Bernd-Christian Otto on the Project ‘Alternative Rationalities and Esoteric Practices from a Global Perspective’

The project known as Alternative Rationalities and Esoteric Practices from a Global Perspective (or CAS-E, Centre for Advanced Studies, Erlangen) is taking the research of ‘esoteric practices’ into very ambitious territory. The global scope is something the study of magic vel sim. has been missing for a long while, ever since the meta-narrative certainties of early theoreticians like Tylor and Frazer were rightly dismantled. The definitional rigour of the project (while of course not without potential problems!) is good enough to be getting on with. The chronological focus is tilted toward the modern; you can study developments in the world of esoteric practices occurring right now, or investigate their roots in earlier times, or both. The project is well-funded and already producing fascinating work, both in academe and available to the public at large.


Among many topics discussed:

  • The contemporary focus and global scope of the project,
  • A number of case-studies giving a snapshot of the research currently underway among staff and fellows at the project,
  • The methodological working-definition of what the project means by ‘esoteric practices’, with a fourfold typological research-programme,
  • The implications of ‘alternative rationalities’, specifically in the German context (both academic and on the level of popular discourse),
  • And some discussion of the ‘outputs’ of the project, from conferences and edited volumes to the youtube channel, and how to get involved.

Download Otto on CAS-E

Interview Bio:

Bernd-Christian Otto is permanent fellow on the project Alternative Rationalities and Esoteric Practices from a Global Perspective at the university of Erlangen-Nürnberg, acronymed as CAS-E (Center for Advanced Studies – Erlangen). His groovy CV can be viewed here (CV Bernd-Christian Otto 2024), and his more ‘academic’ CV here.

Cited in the Interview:

Evans-Pritchard: a reference to the work of E.E. Evans-Pritchard, a British anthropologist who kind of opened up a debate about what it meant to be rational by noting (famously in his important study Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Clarendon, Oxford, 1937) that people who use magic (in this case, the Azande tribe of the upper Nile region) are not ‘irrational’ at all; their world-view has a solid inner logic, but they start from different assumptions to those assumed by modern Europeans.

CAS-E’s research proposal

Weekly Tuesday lecture series

The CAS-E youtube channel

Bulletins on recent publications: click on Bulletin on the main page and there’s a drop-down