Faculty of Humanities
University of Amsterdam

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Faculty of Humanities
University of Amsterdam

ESSWE 7 (July 2019): 7th Biennial Conference of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE), University of AmsterdamESSWE 7

For the programme of the conference, see under Programme 

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.

During ESSWE7 the 20th anniversary of the Centre for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents (HHP) at the University of Amsterdam was celebrated.

Keynote lectures

Call for Papers / Sessions:

The academic ambitions for this conference are high. While we are aiming for a large and inclusive conference, paper and session proposals will go through a careful selection procedure so as to make sure that the final program will have a sharp focus on the conference theme. We encourage creative and innovative thinking across disciplines combined with deep analysis of specific contexts, materials, sources, or topics. As the ESSWE wants to provide a podium for intensive contact and exchange between scholars on all levels of the academy, graduate and post-graduate students as well as more experienced or established scholars are all encouraged to participate and submit proposals for papers. We are confident that ESSWE7 will be a foundational event for a budding new field of research that has considerable potential for the future.

  • Each conference session will have a length of 120 minutes, providing room for 4 papers.
  • Paper presentations should have a length of 20 minutes, leaving 10 minutes room for discussion.
  • Conference language: English.
  • For the submission guidelines, have a look at the ESSWE7 Submission Guidelines nw

Organising team:

Peter J. Forshaw, Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Manon Hedenborg White, John MacMurphy, Mriganka Mukhopadhyay, Marco Pasi. Secretarial assistance:  Antoinette Rutten.

Scientific Committee:

Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Egil Asprem, Christine Ferguson, Peter J. Forshaw, Julian Strube.


ESSWE7 took place in the old center of Amsterdam. Keynote lectures and all parallel sessions will be in the Oudemanhuispoort, Oudemanhuispoort 4-6, 1012 CN Amsterdam.


Amsterdam is a very busy tourist city, so it is advisable to book your hotel as early as possible. A list of suggestions concerning hotels, hostels, and private rooms is available on the ESSWE7 website and Facebook page.

Keynote speakers

Picture of Prof. Karl Baier

Prof. Karl Baier

Karl Baier is Associate Professor and, since 2013, head of the Department of Religious Studies.

Picture of Prof. Sonu Shamdasani

Prof. Sonu Shamdasani

Sonu Shamdasani is a London-based author, editor, and professor at University College London.

Picture of Prof. Yulia Ustinova

Prof. Yulia Ustinova

My research focuses on ancient Greek religion and its role within the society.

Studying at HHP

A complete study programme in Western esotericism.

The HHP Centre is fully integrated in the University of Amsterdam’s educational system.