Social and Cultural Roots of Western Esotericism

School of Consciousness and Transformation TSD 7099 3.00

Esoteric movements in the West, from antiquity to the present, constitute an “underground stream” of thought and practice that is remarkably similar across venues and centuries. We will examine the nature of esoteric movements, their defining characteristics, their similarities and differences, and the social and cultural milieus that surround their emergence. Using a transdisciplinary lens, this course will augment findings in the sociology of religion by including perspectives from intellectual history and comparative religion. The relationship between esoteric and exoteric religion will be a focus, as we attempt to discover how these respective forms of thought and practice function in society and culture. We will examine early movements (including those of the Essenes, the Pythagoreans, Greek mystery schools, and Gnostics), various heresies and cultic movements within exoteric religions (including the Cathars, the Albigensians, the Knights Templar, and devotional cults), as well as modern esoteric movements (including theosophy, anthroposophy, Rosicrucianism, and modern hermeticism). Students will research one or more movements in depth and will share their research with the class in a learning community.

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