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Call for Papers: Katholische Esoterik – Catholic Esotericism (Fribourg, 28-30 October 2021)

2021-02-15 13:29 | ESSWE admin (Administrator)

A. State of Research and Conception of the Conference

The relationship between hermeticism and esotericism (or what has received these labels since the last quarter of the 20th century) and Catholic traditions is largely unexplored. This is partly due to a deficit in the research on this topic: The relationship between “religion”/denomination and esotericism has been systematically reflected upon mainly with regard to Protestantism. In the fundamental and most important publication on the genesis of the hermetic-esoteric field in Europe, Wouter Hanegraaff’s Esotericism and the Academy (2012), he focussed strongly on a debate in protestantism (Jacob Thomasius, Ehregott Daniel Colberg), in which theologians began to label a “hermetic” tradition as a “heretical” one. I still consider Hanegraaff’s perspective to be valid. But there was no systematic reflection on the relationship between esotericism and the Catholic Church, even Hanegraaff includes some of its representatives. To be fair, one cannot explore everything at once; Hanegraaff’s important book remains the central reference for questions on the genesis of (occidental) esotericism.

This deficit is furthermore and probably due to three reasons, among others: (1.) The conflicts between the hegemonic Catholic theology and hermetic/esoteric positions were far less sharp than in the Protestant churches; this depends partly on different theological concepts, which are to be discussed in the conference. (2.) The Catholic Church had a different social structure, in which plurality was established more through internal differentiation than, like Protestantism, through external segmentation (formation of separate congregations or “sects”). (3.) Finally, a last reason for research lies in the high barriers that the extensive research in the filed of church history has created. Expertise on Christian Denominations at eye level can be found in the sociology of religion, but hardly in religious studies.

Two minory remarks: Esotericism is to be defined in a working definition within the framework of a polythetic model (Zander: What is Esotericism?, 2021, forthcoming). – In terms of disciplines at the university, the background of this conference is the conviction that the relatively isolated research on esotericism in a discipline of its own and the resulting separation from research in literary studies, philosophy or theology, for example, follows a discipline-political tradition and should be abolished.

In view of the unmanageable lack of knowledge, the conference can only be a door opener into this field of research. It is intended, and this is decisive, to discuss systematic questions on the basis of exemplary objects (see B below). It is not primarily a matter of collecting objects from a possible history of Catholic esotericism; this is probably an unmanageable undertaking, not only in view of the weak current state of research. Rather, each object should contribute to answering a systematic question. The assignment of the following examples to specific systematic topics is not obligatory; evidently, many examples fit into several categories. – Interdisciplinary cooperation is particularly desirable in order to release esoteric research from its disciplinary restriction.

B. Systematic Fields: Options

I. Catholic conditions of possibility for the interpretation of hermeticism and esotericism

1. Setting of the Catholic course: Melchior Cano

2. Theology: sacrament, magic and the "objectivity" of religious perception

3. Gender issues: women, revelations, mediums, and esotericism

4. Sociology of Catholicism: internal differentiation

II. Non-hegemonic perceptions and practices and their integration

Early Modern Period

5. Catholic Hermeticism: Agostino Steuco’s Philosophia perennis, 1542

6. Criticism in Giovanni Baptista Crispo: De ethnicis philosophis caute legendis, 1594

7. Athanasius Kircher

8. (Religious) experience in the time of enlightenment: Prospero Lambertini’s De servorum Dei beatificatione et de beatorum canonizatione, 1734-1738

9. Freemasons, Martinists, Fourierists

The 19th and 20th centuries: experience, visions, new revelations

10. Catholic mesmerism

11. Catholic Romanticism in Germany and France in the early 19th century (in France circles around: Guénon, Massignon, Université Saint Jean de Jérusalem, Huysmans)

12. Maria von Mörl, Catharina Emmerick, Therese von Konnersreuth

13. “Deutschlatholiken”

14. Josef Görres, Die christliche Mystik, 1836-1842

15. Catholic spiritualism, Marian apparitions

16. The reactions of the Sanctum Officium

17. Occultism around 1900: Vienna, Johannes Maria Verweyen, Anglo-Saxon / French Catholicism

18. Gerda Walther

19. Hans Urs von Balthasar/Adrienne von Speyr

20. Joseph Ratzinger

The limits of hegemonic theology

21. Popular piety

22. Arts


Esotericism and politics

C. Keywords

Subjects not covered should be listed in an appendix of lexical keywords containing basic (biographical) data, reference to esotericism and basic literature (on the relationship between esotericism and Catholicism, in the case of people also basic writings). Short keywords should not exceed one printed page (max. 3000 characters including spaces), longer keywords should not exceed 9000 characters (including spaces).

D. Practical matters

Conference date: 28-30 October 2021, in Fribourg. Should this time slot not be possible due to Corona, the replacement date would be 5-7 May 2022. The conference will be a face-to-face event; hotel costs will be covered for the speakers. – Please propose topics by 15 March 2021.

Contributions in German, English and French are welcome; passive knowledge at least of German and English is necessary. – The contributions will be published.

Please send proposals by March, 31st, to Helmut Zander ( and Moritz Bauer (

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