Wouter Hanegraaff on the Religious Studies Project Podcast
Knut Melvær of The Religious Studies Project recently interviewed Wouter Hanegraaff for their podcast. Professor Hanegraaff is a heavyweight in the field of Western esotericism. A pioneer of the field, he currently heads up the History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents Department at the University of Amsterdam and is the President of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE), a professional organization for those who study Western Esotericism at the academic level.
In the interview, Hanegraaff clearly delineates what the study of Western Esotericism is and is not, and he outlines the field’s potential contribution to the wider field of religious studies. Interestingly, for a field that is still relatively young, he is already redefining the definition of Western esotericism! While the dominant model of scholarship relies on Antoine Faivre’s categories to define esoteric thought and practices, Hanegraaff instead sees the field as the study of currents and ideas which have thus far been marginalized within academic study of religion.
I am defending what I call an empirical approach based upon a technical term “methodological agnosis.” Which means that, as a scholar, I am agnostic about the ultimate reality, the ultimate nature of reality…There are things which are beyond the boundaries of scholarly research and rationality. We cannot say whether they exist or not. Maybe they exist, maybe they don’t. But we cannot say anything about it, so I cancel it out from scholarship…What I want to talk about are things that I can talk about. I can talk about history; I can talk about historical developments. I can talk about things that I can observe—how people are practicing their religion in contemporary society, etc. There’s a lot that I can say. But about the ultimate question of whether they are right? I cannot say it. So I’m not even going to try.
We [Hanegraaff and Faivre] really had to fight hard to get it accepted and to make clear to the academy that, listen, we are not closest esotericists; we are scholars. And that took some time. Ok, the only way you win a battle like that is showing—by means of the quality of your scholarship.
In addition to the above topics, he also discusses in what ways the field could grow. Anyone interested in learning more about the field of Western esotericism will definitely want to hear what Hanegraaff has to say. Listen to the full podcast here.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.