Considering recent developments in the historical study of early-modern chymistry, this project seeks to shed light on the relation between chymistry and religion by investigating ‘theosophical chymistry’. This term refers to the phenomenon of iatrochemical and transmutational chymistry combined and layered with religious or spiritual significance. Particularly relevant were Jacob Boehme’s speculative theosophy and natural philosophy; radical Pietist and Philadelphian notions of faith and spirituality, including the irenic impetus to transcend the confessional churches; doctrines such as millenarianism and the restoration of all things, including nature; personal rebirth, sometimes described as transmutation and extending even to the body. Around 1700, various factors led to a revival of what has been termed ‘theo-alchemy’, which saw its first heyday among Paracelsians and Rosicrucians in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The wider availability of Boehme’s works from 1682, the spread of Pietism from 1690, and the Amsterdam-based dissemination of Philadelphian works by Jane Leade and John Pordage in German translation around 1700 all contributed to theosophical chymistry. These givens inspired chymical practitioners—some of them virtually forgotten by posterity—to innovate in ways distinctly at odds with models of scientific chemistry, developed in London, Leiden and Paris around the same time. The better known among these chymists include Johann Conrad Dippel (d. 1734), Georg von Welling (d. 1727) and the mysterious Sincerus Renatus (fl. 1710s; Samuel or Siegmund Richter), whereas very little is known of Johann Philipp Maul (d. 1727), Georg Friedrich Retzel (fl. 1710s) or Johann Georg Förderer von Richtenfels (d. before 1745). The attempts of these pious chymists to bridge the widening gap between science and religion (heightened, for instance, through deism and Cartesian dualism) represent an important but untold story that will contribute to a deeper understanding of the Janus face of the early Enlightenment as well as the parting of the ways of chemistry and alchemy.
As part of the University of Amsterdam, our research falls under the umbrella of the Amsterdam School of Historical Studies (ASH) at the Faculty of Humanities.
As part of the Religious Studies unit the HHP centre participates in the interdisciplinary research group on Religious Dynamics and Cultural Diversity.
The presence in Amsterdam of the famous Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, situated in the Embassy of the Free Mind, and of the rich material of the Amsterdam University Library’s Special Collections (Bijzondere Collecties) provides important research facilities for our staff. The HHP’s strong emphasis on historical research of primary sources is greatly advanced by these libraries and collections.
The HHP centre is an intrinsic part of a larger international network that promotes, creates and distributes peer-reviewed academic research in the interdisciplinary field of Western esotericism.
The European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE) was founded in Amsterdam in 2005, the staff at the HHP centre continues to be deeply involved with the further development of this international learned society.
Current research projects at the HHP Centre
An overview of dissertations completed at the HHP centre.
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