Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 November 2020
Ten years ago the Centre for History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents (HHP) of the University of Amsterdam celebrated its first decennial anniversary by publishing a memorial volume. Paying playful homage to the legendary Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegistus, who stands at the origin and symbolic centre of the field of research nowadays known as “Western esotericism,” it was titled Hermes in the Academy. Hermes had finally arrived! Never before, at any university worldwide, had there been a teaching program and a research group devoted specifically to the large and enormously complicated field of interrelated historical currents in Western culture known by such terms as hermetism, gnosticism, neoplatonic theurgy, astrology, alchemy, natural magic, kabbalah, rosicrucianism, Christian theosophy, illuminism, occultism, spiritualism, traditionalism, neopaganism, new age, and contemporary occulture. Since the beginning of this century, scholars in the humanities have become used to an unprecedented flood of scholarly literature in these domains, and this makes it easy to forget how innovative and controversial it still was for academics to study such topics seriously at the time when HHP was created in 1999.
With hindsight it is evident that the Amsterdam Centre came exactly at the right moment. Riding a new wave of scholarship that had been gathering energy since the early 1990s, HHP was able to assume a leading position in establishing new paradigms for the study of Western esotericism in the academy and stimulating its professional development on an international scale. During the twenty years of its existence, new teaching programs have developed at various universities in Europe and the United States; a European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE) was established in 2005 and keeps generating new semi-autonomous networks focusing on specific regions and themes; alternating with its American counterpart, the Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE), the ESSWE has already organised seven international biannual conferences, of which the latest one (Amsterdam 2019) coincides with the twenty-year anniversary of HHP and the publication of this volume; two peer-reviewed academic journals have been running successfully since 2001 and 2013 respectively; various major academic publishers now have their own monograph series in the study of Western esotericism; and more generally, it is simply no longer possible for any scholar today to keep up with all the literature, all the conferences, and all the other academic initiatives that are devoted to this field and the various aspects of it.
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