7th Biannual Conference ESSWE

Western Esotericism and Consciousness: Visions, Voices, Altered States 

(2-4 July 2019)

The history of Western Esotericism from antiquity to the present is filled with reports of unusual and sometimes spectacular experiences that are claimed to convey higher, deeper, or even absolute knowledge about the true nature of reality. Some typical examples are the many references to direct supra-rational gnosis, ecstatic experiences, and states of divine manía (madness or frenzy) or possession from antiquity to the present; visionary travels to other places, other worlds, or other levels of reality, as well as to past or future periods and events; visionary encounters with intermediary beings (for instance angels, demons, spirits, elementals, ascended masters, divinities); the hearing of inner voices, receiving or “channeling” of spiritual messages, and communication with disembodied entities; and ineffable experiences (for instance apophatic unity) that are difficult or impossible to express through normal discursive language. Common to all such reports is that they fall within the general phenomenology of human consciousness and seem to require some kind of modification or alteration of the normal or average mental states that allow us to negotiate consensus reality. All this makes the experiential dimension of Western esotericism (in both its historical and its contemporary social manifestations) extremely relevant to academic disciplines such as cognitive studies, consciousness research, psychology, or psychiatry. ESSWE7 will be the first major international conference to bring these perspectives in conversation with one another in the context of the study of Western esotericism. On the level of the humanities and the social sciences, we hope that the conference will provide participants with an ideal opportunity for learning about the phenomenology of unusual experiences across the entire historical spectrum of Western esotericism from antiquity to the present. Here the emphasis will be on empirical research and specialist knowledge about specific historical and contemporary cases. Furthermore, on the level of the study of consciousness, we hope to explore larger and more theoretical questions concerning such topics as the taxonomy and etiology of altered states, their neurobiological foundations, or their relevance to wider concerns such as cognitive functioning or mental health. Here the emphasis will be on how such approaches may help us understand and even explain the rich record of historical and empirical materials central to Western esotericism and, conversely, how these can serve as case studies for the study of consciousness more in general. ESSWE7 will also be an occasion to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents (HHP) at the University of Amsterdam.

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