Cambridge Centre for the study of Western Esotericism

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The International Society for the Study of
Religion, Nature & Culture

For full details

“Religion, Nature, and Progress”
the Third International Conference of the ISSRNC
at the University of Amsterdam 23-26 July 2009

More than 80 scholars from all continents and from various disciplines will participate in sessions focused on: Responding to Climate Change: Religion and Southern Perspectives on ‘Light’ Development; Nature, Ecosystems and Ethics; Sacred Sites and Sense of Place; Farm Gardens / Forests / Water and Spiritual Progress; Notions of Progress in the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution; Christianity / Islam / Eastern Traditions / Indigenous Traditions and Progress; Intercultural Contacts, Animism, Pantheism and Paganism; and Philosophical, Political, Methodological & Historical Considerations. The final Program Book (complete with introduction, program, information on the conference venue, abstracts, and list of presenters) is now available as downloadable PDF. Participants can also register for a post-conference eco-excursion to ‘places of progress’.

Featured speakers
include Odeh Rashid Al-Jayyousi (World Conservation Union IUCN, Amman); Jonathan Benthall (University College London); Jan Boersema (Free University, Amsterdam); Colin Campbell (University of York); David Haberman (Indiana University); and many others.

Lee Irwin writes:
From the large program, I would like to highlight the following papers that deal particularly with issues of Western esotericism:

– William R. Newman, Indiana University (USA): “Isaac Newton and the Perfecting of Nature” (keynote lecture)

– Nina Witoszek, University of Oslo (Norway): “Leonardo da Vinci Our Contemporary? The ‘Other’ Renaissance and Its Views on Religion and Progress” (keynote lecture)

– Colin Campbell, York University (UK): “The Easternization of the West and the Rehabilitation of Nature” (keynote lecture)

– Graham Harvey, Open University (UK): “Progressive Animism: Sustaining Diversity among the Co-Creators of the World” (keynote lecture)

– Eric Katz, New Jersey Institute of Technology (USA): “The Paradox of Pro-gress: Domination and Autonomy” (keynote lecture)

– Egil Asprem, University of Amsterdam (Netherlands): “Utopia and the Paranormal: Degeneration and Progress in the Parapsychology of William McDougall and J. B. Rhine”

– Michael York, Bath Spa University (UK): “Full of Sound and Fury; Signifying Nothing: Earth Religion and the Experiential”

The Conference Book (complete with introduction, paper abstracts, maps, etc.) will be available online on Friday, 17 July.

Online registration is possible until Tuesday, 21 July 2009. For any further questions please contact the University of Amsterdam Conference Office at, or +31 20 525 4791

The registration fees for all three days of the conference are:
300 EUR for members and 370 EUR for non-members
200 EUR for student members and 260 EUR for non-member students

Participants also have the option to register for a single day.
130 EUR for either Friday or Saturday
90 EUR for Sunday

For Students the single day rates are
60 EUR for either Friday or Saturday
40 EUR for Sunday.

Registration includes program book, conference bag, reception, two lunches (Friday and Saturday), and coffee/tea breaks. One may also register separately for the dinner on Saturday evening in the center of Amsterdam and for the post-conference eco-excursion to ‘places of progress’.
Conference Venues
Opening Session July 23rd:
Allard Pierson Museum
Oude Turfmarkt 127
1012GC Amsterdam

Public transport: the museum can be reached by tram number 4, 9, 16, 24 or 25

Conference Sessions July 24-26:
Oudemanhuispoort 4-6
1012 CN Amsterdam

Public transport: take tram number 4, 9, 16, 24 or 25; get off at stop called Spui. Cross the water and take the narrow street called Langebrugsteeg. This street will continue as Grimburgwal after 50 meters. At the end of the street (you cannot go any farther) turn left (Oudezijds Achterburgwal) and enter the small gate at your right after 25 meters. Proceed straight ahead and turn left under the archway.
The administrative organization of the ISSRNC Conference is being taken care of by the Conference Office of the University of Amsterdam. For questions pertaining to logistical organization (registration, fees, accommodation, schedule, excursions, etc.), please contact the Conference Office at, or +31 20 525 4791. For all other questions please email
Amsterdam: Transportation, Accommodations, EcoExcursions, General Tourist information

Most participants will arrive at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (airport code AMS), which is about 20 km from the centre of the city. There are good and frequent train connections from there to Amsterdam Central Station (six trains every hour during daytime). The train costs 3.60 Euro for a one way trip of fifteen minutes. Please note that due to the construction of a new underground line parts of and around the Amsterdam Central Station are inaccessible. Taxis are available at the west entrance/exit.

The conference organizers have reserved housing at discounted prices for conference participants. see:

EcoExcursion to “Places of Progress”

A post-conference excursion has been organized for the conference participants on Sunday, July 26th. To register for the excursion please send an e-mail to It will also be possible to register for the excursion during the conference (as long as places are available). Please note that the excursion is not included in the conference fee.

Sunday July 26th.
This excursion departs straight after the conference closure on Sunday and takes us westward for a bicycle trip and guided tour to the coastal dunes of Schoorl and De Kerf (‘The Carve’). This is a man-made sea inlet through the dunes near Schoorl, to allow more freedom to the ecological processes of wind, sand and water. Since the start of this project in 1997, a brackish wetland has developed harbouring various rare and protected plants. The lessons from this successful early ‘nature development’ project are now applied in other places. The tour will be guided by the Institute for Nature Education (IVN).

Amsterdam and The Netherlands
For a document with travel and additional information about Amsterdam, including basic tourist information, we have prepared a printable PDF.
Organizing Committees and Conference Director
Two committees have organized the conference. Please return to this conference web page for updates.
The Scientific Committee consists of Kocku von Stuckrad, Jan Boersema, Bron Taylor, Albertina Nugteren, Kristina Tiedje, and Sarah Pike.
The Local Committee consists of Kocku von Stuckrad, Jan Boersema, Albertina Nugteren, Cathrien de Pater, and Annick de Witt.
Kocku von Stuckrad
University of Amsterdam
Department of the Study of Religion
Oude Turfmarkt 147
1012 GC Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Conference Themes
What does ‘progress’ mean with regard to nature? Controlling nature has for centuries -particularly in western societies – been identified with ‘progress’. Are recent notions of ‘managing planet earth’ – especially addressing climate change – perhaps new versions of the same idea, put into a more environmentally positive form? How do secular notions of progress and of nature interact with ideas of salvation history and religious apocalypticism? Do certain religious traditions lend themselves more naturally than others to endeavors to ‘improve’ nature and humanity? These and other questions will be addressed in over 70 presentations at the conference. The conference will furthermore discuss the underlying cultural, religious and intellectual sources where ideas of progress come from taking into account the different cultural contexts in the world.
Featured speakers to address the conference theme from diverse perspectives include Donald Worster (University of Kansas), William R. Newman (Indiana University), Ruth and Dieter Groh (University of Konstanz), Colin Campbell (University of York); John Barry (Queen’s University, Belfast); Eric M. Katz (New Jersey’s Science and Technology University); Nina Witoszek (University of Oslo); Matthijs G. C. Schouten (Wageningen University); Odeh Rashid Al- Jayyousi, International Union for Conservation of Nature (Amman, Jordan); Jonathan Benthall (University College London); David Haberman (Indiana University); Graham Harvey (Open University); Robin Wright and Bron Taylor (University of Florida).
The following questions will be addressed:

* What does ‘progress’ mean? What are the parameters of progress and what are they based on? Which different conceptualizations of progress exist worldwide? And what does progress mean with regard to nature? Is nature in need of improvement or salvation? Or has nature to be protected from the impact of human activity? And is that progress?
* Controlling nature has for centuries—particularly in western societies—been identified with ‘progress.’ How can this be explained? And are recent notions of ‘managing planet earth’ perhaps new versions of the same idea, put into a more environmentally positive form?
* Talking of progress seems to imply improvement and an ultimate goal that has to be achieved. What are the underlying principles of evaluation and diagnosis? Are they self-evident or do they have a contested and changing genealogy? What are the cultural and intellectual sources where ideas of progress come from?
* Many concepts of progress apply a model of time and salvation that is based on religious worldviews and traditions. How do ideas of salvation history and religious apocalypticism interact with secular notions of progress and of nature?
* Cross-cultural comparison shows that in different cultural contexts there exist different ideas regarding progress. Are contemporary concepts of progress typically western? Do certain religious traditions lend themselves more naturally than others to endeavors to ‘improve’ nature and humanity?

Previous Conferences
The Society’s second major international meeting with the theme “The Re-Enchantment of Nature across Disciplines: Critical Intersections of Science, Ethics, and Metaphysics,” was in Morelia, Mexico, 17-20 January 2008, and co-hosted by by the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Over 150 scholars attended and there was great enthusiasm for the interdisciplinary and international discussions that were engaged. More than a few scholars felt it was the best, most energizing conference they had ever attended. A sense of its richness can be gained by reviewing the final program.
A conference with the theme “Religious Studies and Theology Exploring Sustainable Development: Challenges for Higher Education,” which was organized by the Centre for Sustainable Management of Resources of Radboud University Nijmegen (The Netherlands) was held 27-28 September 2007, and co-sponsored by the ISSRNC. See its Call for Papers for its thematic interests, and its Sustainability Projects for more on the conference.
A conference entitled “Faith, Spirituality and Social Change,” focusing on exploring inter-faith dialogue and multi-faith action for social change, was held at the University of Winchester (UK), 14-15 April 2007, and was co-sponsored by the ISSRNC.
The inaugural conference of the ISSRNC, with the theme “Exploring Religion, Nature, & Culture,” was held 6-9 April 2006 at the University of Florida. Descriptions of the event, which was a tremendous success, with over 150 scholars and nearly 200 registrants, can be found in the Society’s June 2006 newsletter, vol. 1, #2 and by perusing the final conference program, which includes abstracts, an index, and a list of the many financial sponsors and institutional co-sponsors.




The Amazon

Eds. Sylvie Shaw and Andrew Francis, Equinox, London.

From oceans to rivers, water sources to water resources, this edited volume traverses the academic realms of nature religion, anthropology, mythology, resource management, psychology, sociology and indigenous studies highlighting religious and eco-social discourses around water, aquatic ecosystems and conservation. It explores dimensions of the human relationship with river, sea and pool to further develop understandings of the interrelationships between spiritual practice, academic nature religion discourse and environmental concern.

Contributors to the book are among the leading writers and thinkers in the field: Bron Taylor, Michael York, Douglas Ezzy, Susan Power Bratton, Vivianne Crowley, Veronica Strang, John Bradley, Katerina Teaiwa, Melissa K. Nelson, Dieter Gerten, David Groenfeldt, Penny Bernard and Meg Ferris. Introduction by Graham Harvey.

For additional information about DEEP BLUE, go to the Equinox website:

Sylvie Shaw is a lecturer in religion and spiritualities at the University of Queensland Australia. Andrew Francis is Associate Professor of Psychology at RMIT University Australia.


The River Severn, UK


KABBALAH & CONTEMPORARY SPIRITUAL REVIVAL: Ben Gurion University, May 20-22, 2008

Kabbalah and Contemporary Spiritual Revival: Historical, Sociological and Cultural Perspectives
Research Workshop of the Israel Science Foundation and the Goren-Goldstein Center for Jewish Thought
Ben Gurion University, May 20-22, 2008
Conference Hall A (Ulam Knasim Aleph)

Tuesday, May 20th

1st session
Prof. Rivka Carmi, President of Ben Gurion University
Prof. Hayim Kreisel, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Director of the Goldstein-Goren International Center for Jewish Thought
Boaz Huss, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev : Studying Contemporary Kabbalah – Achievements and Challenges
Philip Wexler, Hebrew University of Jerusalem : Toward a Social Psychology of Contemporary Spirituality

2nd session
Chair: Philip Wexler, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Jonathan Garb, Hebrew University of Jerusalem : The Spiritual-Mystical Renaissance in the Contemporary Haredi World
Michel Rosenthal, University of Haifa : “Are you willing to cover your head?” Notes on the spiritual economy of blessings at Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak’s lectures

3rd session
Chair: Elliot Wolfson, New York University.
Wouter Hanegraaff, University of Amsterdam : Kabbalah in Gnosis Magazine (1985-1999)
Graham Harvey, the Open University, UK : Paganism: negotiating between esotericism and animism

4th session
Chair: Graham Harvey, Open University, UK.
James R. Lewis, University of Wisconsin : The Science of Kabbalah
Chava Weissler, Lehigh University: Performing Kabbalah/“Kabbalah” in the Jewish Renewal Movement

Wednesday, May 21st
5th session
Chair: Jody Myers, California State University.
Marianna Ruah-Midbar, Zefat Academic College : Jewish Spirituality in the New Age – Emerging Jewish-Israeli Phenomena in the Junction with New Age Culture
Joseph Loss, Haifa University: Transforming Experiences in the practice of Buddha Dhamma (the Path of the Buddha) in Contemporary Israel
Adam Klin-Oron, Hebrew University of Jerusalem: Messages for the End: Eschatological Thought in 20th Century Channeling and its Israeli Varieties

6th session
Chair: Zeev Gris, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Zvi Mark, Bar-Ilan University : The Contemporary Renassaince of Breslov Hasidism—Ritual, Tikkun and Messianism
Jonatan Meir, Hebrew University of Jerusalem : The Revealed which Conceals: R. Shalom Sharabi’s Kabbalah, Esotericism and the Printing of Kabbalistic Books

7th session
Chair: Jim Lewis, University of Wisconsin.
Jody Myers, California State University : Kabbalah for the Gentiles: Diverse Souls and Universalism in Contemporary Kabbalah
Yaakov Ariel, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill : From Habad Emissaries to Kabbalah Centers: New Jewish Religious Movements and the Revitalization of Judaism in the later decades of the Twentieth Century.

8th session
Chair: Yakov Ariel, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Elliot R. Wolfson, New York University : Apocalyptic Transposition and the Status of the Non-Jew in Habad Mysticism
Yoram Bilu, Hebrew University of Jerusalem : Making the Absent Rabbi Present: Virtuality, Iconophilia, and Apparitions in Messianic Chabad

Dinner, Mateh Ba-Midbar

Thursday, May 22nd
9th session
Chair: Chava Weissler, Lehigh University.
Rachel Werczberger, Hebrew University of Jerusalem : Jewish Self-Healing – The Case of Jewish Spiritual Renewal in Israel
Shlomo Fischer, Tel Aviv University : Can New Individualist Spiritualism Also Coexist with Violence and Collective Commitments? New Spiritual Developments Among the Religious Zionist Community in Israel

10th session
Chair: Boaz Huss, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Omri Ruah-Midbar, Bar Ilan University : A Comparative Study of Current Spiritualities through three Musical Versions of ‘Im Nin’alu’
Tamar Katriel, University of Haifa : Precursors to contemporary New Age spirituality in Israeli cultural ethos


May 4, 2008 at 5:48 pm

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