REL 103 Spring 2013 The Way of Power: A History of Occult Knowledge and Practices

Since antiquity, certain individuals and groups have claimed privileged access to hidden sources of knowledge, which they maintained could only be revealed to the initiated or enlightened. What is more, it was also often asserted that this knowledge conveyed various powers' from summoning good and evil spirits, transforming base metals into gold, predicting the future, achieving bodily immortality, directly witnessing the face of God or even becoming a God. How does examining these claims alter our understanding of established religions? This course will trace the historical development of these practices and beliefs-known to scholars as "esotericism"--from antiquity to the present. It will cover such topics as magic, alchemy, kabbalah, Gnosticism, hermeticism, Theosophy, tantrism, occultism, vodou, and spiritualism. Emphasizing close the reading of the primary sources, we will explore the boundaries between religion, magic and science. We will discuss esotericism as the site for the European appropriation of the "Orient," the construction of discipline of religious studies, and even the origins of modern science.
Class Format: lecture/discussion
Requirements/Evaluation: two short writing assignments, a midterm, and a final exam
Additional Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis
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Prerequisites: none
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Divisional Attributes: Division II
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Enrollment Limit: none
Expected Enrollment: 40
Class Number: 3670
REL103-01(S) LEC The Way of Power Division 2: Social Studies Denise K. Buell
, Jason Josephson
MWF 11:00 AM-12:15 PM Schapiro Hall 129 3670
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