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Session Chair: Kocku von Stuckrad | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Ullrich Kleinhempel

The socio-cultural migration of Umbanda - challenges for interpretation

The recent major change in membership of Umbanda, from an Afro-Brazilian basis to a chiefly white middle class, including its reception in German-speaking countries require a critical review of “functionalistic” interpretations of Umbanda as a phenomenon of cultural resistance and of symbolic cure for marginalised non-whites. It demands an interpretation in the context of current studies on trance and spirit possession as expressive of the quest for a wider concept of the “self” and “higher self”, which includes non-rational agencies beyond the subjective autonomous “ego", including the body as medium. This transformative reception of Umbanda follows and unfolds a major theme of culture since Romanticism and depth psychology in the field of religion and esotericism. Hereby Umbanda’s African and Indian elements, doctrines and practises attain new symbolic meanings, as may be shown. The author has a background of long familiarity with Umbanda as participant observer in Europe.

Pavel Nosachev

Concept of “esoteric tradition” in the Soviet and Post-Soviet Religious Studies in the 1970-90s

In his latest monograph W. Hanegraaff assumed that research in the field of Western Esotericism has been governed by mnemohimsoric constructs, and due to that scholars studied not the factual data but their own ideas of phenomena, enclosing historical data within those perceptions. In my paper I would like to display the results of my research on applying the theory of the Invented Tradition and the mnemohistorical constructs to the Soviet and Post-Soviet Religious Studies of the 1970-90s which approached the sphere of Western Esotericism. Since the 70s due to non-critical embrace of emic views of the Western Esotericism adherents, the concept of “esoteric tradition” has developed among the Russian-speaking religious scholars, becoming the reputable benchmark in the research of Western Esotericism first in the Soviet, and later in the Russian Religious Studies. This concept became widely popular after the breakup of the Soviet Union and resulted to the full extent in so-called “confessional Religious Studies”.

Marco Toti

The “Prayer of the Heart” in Western Christianity: History and Meaning

During the second half of the 17th century a specific spiritual practice emerges in the Catholic milieu: the so-called “oraison cordiale”. This contemplative “method”, that shows historical relationships with the devotion to the Sacred Heart too, is connected with the well-known Mary of the Incarnation, St Francis of Sales, J.P. de Caussade and St Ignatius Loyola, and is mainly represented by figures like A. Berger, J. Aumont and M. Le Gall. Aim of this paper is to try to locate some possibile filiations among the latter figures and to discuss the question of a “esoteric Christianity”, taking the definition of “esotericism” by W. Hanegraaf as a starting-point; a comparison with the Eastern Orthodox “prayer of the heart” will also be provided.

Johanneke Kroesbergen-Kamps

Hidden meanings – the occult in studies on society and religion in Africa

Since the 1990s, there has been a marked increase in scholarly articles and books about religion and society in Africa discussing the so-called 'occult'. This popularity is somewhat surprising, since the concept 'occult' is by no means uncontested within religious studies. In a critical review, Ter Haar & Ellis (2009) propose to abolish the term altogether. Hanegraaff (2005, 2012) discusses the history and use of the concept, and retains it as a technical term, specifically applied to certain 19th century trends in western Esotericism. This approach suggests that the term may be redeemed if it has a clear subject matter and can be used in a non-pejorative way, at least on an etic level. In this paper the use of the concept occult in African studies is analysed for its subject matter and connotations to see whether the concept can be retained in this field of study.


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