Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Exorcism and Non-Voluntary Spirit Possession: Call for Papers

“Embodying Modern ‘Scientific’ Medicine and ‘Religious/Spiritual’ Healing: A Comparative Perspective on Exorcism and Non-Voluntary Spirit Possession”

International Conference, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice, 13-14-15 December 2018

This conference will propose a comparative and cross-cultural perspective on spirit possession and exorcism, with a particular focus on the interactions with medical practice and practitioners. We invite contributions that focus on one or more of the following points: experiences of people who are affected by non-voluntary spirit possession and their case histories; experiences of possessed people in their interaction with medical practice; interactions between exorcists and medical practitioners; experiences of possession and bodily perceptions as emerging through practice, rather than their symbolism, meaning making and cognition; and interactions between humans and non-humans.

The full Call is available here.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

ENSIE 2018--and 2020

The inaugural ENSIE conference, held at the Cini Foundation in Venice June 12-14, 2018, has finished. Plans were made for the 2020 ENSIE conference, which is to be held in Marseille, probably also in June.
Participants at the ENSIE conference in Venice

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Sorgenfrei on Sufism and Islamic Esotericism

A new article, “Hidden or Forbidden, Elected or Rejected: Sufism as ‘Islamic Esotericism’?,” has been published by Simon Sorgenfrei in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (29:2, 2018, pp. 145-165). Sorgenfrei asks two major questions. He first investigates to what extent Sufism can be identified with “Islamic Esotericism,” and argues that this identification is problematic. Why, then, he asks, is a problematic identification so widespread?

Sorgenfrei starts by discussing alternative conceptions of esotericism, focusing on the work of Wouter J. Hanegraaff and Kocku von Stuckrad. He argues that it is easier to apply von Stuckrad’s typological conception in the case of Islam than to apply Hanegraaff’s historical conception. Yet Sufism does not really fit von Stuckrad’s typology: it has not generally been secret, and has only occasionally been in any sense rejected knowledge. Although “claims to access to higher knowledge” are indeed the basis of a Sufi shaykh’s authority, there is much that Sufi tariqas do that is in no way esoteric.

That Sufism is, despite this, understood as esotericism can be explained in terms of the Western construction of the concept of “Sufism.” Sorgenfrei traces this from the early work of William Jones and John Malcolm through William James and the Traditionalists (whose take on Sufism he finds echoed in John L. Esposito’s Islam: The Straight Path), and Eranos. He also suggests that the rejection of Sufism by nineteenth-century Islamic reformists may have fed into this process.

Sorgenfrei’s article is timely. I think he is right about the Western construction of Sufism, and his arguments are confirmed by my own work in my recent Western Sufism. He is also absolutely right that Sufism has not generally been secret or rejected, and therefore does not fit that particular topological definition of esotericism. It may, however, still fit other definitions, as I intend to argue in a forthcoming article.

Mark Sedgwick

Thursday, 17 May 2018

ENSIE1 program available

The program for the inaugural conference of ENSIE has been published and is now available at The conference, which will be held at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice, 12-14 June 2018, is open to all.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

ENSIE Call for papers for for ESSWE7

​ENSIE is again organising panels for the biannual conference of ESSWE, which in 2019 will be in Amsterdam from 2 July to 4 July. The theme of the conference is "Western Esotericism and Consciousness: Visions, Voices, Altered States," and the ESSWE Call says that "paper and session proposals will go through a careful selection procedure so as to make sure that the final program will have a sharp focus on the conference theme."

Proposals are therefore invited for papers dealing with any aspect of Islam, esotericism and consciousness. ​ENSIE will then assemble proposals into proposals for sessions, and forward these to ESSWE. Each session will have four papers.

Proposals of max. 300 words should be submitted by 1 September 2018 to Mark Sedgwick, The ESSWE deadline is 1 October 2018, and the ENSIE deadline is designed to allow time to meet this.

For further information, visit

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Occult Blockbusters of the Islamicate World

This year at the 53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies (May 10-13, 2018 – Kalamazoo, Michigan), there will be two panels on Islamicate occult sciences:

Occult Blockbusters of the Islamicate World I: The Picatrix (A Magical Bestseller)
Saturday, 13:30
Sponsor: Research Group on Manuscript Evidence; Societas Magica
Organizer: David Porreca, Univ. of Waterloo
Presider: Claire Fanger, Rice Univ.

  • "The Goal of the Sage: What’s It Take?" Daniel Attrell, Univ. of Waterloo 
  • "The Latin Picatrix: A New English Translation, A New Assessment," David Porreca 
  • "Me and Pingree: Comprehending the World-View of Maslama al-Qurṭubī’s Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm," Liana Saif, Univ. of Oxford 

Occult Blockbusters of the Islamicate World II: Arabic and Persian
Saturday, 15:30
Sponsor: Research Group on Manuscript Evidence; Societas Magica
Organizer: Matthew Melvin-Koushki, Univ. of South Carolina
Presider: Liana Saif, Univ. of Oxford

  • "Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s Hidden Secret and Islamic Occult Soteriology," Michael Noble, Warburg Institute 
  • "A Sorcerer’s Handbook: Al-Sakkaki’s Thirteenth-Century Complete Book," Emily Selove, Univ. of Exeter 
  • "'If you don’t learn alchemy, you’ll learn eloquence': The Golden Slivers by Ibn Arfa’ Ra’s," Nicholas G. Harris, Univ. of Pennsylvania 
  • "Kāshifī’s Qasimian Secrets: The Safavid Imperialization of a Timurid Manual of Magic Matthew," Melvin-Koushki

Thursday, 7 December 2017

ENSIE inaugural conference announced

The Call for Papers has been launched for the inaugural conference of ENSIE, "Common and Comparative Esotericisms: Western, Islamic, and Jewish," organized by Fondazione Cini in collaboration with Cetobac, to be held in Venice, 12-14 June 2018.

For details, see

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