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Introduction to the Academic Study of Western Esotericism
Introduction to the Academic Study of Western Esotericism

Wed, 14 Jun


Introduction to the Academic Study of Western Esotericism

A year of monthly lectures and seminars with Dr Sasha Chaitow

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Time & Location

14 Jun 2023, 19:00 – 21:30

About The Event

Course Description

This course reviews the historical connections of esoteric ideas and traditions with conventional history, and to offer a well-rounded sense of their content.

Beginning in the turbulent Hellenistic period – when we witness an initial separation between “acceptable” and “occult” thought, and reaching into the present day - we will discover the roots of esoteric traditions in Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and Gnosticism. These three very different, but related worldviews, were reconstituted during the Renaissance, when diverse elements borrowed from Kabbalah, Alchemy, and many other sources were merged with older currents of thought. This marked the birth of what are now known as “the Western Esoteric Traditions.” Their common point of reference was the objective of raising human consciousness and self-awareness towards a reintegration with the divine, through human will and individual spiritual development. Their interaction with developments in science, politics, and religiocultural events shaped them as much as their counterparts.

The Topics

The first session explains and clarifies the academic approach, important definitions, and key issues in the study of esotericism. The second provides a historical "roadmap" to demonstrate the interrelationships between the traditions and the framework in which the topic is approached. The next two provide an in-depth discussion of the philosophies that became central to the “esoteric” worldview as it developed and became crystallized in the Renaissance. Every lecture following on from there provides an in-depth exploration of each of the major traditions that impacted esotericism.

· The Academic Study of Western Esotericism: Terminology, Methods, Issues

· Historical review of Western Esoteric Thought from antiquity to modern times.

· The Hellenistic Period: Hermeticism and Neoplatonism

· Gnosticism in Antiquity and its absorption into later traditions.

· The Renaissance and the birth of the “Western Esoteric Traditions”

· Alchemy: The Art of the Philosophers

· Kabbalah: Healing the World

· Pansophia, Theosophia, and the Philosophia Sacra

· The Scientific Revolution and the Counter-Enlightenment

· Initiation and Esoteric Fraternities

· The Occult Revival and Modernism

· 21st Century Occulture

Who is it for?

This course is designed for:

  1. Anyone wishing to understand the "bigger picture" of the role of esoteric traditions in relation to wider Western culture, or to attain a firm grasp of the historical interrelationships of the broad spectrum of esoteric thought. 
  2. Those looking for an academic, yet accessable, approach to the subject with an understanding of practitioner perspectives. 
  3. Scholars in any discipline who want a clear grounding in the terms, history, and ideas within Western Esotericism.
  4. Practitioners who want a deeper historical understanding of their chosen path and an understanding of what scholars actually do.
  5. Those considering advanced academic study in Western Esotericism.

Course structure

The course consists of twelve hybrid seminars with three components.

  1. The first component is the pre-recorded lecture on the month’s theme, which you can watch at your own pace at any time before the live seminar. Each lecture comes with a further reading list that is recommended, but not obligatory.
  2. The second component consists of a 2.5-hour seminar, on Wednesday evenings starting at 7pm GMT. These consist of interactive group work on selected texts that will be emailed to you a week before. The class will be separated (using Zoom’s breakout room function) into small groups, where they will be asked to respond to specific prompts and questions, then feed their conclusions back to the whole group. There will be live Q&A sessions at the start and end of each seminar.
  3. The third component is the “further study” element, consisting of prompts, questions, and further reading that the participants are asked to work on over the course of the month.

Please note that at minimum, participants must have viewed the recorded lecture before participating in the live course, as otherwise they will not be able to follow. The “Further Study” component is optional, but considered essential for a full experience. Participants may of course pursue it at the end of the 12-month course, but they will not have the same support and guidance if they do so.

The live seminars run on: 16th November, 14th December, 18th January, 15th February, 15th March, 12nd April, 17th May, 14th June, 12th July, 9th August, 13th September, 11th October. (In case of a change of date students will be notified in advance)

Time commitment

The minimum time commitment required per month is 2 hours for watching prerecorded matterial. 2.5 hours for the live seminars, plus 3-5 hours additional directed self-study per month, for a total study time per month of between 7.5-9 hours. Participants may of course spend much more time studying if they wish to, but it is not mandatory, and is entirely up to them.

About the Instructor

Dr Sasha Chaitow earned her PhD in Cultural History/Western Esotericism at the University of Essex. She holds an MA in the History of Western Esotericism (University of Exeter, 2008), and an MA in Literature (University of Indianapolis, 2004). She has published two books based on her research, is working on two more, and has also published extensively in peer-reviewed journals as well as magazines and professional journals. She is a frequent guest lecturer at universities and has 20 years experience in adult education. She frequently presents her research at conferences and has organised numerous academic conferences and symposia. In her parallel career as a visual artist, she has produced 13 solo art exhibitions in the UK, Greece, and Sweden and frequently participates in curated group exhibitions.

She taught this course successfully as part of Phoenix Rising Academy (2010-2014), privately by invitation from a Masonic lodge (2016), and as an intensive 12-week course for Treadwell’s in 2020. This 2022 version offered exclusively through Treadwell's, features a strongly interactive component that works closely with source texts. Previous participants include senior scholars from diverse fields, high-profile esoteric writers and teachers, artists and esoteric practitioners.

She is frequently invited as a guest lecturer for international academic, specialist, and general audiences on culture and education, and she also teaches academic skills and research literacy for the sciences. She has worked in academic and scientific publishing and as a journalist and science writer.

Her current (2022) research interests include the history of science and its intersection with wider culture between the 18th-21st centuries, and interdisciplinary approaches in the health sciences.

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  • Digital Ticket

    You will receive a second email on the 1st of November with further details.

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