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Western Esotericism: Renaissance to the Modern Era
Western Esotericism: Renaissance to the Modern Era

Tue, 06 Apr


Western Esotericism: Renaissance to the Modern Era

Scholarly survey of the Western Esoteric Tradition from the Renaissance to the modern era, with Dr Sasha Chaitow. April 6th, 13th, 20th, 27th. May 4th, 11th.

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Time & Location

06 Apr 2021, 19:30 – 21:30

About The Event

Treadwell's is pleased to offer the most complete academic course on the study of Western Esotericism. Taught via Zoom by Dr Sasha Chaitow (PhD Cultural History, University of Essex), it covers the Renaissance to the modern world. It follows on from the 'Ancients to Renaissance' course taught in Feb-March, but it can be taken on its own. Topics are: theosophia, the Counter-enlightenment, secret fraternities, the nineteenth-century occult revival, modernism and contemporary occulture. 

This course costs £150 and includes all lectures listed below, which can be attended live and/or watched later, as recordings will be available for the duration of the course. Here is the full programme:

Preliminary One: The Academic Study of Western Esotericism 

This lecture introduces the terminology, methods, and issues in the field of Western Esotericism. Dr Chaitow explains and demystifies some of the methods, jargon, and key issues -- it is highly important to listen to it first, because it clarifies the framework and approach followed throughout the rest of the course. This is a pre-recorded lecture available online, which you listen to in your own time before 6th April. Students who took the 'Antiquity to Renaissance' course will have listened to it already. 

Preliminary Two: Western Esoteric Thought from Antiquity to Modern Times 

Esoteric thought has made an impact on almost every aspect of culture and science from antiquity to our time. This lecture provides a historical roadmap of this fact, giving an overview of key esoteric ideas through time, together with their impact on  wider culture. Dr Chaitow will refer to every theme explored in later lectures, so this talk is a vital point of reference for all the live sessions which follow. This is a pre-recorded lecture available online, which you listen to in your own time before 6th April. Students who took the 'Antiquity to Renaissance' course will have listened to it already. 

6 April: First Live Session, for Greetings and Questions  (Live Lecture & Discussion)

In this live session students meet Dr Chaitow and fellow participants on the course, via Zoom. It's a friendly hello and a chance to ask questions arising from the introductory lectures above, which people will have listened to in their own time. It sets the group up for the following five weekly lecture-discussion session.

Time: 7.30-9.30  (UK time)

13 April:  Pansophia, Theosophia, and the Philosophia Sacra     (Live Lecture & Discussion)

 Echoing the Renaissance quest for a perennial philosophy and reacting to the turbulence caused by the religious conflicts that had ravaged Europe from the Lutheran Reformation onwards, numerous thinkers sought to provide a counterbalance through different, universalist approaches to knowledge. they endeavoured to combine all human knowledge 'according to a pansophic logic whereby everything in the world and thereby all departments of knowledge are related to each other'. This approach sought to demonstrate the universal principles underpinning all of human experience through an allegorical reading of human history and interpretations based on esoteric principles. This lecture looks at some of the key concepts and figures in this alternative approach to history and its significance for the evolution and influence of esoteric thought. 

Time: 7.30-9.30  (UK time)

20 April:  The Scientific Revolution and the Romantic Counter-Enlightenment   (Live Lecture & Discussion)

The Enlightenment and the 'long 18th century' have long been perceived as the time when esoteric thought and allegorical mythography landed firmly in the 'wastebasket of history', swept away in the dawning of the new scientific age. Yet, the Counter-enlightenment became a powerful counterweight, with esoteric thought at its core. Bitter debates raged around theological and historiographical questions, taking on political and ideological dimensions. This lecture examines the historical, cultural, and sociopolitical contexts within which esoteric currents adapted to this new understanding of humanity's place in the universe.  Dr Chaitow traces their patterns, survivals, and interactions with key currents of the time, from Romanticism and Idealism to the absorption of the new scientific language to legitimise occult ideas.  

Time: 7.30-9.30  (UK time) 

27 April:  Initiation and Esoteric Fraternities  (Live Lecture & Discussion)

The idea of learned societies and closed, initiatory fraternities had been current since the Renaissance -- they became necessary for the preservation of advanced knowledge to protect it from censure. The publication of the Rosicrucian Manifestos proved catalytic for the development of some initiatory orders, and as the Enlightenment dawned and developed, these multiplied and took on numerous forms. Esoteric thought appeared to "go underground" within these secluded structures. This lecture traces the notion of initiatory practice from antiquity, through the medieval and Renaissance periods, looking closely at the impact of Rosicrucian thought on the development of major orders. It explores the context, histories, graded structures and influences of some of the most influential fraternities. It also offers succinct outlines of their philosophical content and their wider impact.  

Time: 7.30-9.30  (UK time)

4 May. The Occult Revival and Modernism    (Live Lecture & Discussion)

The end of the nineteeth century saw a public resurgence of occultism largely due to the aftermath of the French Revolution and the secularism that it instituted. It was accompanied by a flowering of the arts not seen since the Renaissance, and it was framed by monumental sociocultural shifts as empires began to crumble and the clouds of war began to gather. This lecture examines the brief, golden fin-de-siècle and the key figures of the French Occult Revival, looking closely at the currents of esoteric thought that survived through the twentieth century and which endure within broader culture in our time. These include modernist art and literature and even elements of science and medicine.  

Time: 7.30-9.30  (UK time)

11 May.  Twenty-first Century Occulture   (Live Lecture & Discussion)

The final lecture in this series explores the numerous manifestations of esoteric influence across modern culture and society, from pop culture and cinema to new perspectives in scientific discourse. It reviews the themes and currents covered in the previous lectures, examines the state of esoteric thought in the digital era, and comments on the impact and role of the academic study of esotericism.

Time: 7.30-9.30  (UK time)

Tutor  Dr Sasha Chaitow

If you'd like more detail on the tutor and the course structure, a detailed course overview is available here. This course is taught by Dr Sasha Chaitow, who earned her PhD in Cultural History 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. 


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