality “out there”’ (377).10 Hanegraaff ’s interpretation of a large number of authors in Esotericism and the Academy indeed shows his de-essentializing. Hanegraaff strongly focuses on the topic of power. That discourses produce their ‘objects’ is one of the essential postulations of Foucauldian discourse analysis and one is stunned by the fact that Hanegraaff uses formulations very similar to Foucault’s original phrasing. the methodological core of the latter.. which largely create the phenomena that they claim to describe while suppressing or distorting any evidence that would undermine the clarity of this evidence’...] Each society has its regime of truth. 374 ff. In fact. the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true. that is. When Hanegraaff writes that history should ‘trump’ theory (366). a mere intersection of things and words: an obscure web of things. power relations’. as one might expect. nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time. and each See for example Hall 2001.’ 254)..) and he even does this in a much more systematic manner than von Stuckrad in his Locations of Knowledge. see also Foucault 1980: 131: ‘Truth isn’t outside power [. Hanegraaff ’s Esotericism and the Academy appears as the very first volume that systematically addresses the overall issue of power ingrained in the (discursive) field of ‘Western esotericism. on processes of exclusion and othering and. Power and polemics are commonplaces in discourse theory and form. and therefore evokes a reaction.. are not. (3) In this respect. Accordingly. coloured chain of words. namely. this] reveals a quite different task [. he overlooks that his own narrative is the very outcome of theory.236 B. constructivistic approach that finally leads to the claim that ‘“Western esotericism” is an imaginative construct in the minds of intellectuals and the wider public. Hanegraaff ’s frequent assertion that European discourses on ‘Western esotericism’ produced the very phenomena that they claimed to merely describe is worth indexing. if we understand Hanegraaff ’s ‘mnemohistorical constructs’ simply as semantic patterns inherent in a discourse..] that consists of not – or no longer – treating discourses as groups of signs (signifying elements referring to contents or representations) but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak’ (Foucault 1972: 48–49).. Otto Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 08:46 23 May 2013 with these categories and engage in affirmative. and a manifest.

.and re-construction of the entire discursive field.Religion 237 Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 08:46 23 May 2013 participant in the discourse had a wide choice of connotations to highlight or play down at will. Let me pick up an argument here: I think that by falling back onto Jacob Thomasius’ Schediasma historicum as a potential model for a non-polemical.11 (4) Hanegraaff ’s critique of both ‘polemical’ and ‘religionist’ perspectives on ‘Western esotericism’ actually leaves him few other possibilities than employing a de-essentializing. . thereby giving credit to the (as a matter of fact. though. the semantic antagonism that Hanegraaff derives from Thomasius’ narrative (creatio ex nihilo versus cosmotheism) is not consistently applicable to all of the complex discursive field that he has described throughout the book. Hanegraaff ’s adoption of all these discourse-theoretical arguments culminates in the stunning postulation that ‘Western esotericism’ is itself a discursive product. 11 I may add that I have followed a very similar approach while tracing back the conceptual history of ‘magic’ and indeed subsumed it under the label ‘discourse theory’ (see Otto 2011. I would propose that ‘Western esotericism’ is a proper label for the discourses covered by the book precisely because it emerged from these discourses as an overarching label throughout 20th-century scholarship. Hanegraaff ’s critique of former scholarly ways to conceptualize ‘Western esotericism’ (especially in chapter 4) can likewise be interpreted in the framework of discourse theory. 15 ff. non-religionist. according to his particular religious. i. Hanegraaff ’s meticulous analysis of European discourses about ‘rejected knowledge’ since the 15th century has revealed the interrelatedness of these numerous discourses in such a convincing manner. Instead of retaining such semantic notions (the problems of which Hanegraaff has demonstrated while discussing the work of Antoine Faivre: 339–355).). Hanegraaff readily admits that ‘discursive strategies’ pervade all chapters of Esotericism and the Academy: 361). necessarily discourse-theoretical agenda that results in the de.).e. Note (apart from the appearance of the term ‘discourse’) the rationale that lies behind this statement: throughout the respective chapter. In fact. as a crucial step while employing discourse theory in religious studies (see von Stuckrad 2013). Hanegraaff does not fully realize (or even undermines) the implications of his own discursive agenda (maybe because he is not aware of it. 12 See on this point also the articles of the forthcoming Religion issue on discourse theory. In this respect. that one cannot help but realize that an overarching category for these discourses is indeed justified – and that ‘Western esotericism’ may even appear as a good solution here (partly because it is already established and recognized in the Academy). discourse-theoretical!) agenda of deconstructionism. esp. Hanegraaff does no more (and no less) than entirely dismantle ‘magic’ as a scholarly category. In other words. Other scholars (such as von Stuckrad) have submitted the insight that scholarly discourse is fundamentally intertwined with its ‘objects’ of research (the more so in historical disciplines) and that this interrelatedness demands a high level of self-reflection (including continuous reflection upon and sometimes condemnation of one’s taxonomies). scientific or philosophical agenda’ (177).12 As already mentioned. and non-eclectic study of Western esotericism in the final chapter of the book (370 ff. while comparing his work with Olav Hammer ’s (2001) Claiming Knowledge. especially Moberg 2013 and his reflections upon ‘first-level’ and ‘second-level’ discourse-analytic approaches.

Second. one wonders whether these authors were really that ‘representative. Otto Of course. In this respect. or ‘the’ heresiologist Ehregott Daniel Colberg.’ as claimed by Hanegraaff in the final chapter. as they themselves now form the ‘object’ of study (and this is precisely what Hanegraaff has done in the book). namely William de Auvergne: 173). one wonders whether there have not always been cosmotheistic or mystic currents and arguments within mainstream religious discourses (for example in medieval Christianity or Judaism). his argument becomes vulnerable: first. At times. Precisely because Hanegraaff abandons his discursive approach here (I think. here being mostly detached from any pagan influences or revivals (if this observation happens to be correct. but rather to the entire discursive field that Hanegraaff has outlined and analyzed so impressively in the present monograph. ‘Western esotericism’ has no fixed nor final shape because both academic and non-academic discourses move on and thereby form new ‘objects’ of research and scholarly reflection.13 In this respect. alchemy. Hanegraaff is an elegant. pervasive. The latter comment may finally lead me to utter some critical remarks (I restrict myself to a few general observations). as a discursive term. this. is really an overarching point of Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 08:46 23 May 2013 13 My interpretation of discursive terms may therefore come close to Hanegraaff ’s perception of ‘Western Esotericism’ as a ‘historiographical concept’ (italics Hanegraaff) on page 73. In fact. and very structured performer but he sometimes tends to employ overly strong narratives. also implies the necessity of continuously reflecting upon and revising scholarly narratives on the subject. his conclusive statement ‘the logical incompatibility of monotheism and cosmotheism has led to an endless series of creative attempts to resolve it’ (371) is certainly too vague and imprecise to explain the complex disputes about magia naturalis. Finally.238 B. It is also to be doubted whether ‘paganism. see also a formulation like ‘it [magia naturalis] had become well established by the end of the 14th [century]. .’ namely all those polemical narratives described in detail in Esotericism and the Academy – as these have significantly contributed to the field and the emergence of ‘Western esotericism’ as a scholarly category.-C. as a discursive term. or whether they were really the ‘pioneers’ of some argument (as in the case of ‘the’ anti-apologist Jacob Thomasius. As a writer. thereby sometimes ‘squeezing’ single authors into large-scale discursive developments. both ‘polemical’ and ‘religionist’ approaches become superfluous for scholarship. their later ‘rejection’ can probably not be ascribed to some inherent conceptual ‘opposition’ to monotheism). the beliefs ‘that the world was co-eternal with God’ and ‘that human beings could attain direct experiential knowledge (gnosis) of their own divine nature’ (370). in favor of a strong narrative). of course.’ really exerted such a fundamental ‘impact’ on the later debate. while employing ‘Western esotericism’ as a discursive term. or somnambulism (to name only these) that he has so formidably described in the previous chapters.’ thereby referring to only one author. Hanegraaff ’s tendency to create strong narratives also becomes apparent in his final attempt to homogenize the complex discursive field of ‘Western esotericism’ by means of a few basic principles (derived from Thomasius). he seems to follow the (understandable) desire to create a coherent historiographical narrative. namely. Hanegraaff has convincingly demonstrated that the label should also cover its own ‘Other. ‘Western esotericism’ would not refer to any ‘intrinsic characteristics’ any more.

Magie: Rezeptionsund diskursgeschichtliche Analysen von der Antike bis zur Neuzeit (Berlin: de Downloaded by [University of Calgary] at 08:46 23 May 2013 .Religion 239 reference throughout the book (a ‘red thread’: 369). Pico della Mirandola. or rehabilitating different forms of knowledge. future work would seek to complement Hanegraaff ’s outstanding monograph by further elaborating upon potential roots (or equivalents) of European processes of ‘rejecting knowledge’ in related (e. Marsilio Ficino. but also ‘kabbalistic’) textual corpora. as far as I can see. it would be worth a try promoting this expertise in the larger field of Religious and Cultural Studies. Wouter Hanegraaff has.. His work on magic resulted in two recent book publications. preceding) historical/religious contexts (such as in Antiquity. and others) of various ancient (mostly Platonic and Neoplatonic.’ It might be interesting to explore whether these are related to the processes described in Esotericism and the Academy. Thus.. Apparently. Maybe ‘paganism’ must be seen rather as one of several ‘polemical’ or ‘religionist’ patterns that make up the complex discursive field of ‘Western esotericism.’ Hanegraaff ’s tendency to create strong narratives also shines out in his somewhat stereotypical opposition between ‘we’ and ‘they. one wonders about the peculiarities of early-modern and modern European discourses on ‘rejected knowledge. where he coordinates a project on the ‘historicization of religion’ and is part of the organization committee of the IAHR Quinquennial Congress 2015. Now who is the addressee of these formulations? Do ‘we’ really inherit the same ‘identity’ or could one also adopt a more nuanced approach towards potential readers? The discourse itself may decide if these aspects of Hanegraaff ’s (otherwise entirely convincing) narrative are expedient or rather appear as small ‘master narratives’ that tend to oversee the complexity of reality. both as a polemical and identificatory concept. Hanegraaff ’s analysis of discourses about ‘rejected knowledge’ begins with the early-modern reception (George Gemistos Plethon.. shown that these are processes that scholars of Western esotericism should be experts in.g.’ Besides. Thus.g. if not unique.. I should make a critical remark on the historiographical and terminological scope of the study. Bernd-Christian Otto is postdoctoral researcher in Religious Studies at the University of Erfurt. or even in non-European contexts (what about processes of rejecting and rehabilitating ‘knowledge’ in Tibetan Buddhism?). and also my own study on the conceptual history of ‘magic’ (which.’ for example when he describes ‘our basic identity’ (378) as being fundamentally influenced by ‘othering’ concepts such as ‘Western esotericism’ (see. by means of counter-reactions to these ‘ancient-wisdom narratives’ and thereby seems to constitute a genuine. Finally. e. 3 ff. aspect of early-modern and modern European history. The latter step would. 254 ff.). or in Arabic and/or Jewish discourses). especially part two). ‘Western esotericism’ is bound to its early-modern and modern European history). taking Kocku von Stuckrad’s inclusion of medieval Jewish and Arabic sources into account (see von Stuckrad 2010. However.’ but also ‘esotericism’ as an analytical category (we have seen that. thereby possibly contributing to advanced scholarly taxonomies for processes of postulating. not only mean discarding ‘Western. 378 ff. of course. already pervades ancient sources). according to Hanegraaff. with this very book. the history of all major religions implies numerous processes of ‘rejecting knowledge. rejecting. as a discursive term. the discursive category of ‘Western esotericism’ arises.

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