Faculty of Humanities
Capaciteitsgroep Geschiedenis van de Hermetische filosofie en verwante stromingen
The Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents (HHP) is a small independent unit for research and teaching focused on a field of research that is nowadays referred to as “Western esotericism”. According to current terminology in the academic study of religion and culture (not to be confused with popular or media understandings), this term covers a large domain of historical currents and traditions that can be traced from late antiquity to the present and acquired a status of “rejected knowledge” in normative academic research since the period of the Enlightenment. Major examples are Hermetic, Gnostic, and Theurgic forms of religion in late Hellenistic culture; traditional scientific practices and bodies of theoretical speculation in the domains of astrology, magic, and alchemy; the revival of Platonic Orientalism and occult traditions in the Renaissance (prisca theologia, philosophia perennis, philosophia occulta); related early modern currents such as Paracelsianism, Behmian Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, and Illuminism; 19th century movements such as Mesmerism, Spiritualism, Modern Theosophy, Occultist Magic, and Traditionalism; related popular currents of “alternative spirituality” such as the New Age movement; and the esoteric and occult dimensions of contemporary popular culture (comics, film, literature, virtual realities, etc.). Specific for HHP’s approach is that these phenomena are studied not as decontextualized anomalies or intellectual embarrassments but as identifiable historical traditions that can be traced over the longue durée of Western culture from late antiquity to the present. In taking such a perspective, the focus lies on how continuity is maintained through historical processes of transformation and innovation; on the dialectical interplay between mainstream or dominant cultures and heterodox “counter”cultures; and on the ubiquity of discursive transfer across the boundaries of religion, philosophy, science, and the arts. Basic to the research of HHP is a conviction that the long academic history of neglecting these currents as unworthy of serious attention has led to ideologically biased and therefore misleading perceptions of the general development of Western culture. The resulting distortions go much deeper than is commonly recognized, and can only be corrected by means of critical historical analysis grounded in deep familiarity with a wide corpus of previously neglected primary sources.
Scholarly monographs; articles in peer-reviewed and other scholarly journals; PhD theses; public lectures; seminars; meetings and workshops. Each year HHP publishes an annual report including an overview of research activities during the previous year.
HHP’s position is that excellent scholarship is relevant to society by definition, because the availability of reliable expert knowledge about (in this case) the history and development of Western culture in all its dimensions – including those that are less generally known – is crucial to any healthy society.