Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture

Wouter J. Hanegraaff is a highly respected academic scholar of esotericism, whose work first came to my attention in 1998 when he wrote about Edgar Cayce with more serious attention than he had ever before received from the academy. His most recent book is Esotericism and the Academy, which explores the way esoteric traditions were marginalized through a series of historical developments over the course of centuries. Although the book’s cost will be prohibitive to many readers, Google Books makes accessible large portions of the text online free of charge (hyperlinked above). Cambridge University Press provides this summary of in its catalog:

Academics tend to look on ‘esoteric’, ‘occult’ or ‘magical’ beliefs with contempt, but are usually ignorant about the religious and philosophical traditions to which these terms refer, or their relevance to intellectual history. Wouter Hanegraaff tells the neglected story of how intellectuals since the Renaissance have tried to come to terms with a cluster of ‘pagan’ ideas from late antiquity that challenged the foundations of biblical religion and Greek rationality. Expelled from the academy on the basis of Protestant and Enlightenment polemics, these traditions have come to be perceived as the Other by which academics define their identity to the present day. Hanegraaff grounds his discussion in a meticulous study of primary and secondary sources, taking the reader on an exciting intellectual voyage from the fifteenth century to the present day and asking what implications the forgotten history of exclusion has for established textbook narratives of religion, philosophy and science.