Faculty of Humanities
University of Amsterdam

Bachelor courses

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

The BA Programme “Hermetica”

Hermes Trismegistus Siena Cathedral

The Minor Hermetica is a series of three courses on Western esotericism that is offered as part of the Religious Studies BA programme at the UvA. For the complete programme (in Dutch), see Westerse esoterie: een uniek specialisme

The courses offer a comprehensive overview of the history of esoteric currents, practices, and discourses, from antiquity to the present day. The first course, “Western Culture and Counter Culture”, is in a lecture format and offers a general introduction to the conceptual and historical dimensions of the field in the wider context of Western culture. The subsequent two courses are in a seminar format and focus on Western esotericism in specific periods, each taught by a specialist of the period in question. 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.

 

 


Secrets of the West: Culture and Counterculture before Modernity (1 & 2) (12 EC)

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When: 1st semester, block 1-2

Instructor: Dr. Wouter J. Hanegraaff

Language of instruction: English

Course description:
This course provides a “big history” overview of the main currents of Western intellectual and cultural history from Antiquity to the present, with an emphasis on how intimately religion and spirituality have always been interwoven with philosophy, the natural sciences, and the arts, and with due attention to political and social context. At the same time, the module problematizes the hegemonic agendas and implicit ideological assumptions that have driven traditional historical narratives of Western culture. It does so by giving systematic attention to a range of so-called “esoteric” currents, ideas, practices, and organizations that have tended to be rejected, suppressed, marginalized, or discredited in traditional academic scholarship; and furthermore it calls attention to other key dimensions that have tended to be marginalized or excluded in more traditional ethnocentric understandings of what “the West” was supposed to be all about (notably the Middle East and northern Africa, the Byzantine empire, and the Islamic world). By giving equal attention to normative ideas of “Western Culture” and to various types of “Counterculture” against which it has been defining its own identity, the module both describes and questions the “grand narratives” that have dominated academic understandings of Europe and the West. 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 spirituality, and their relation to modernity.

 

View the study guides:

Secrets of the West 1: Culture and Counterculture before Modernity

Secrets of the West 2: Culture and Counterculture before Modernity

Western Esotericism in the Early Modern Period (6EC)

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When: 2nd semester, block 1

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.

 

View the study guide:

Study guide 2021-2022

Western Esotericism from the 18th century to the Present (6EC)

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When: 2nd semester, block 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.

View the study guide:

Study Guide 2021 – 2022

 

Ancient Mediterranean Esoteric Traditions (6EC)

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When: 1st semester, block 1

Instructor: Dr. Dylan M. Burns

Language of instruction: English

Course description:
The ideas associated with individuals in the ancient Roman Empire who called themselves “knowers” (gnōstikoi)—ideas today called “Gnosticism”—were considered dangerous by the proto-orthodox churches, as well as Greek philosophers. The works containing these Gnostic ideas are also some of the most relevant and fascinating ancient Christian works known today. This course introduces students to ancient Gnostic literature. It focuses on close reading of ancient Gnostic texts and heresiographical reports about the Gnostics, in English translation, along with relevant introductory secondary literature. Texts read will include the Secret Book of John, the Gospel of Truth, and the Gospel of Thomas, as well as the testimonies of the ancient opponents of the Gnostics.

The secondary literature will focus on two themes: the proximity of ancient Gnostic literature to Greek philosophy, and the reception of Gnostic literature. Students will thus read not only about Gnosticism, but secondary literature on later Platonist theories of creation, language, and number-theory, that clarify much of the jargon and technical language the Gnostics used. They will also explore receptions of Gnostic literature by Manichaeans, Mandaeans, Jorge Luis Borges, and contemporary musicians, as well as controversies over recently published and forged Gnostic gospels, such as the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.

View the study guide:

Study Guide 2021 – 2022