One thing is certain, the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting is overwhelming in its scope and it’s easy to get lost among the hundreds of panels, discussions, and lectures on offer each day. On Saturday I was lucky to attend two very thought-provoking panel presentations that should be of interest to Pagan and esoteric practitioners. The first was a sprawling forum entitled: “Demons In The Academy? Renouncing Rejected Knowledge, Again.” The panel centered on the study of Western Esotericism, and asked a central question: Is it possible to practice esotericism while also engaging in its research within an academic context? Also discussed were issues of interdisciplinary approaches to Western Esotericism, and the need to focus more on esotericism as experienced by modern pracitioners, not merely from a historical point of view.
The second panel I attended, Politics and Western Esotericism, explored extremism, both left and right, and its interactions with esoteric beliefs and practices. Papers presented here covered everything from obscure socialist authors to Portugal’s Fifth Empire. Perhaps of greatest interest were the presentations on esoteric extremism in Germany and Greece, these talks were at times comical in the absurdity, yet all the more horrifying when you realized that these beliefs are taken in deadly earnest by growing numbers of individuals. It was hammered home that esoteric extremism grows not from one isolated political ideology but from shared hunger for suppressed knowledge about the truth, a traditon of rejected knowledge that provides answers in times of social and political unrest.
Finally, I was lucky enough to attend a social gathering organized by the Northern California Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess that paired representatives from a large number of Bay Area-based Pagan organizations with visiting scholars. COG, OBOD, Solar Cross, The Troth, and several other representatives were there, and I ended up meeting and discussing religion, Paganism, and current scholarship with a number of delightful people.
Today I’ll be attending a number of panels presented or co-presented by the Pagan Studies group, and I look forward to sharing my impressions of them with you!