Cambridge Centre for the study of Western Esotericism

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The Open University, Milton Keynes – 15-16 May 2013

What is the relevance of research on historical and contemporary religion for today? How might such research inform current debates on religion, and the practice and self-understanding of religious groups and practitioners? What might historical perspective bring to research on contemporary religion? This conference will address such issues under the broad theme of ‘contemporary religion and historical perspective’. There will be two parallel streams. The first is ‘engaging with the past to inform the present’ and the relevance of religious history for the contemporary context. The second is ‘the public value of research on contemporary religion’; here papers on cross-cultural identities and new religions and popular spiritualities are particularly welcomed.

The backdrop for this conference is the growing acknowledgement that Religious Studies and other disciplines must engage with the wider society. Public ‘engagement’ takes many forms – from extensive projects to ad hoc engagement and involving diverse activities such as media work, lectures, workshops and online engagement. This conference will include practitioner perspectives on different themes, and reflect also on the ways in which academic research on religion might engage with communities of interest and place and private; interact with public and third sector institutions and organisations; and influence public discourse and the social, cultural and environmental well-being of society.

We invite paper and panel proposals for either stream. Papers could include case studies of previous or ongoing outreach, knowledge exchange or public engagement. Topics discussed might include (but are not limited to):

  • integrating ‘religious history’ and contemporary religious practitioners;
  • the relevance of historical research on religion for contemporary debates on religion; and for present-day religious groups, organisations and institutions;
  • intersections between research on contemporary religion and present-day contemporary understanding and practice of religion;
  • the idea of ‘applied’ or ‘public’ Religious Studies;
  • methodological, theoretical and ethical issues relating to Religious Studies and knowledge exchange;
  • relationships between academic and practitioner, or academic institution(s) and non-academic ‘partner’ and their implications and challenges.

Confirmed speakers include Ronald Hutton (Bristol), Steven Sutcliffe (Edinburgh), David Voas (Essex) and John Wolffe (Open University).

The conference is organised by the Open University’s Religious Studies Department.

Cost: £20 per day + £20 for conference dinner on the evening of 15 May. Lunch and refreshments (except conference dinner) are included in the day cost; but we ask attendees to book/fund their own accommodation (advice on local hotels and B&Bs available on request).

Please send proposals to Dr John Maiden ( by 25 January 2013. To book, please contact Taj Bilkhu ( by 23 March 2013.

ContERN: Contemporary Esotercism Research Network

Launching ContERN with a Google group and a Call for Papers

A new network has been created with the aim of placing the field of contemporary esotericism clearly on the agenda of academic research: the Contemporary Esotericism Research Network, or ContERN for short (no connection with the Third International, we promise…). It is affiliated with the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE), and everyone who participate in our activities is encouraged to become a member of that organisation (which can be done by applying online here).

There is currently a Google group which will work as a mailing list and discussion forum for the network (click here to sign up), and also a Facebook group for easy communication.

As the description on the Google group reads:

ContERN is an international network for scholars interested in the study of esotericism in the contemporary world. Our primary goals are to promote scholarship on contemporary esotericism in ways that are congruent with the broader field of Western esotericism, encourage the integration of social scientific theoretical and methodological approaches and perspectives while maintaining a strong emphasis on historical awareness, and actively encourage the development of new theory and method. ContERN works to create possibilities for networking and forums for scholarly discussion in e.g. conferences, conference panels, and scholarly publications, but also by maintaining an online presence. This forum is a first step in that direction. Interdisciplinary cooperation is also central to ContERNs goals, and the network seeks to interact with e.g. sociology, anthropology and various subdisciplines of religious studies. ContERN is affiliated with the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE). We encourage those scholars interested in our work to consider membership of the ESSWE.

So if you are interested in contemporary esotericism, want to contribute to the field, or stay updated on what is happening, please do join this group and help us build the network.

The first announcement from ContERN is that we will be hosting a special session during the ESSWE4 conference next summer, at the University of Gothenburg. The general theme of the conference is “Western esotericism and health” ( do check out the full call for papers here if you haven’t already), and ContERN’s session will most likely deal with esoteric aspects of contemporary alternative medicine:

ContERN will arrange special sessions at ESSWE4, held at University of Gothenburg on June 26-29, 2013. We are particularly interested in papers dealing with esotericism, CAM (complementary and alternative medicine), and conspiracy culture, but other themes related to contemporary esotericism will be considered as well.
Please send your abstract (approximately 250 words, with title and academic affiliation) to conterncontact[at] by January 15, 2013.”

Egil Asprem sent the above, and hopes that this topic is of interest to a few readers out there. The deadline is still a few months away, but remember: it’s always better to be early.

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