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Kocku von Stuckrad on Western Esotericism

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Professor Kocku von Stuckrad has been working in the field of history of culture for many years, with some of that time spent within the context of ‘the study of western esotericism’ as a field of its own (he was a founding board member of the ESSWE), and some spent in religious studies more broadly. He has written extensively on methodological issues in the study of religions, and so is well-placed to reflect on the particular problems which cluster around the concept of esotericism or ‘the esoteric’ in an academic context. His long experience as an academic also gives him important insights into the field of western esotericism studies, including into the benefits and the drawbacks which the existence of the field brings.

In a long and wide-ranging conversation, Kocku reflects on a number of important themes for anyone studying western esotericism (or even wondering what it might mean, or whether it ever existed as an ‘historical object’ in the first place), including the secret and the hidden, the mainstream and the marginalised, discourse and the sociology of knowledge, and the problem of self-marginalisation for scholars who define themselves or find themselves defined in terms of ‘rejected knowledge’.

This interview is a great addition to the methodological introduction to the podcast as a whole, raising important questions about western esotericism as an object of study and as a contemporary ‘order of knowledge’

Interview Bio:

Kocku von Stuckrad has been very active in the field of Religious Studies for decades; rather than trying to list his many publications and the organisations he is/has been a part of, we’ll direct you to his website. Counterpoint: Navigating Knowledge, a new project organised by Kocku and Whitney A. Bauman, hosts a many events, discussions, and postings of interest to scholars of western esotericism, especially as our work overlaps with the current ecological situation we find ourselves in.

Works Cited in this Episode:

  • Carlos Castaneda. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1968 [Castaneda wrote other books; this is the first, and maybe the most influential, and also the one which poses most determinedly as non-fiction].
  • Umberto Eco. Foucault’s Pendulum. Secker and Warburg, London, 1989.
  • Mircea Eliade. Le Chamanisme et les techniques archaïques de l’extase. Payot, 1951.
  • Michel Foucault. The Archaeology of Knowledge. Routledge, London/New York, NY, 2002 [This work is Foucault’s most overtly methodological, and is perhaps the best introduction to his ideas of ‘orders of knowledge’, ‘discourse’, and so forth].
  • Burkhard Gladigow. ‘Europäische Religionsgeschichte’. In Hans G. Kippenberg & Brigitte Luchesi, editors: Lokale Religionsgeschichte, pages 21-42. Marburg, 1995.
  • M. Harner. The Way of the Shaman. Harper, 1980.
  • Richard Powers. The Overstory: A Novel. W. W. Norton, New York, NY, 2018.
  • ‘Scientific Revolution’: The scholar that coined, or at least popularized, this term for the 17th century was Alexandre Koyré. See particularly his influential book From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, MD, 1957), which summarizes his ideas that go back to the 1920s.
  • Georg Simmel. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. The Free Press, New York, 1950. Translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff [Simmel’s famous essay on secrecy can be found pp. 330–344 of this collection].
  • Corinna Treitel. A Science for the Soul: Occultism and the Genesis of the German Modern. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 2004.
  • Hugh Urban. ‘The Torment of Secrecy: Ethical and Epistemological Problems in the Study of Esoteric Traditions’. History of Religions, (37/3):209–248, 1998.
  • Erich von Däniken. Chariots of the Gods? Putnam, 1968.
  • Kocku von Stuckrad. Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge. Equinox, London, 2003. Translated by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. The new book referred to is Die Seele im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert: Eine Kulturgeschichte. Wilhelm Fink, Paderborn, 2019; look for it in English as The Soul in the Twentieth Century: A Cultural History in 2020. The (very long) list of Kocku’s other publications can be found on his website, including many to download.
  • Elliot R. Wolfson. Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination. Fordham University Press, New York, NY, 2005 [This book may serve as representative of the ‘Wolfsonian style’ we refer to in the interview].