Faculty of Humanities
University of Amsterdam

Bachelor courses

The Hermetica Minor – World’s first BA program in Western esotericism

The BA Program “Hermetica”

Hermes Trismegistus Siena Cathedral The Minor Hermetica is a series of three courses on Western esotericism that are offered as part of the Religious Studies BA program at the UvA. For the complete program (in Dutch), see UvA Course Catalogue 2017- 2018. The courses offer a comprehensive overview of the history of esoteric currents, practices, and discourses, from antiquity to the present day. The first course, “Westerse esoterie en Religieus Pluralisme”, is in a lecture format and offers a general introduction to the conceptual and historical dimensions of the field in the wider context of religious pluralism in Western culture. The subsequent three courses are in a seminar format and focus on Western esotericism in specific periods, each taught by a specialist of the period in question. As a rule, the language of instruction is Dutch, but currently the courses on the Early Modern period and the period from the 18th century on are taught in English. Please find detailed course information below.

Western Culture and Counterculture (12 EC)

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When: 1st semester, block 1-2
Instructor: Wouter J. Hanegraaff
Language of instruction: English

Course description:
This lecture course provides a bird’s-eye overview of the main currents of Western intellectual and cultural history from Late Antiquity to the present, with an emphasis on the interwoven histories of philosophy, religion, the natural sciences, and the arts, and with due attention to their political and social context. At the same time, it problematizes the hegemonic agendas and implicit ideological assumptions that have driven traditional historical narratives of Western culture, by giving systematic attention to a range of currents, ideas, practices, and organizations that have tended to be rejected, suppressed, marginalized, or discredited in traditional academic scholarship. By giving equal attention to normative ideas of “Western Culture” and to the various kinds of “Counter Culture” against which it defines its own identity, the module both describes and questions the “grand narratives” that have dominated our understanding of Western Culture in the academy. Against this background, special attention wil go to the basic polemical and apologetic discourses that inform current intellectual as well as public debates about religion and its relation to modernity.

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Study guide 2017-2018  

Western Esotericism in the Early Modern Period (12EC)

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When: 1st semester, block 1-2
Instructor: Dr. Peter J. Forshaw
Language of instruction: English

Course description:
On the basis of primary sources and secondary literature, this module examines the history of Western esotericism during the Renaissance and Early Modern Period. Each class will focus on a founder or chief exponent of important Western esoteric currents such as Christian Cabala, Paracelsianism, Rosicrucianism and Christian theosophy, including such famous names as Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Agrippa, Paracelsus, Kircher and Dee. Our close reading of primary source material will be set in the context of contemporaneous social, religious and intellectual developments. Students will be introduced to some central themes in the study of Western esotericism, including Renaissance typologies of magic, astrology, cabala, alchemy’s quest for the elixir, philosophers’ stone and transmutation, all with a consideration of their relation to early modern science and religion.

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Study guide 2017-2018

Western Esotericism from the 18th century to the Present (12EC)

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When: 2nd semester, block 1-2
Instructor: Dr. Marco Pasi
Language of instruction: English

Course description:
This module offers a broad chronological overview of the history of modern Western esotericism (from the middle of the 18th century up to our days), focusing on its main trends, movements, and authors. This will include an analysis of currents and phenomena such as Illuminism and the birth of Mesmerism, romanticism, spiritualism, occultism, traditionalism, and the New Age. Both primary sources and secondary literature will be used as reading material. The main focus of the course is on the processes that have led to important transformations in esoteric discourses after the Enlightenment. Both continuities and ruptures with previous esoteric thought will be assessed. A visit to the library of the Theosophical Society in Amsterdam will be organised towards the end of the course.

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Study guide 2016-2017