Insider and the Academia

This valuable contribution by Stanislav Panin, a graduate student at Rice University, is subtitled “The Past and the Future of ‘Going Native in Reverse’ in the Study of Esotericism.” I share this with special appreciation for the situation he describes about Esoteric Studies in the 2020s which reflects my own experiences in the 1990s.


In any case, we see that academia influenced the development of Western esotericism, and esoteric groups influenced academic research throughout the 20th century. However, what is the future of their interaction, if there is any future at all? I see the following four general tendencies related to this problem:

1. Integration of the members of esoteric groups into the academic field, i.e. the process of “going native in reverse”;

 2. Rejection of works as “too esoteric” by a number of scholars and the  growth of (neo)empiricism in their research;

 3. Creation of “Esoteric Theology” as a field.

 4. Rejection of projects considered as “too scholarly” (in the form of either “esoteric studies” or “esoteric theology” by those insiders who have an an inimical attitude toward rationalism and the academia. (p7)

 We should also keep in mind that, on the other hand, esoteric and pagan communities may abandon any attempts to use the analytical mind and the academic approach to esotericism because many followers of esoteric movements have an inimical attitude toward rationalism and to academia in general. After my report, related to the history of the academic study of esotericism in Russia, which was presented at one semi-academic conference dedicated to the study of esotericism, one woman said “How dare you scientists? Scholars use your poor rational mind to explore universal esoteric truth? How can you understand with your rational mind super-rational reality?” This was not the only case when people reacted in such manner when they heard about the academic study of esotericism. Some of them write critical reviews in their blogs, in social networks, on different websites where they blame scholars for their approach too rational for the study of esotericism. Therefore, we should consider that it is a point of view of numerous people from different esoteric groups. (p8)