Faculty of Humanities
University of Amsterdam

Master programme

The original MA programme in Western esotericism

MA Western Esotericism

Our Master programme gives students a unique possibility to dive deeper into the history of esotericism under the supervision of specialists in the field.

The MA comes in a one-year and a two-year variety. In the one-year programme students follow elective courses and write a final thesis. The two-year Research MA variety consists of the same electives, but in addition, students can do tutorials with HHP teachers, and have to complete three core courses on method and theory in Religious Studies. They will also conduct independent research for a longer MA thesis. For more information about the religious studies components, please refer to the UvA website or the UvA Course Catalogue 2021-2022

On this page you will find more information about our elective courses on esotericism, available for both one-year and two-year MAs. There are three core modules, covering different historical periods and thematic aspects: Contested Knowledge, Renaissance Esotericism, and Occult Trajectories. Additionally there is a shorter introductory module entitled “Western Esotericism and Its Scholars”. Please note that the three core modules come in two varieties each, taught in alternating years. This alternation makes it possible for Research MA students, specialising in a particular period, to follow two courses on their period over two consecutive years. Thus, for example, someone writing an MA thesis on Renaissance kabbalah might want to follow Renaissance Esotericism I and II, while a candidate researching occultist authors of the 20th century might do Occult Trajectories I and II.

All our MA courses are given in seminar form where students interact closely with the instructor and with each other. Through group discussion, powerpoint presentations, book reviews and research papers, students are taught to think and work as independent academic researchers. More than just acquiring specialist knowledge in a cutting-edge field in the humanities, our MA students are thus being prepared for the realities of professional academic life.

Application deadline: extended to 19 May 2022!

MA courses

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

Course description:
This course provides an introduction to the study of Western Esotericism with an emphasis on spirituality (defined as individualized experiential praxis). In the context of the Master programme, Esotericism is understood as an umbrella term that covers a great variety of traditions, ideas, and practices in Western culture that have tended to be neglected, marginalized or suppressed by dominant theological, philosophical, and scientific ideologies in the academy and Western society. The course will provide a general overview of the nature and historical manifestations of Western Esotericism, the chief theoretical debates that are relevant to this field of research, and their methodological implications.

Download the study guide:

Study guide 2020-2021

When: 2nd semester, block 1
Instructor: Dr. L. Saif
Language of instruction: English

Course description:
This course takes a comprehensive look at the development of Islamic esoteric currents from the medieval period to the modern day, including and beyond Sufism. Special focus is given to the transference of Islamic esoteric practices, concepts, and structures to the so-called “West”, and their co-opting and refashioning. Students will get acquainted with the history of the conceptualisation of esotericism (bāṭiniyya) in Islam and the different religious and cultural discourses within which Islamic esotericism was/is negotiated and circumscribed, including within the contexts of colonialism, the construction of Modernity and a “Western” identity, and globalisation. To this purpose, we will look at the entanglement of Islamic esotericism, and Sufism especially, with the Traditionalist School and the New Age and their strategies of perennialization. Students will critically engage with the ways in which the study of Islam and Islamic esotericism have been positioned by scholars, such as Henry Corbin, whose approaches and assumptions have a continuing influence on narratives about Islamic esotericism: a living and thriving tradition.

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Study guide 2021-2022

When: 2nd semester, block 1; Online
Instructors: Dr. Peter Forshaw
Language of instruction: English

Course description:
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s On Occult Philosophy (1533) is the best-known Renaissance encyclopedia of magic. Its syncretic mixture of material drawn from medieval grimoires, from classical antiquity and from sources new to the Christian West, such as the Jewish tradition of Kabbalah, is an invaluable resource for our understanding of early modern occult philosophy and modern occultism. In this module we shall investigate Philosophia occulta, an important current of Western esotericism, considering the various kinds of knowledge and experience that participate in Renaissance ideas of magic. Ranging through the natural, celestial and divine realms we shall examine some of the sciences and philosophies and encounter some of the significant figures that contributed to its development. We shall seek to amplify Agrippa’s writings with material drawn from other influential contemporary sources and conclude the module with sessions on subsequent esoteric approaches that display affinities with his occult philosophy.
During each class students will deliver an oral presentation following an introductory lecture from the teacher. After the presentation is delivered the teacher will focus further on the problems in question and these will be discussed; all students are expected to actively participate in this discussion.

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Study Guide 2021-2022

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

Course description:
Occult Trajectories focuses on different aspects of the history of western esotericism in the modern period, from the eighteenth century up to the present days. The aim is to follow both the internal development, understood from the specific perspective of the field, and the broader cultural context in which western esotericism has taken shape, in order to understand both the inside logics of esotericism and its responses to external social pressure. Every year a different theme is chosen that offers a unique entry point in this historical development. This year, the subject is modern western esotericism and magic.

Magic has always been a “problem” in western culture, and some authors have argued that western culture itself has constructed its own identity, among other things, on the basis of a recurrent anti-magical polemic. Other authors, particularly influenced by Max Weber’s theory of disenchantment, have on the other hand argued that magic began to disappear in the early modern period, being replaced by a more rational worldview. Magic therefore would not “belong” to the modern world and would only survive as a worn-out superstition. But magic has proved to be resilient and has not disappeared at all, as the history of western esotericism clearly demonstrates. In recent years, the relationship between magic and modernity has been the object of new interpretations and has been seen in a new light. This new development is very significant for the appreciation of the role of magic in the history of modern western esotericism. In the first part of the course methodological aspects in the study of magic will be discussed, first from a general point of view, and then more specifically in relation to the study of western esotericism and modernity. In the following parts, the course will take a more historical, if not strictly chronological, approach, focusing on different moments in the
history of magic within the context of modern western esotericism. The course will make use of both primary sources and secondary literature.

Download the study guide:

Study guide

When: 1st semester, block 1; Online
Instructors: Dr. Marco Pasi and Dr. W.J. Hanegraaff
Language of instruction: English

Course description :
This course provides an introduction to the most important concepts, debates, methods, and theories in the academic study of religion, with particular attention to the relationship between religion and spirituality. Chief focuses of attention are the relevant terminologies in this field of study and the debates around them (e. g. “religion,” “spirituality,” “Esotericism,” “mysticism,” “myth,” “symbol,” “ritual”); what is at stake in academic discussions about “Western” perspectives on religion/spirituality and their alternatives; the relation between institutional and doctrinal forms of “religion” and more individual and praxis-oriented types of “spirituality”; the importance in this context of apologetics and polemics; and how to combine interdisciplinary approaches with methodologies specific for (intellectual) history, the social sciences, and the study of literature, the arts, and popular culture.

Students are welcome to participate as auditors (on a voluntary basis, no examination) in the lecture course Western Culture and Counter Culture (W.J. Hanegraaff, Tuesdays, 9-12.00). This course provides a broad overview of Western culture from antiquity to the present that will help place the topic of “religion and spirituality” in its broader historical context.

Download the study guide:

Study guide 2020-2021

Start getting your Master now

The HHP Centre is fully integrated in the University of Amsterdam’s educational system. This means that in order to enroll in our teaching programs you have to go through the normal channels of the UvA’s Faculty of Humanities. The international MA programs are handled by the Graduate School of Humanities. Questions about how to apply should always be addressed to the appropriate office. The one-year variety is listed in the course catalog as “Spirituality and Religion (Theology and Religious Studies)”. The two-year option is listed in the catalogue as  “Religious Studies (Theology & Religious Studies (research))”.

How to apply for our Master programs

Studying at HHP

The HHP Centre is currently the only institute in the world to offer a complete academic specialism in Western esotericism, from the BA to the PhD level.

Taught by leading specialists in the field, our study programme offers a unique opportunity for students to be at the vanguard of a new and exciting development in the study of Western religion and culture.Learn more about our complete study programme in Western esotericism.

Student experiences

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