Tuesday 31 August 2021

ENSIE3 program online

The program for ENSIE 3, the 2021 meeting of ENSIE​, “Islam and Esotericism: Societies, Politics, and Practices”, 29 September-1 October 2021 on Zoom, is now online at http://ensie.site/conferences.html.

Participants will be sent a Zoom link the day before the conference starts; other members of ENSIE who wish to attend should request the link by sending an email to ensie21@ensie.site.

Friday 23 April 2021

Wednesday 14 April 2021

Sufism and Gender in Contemporary Societies

The Center for Comparative Studies of Civilisations and Spiritualities at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice has issued a Call for Papers for a conference on Sufism and Gender in Contemporary Societies.
This conference aims to explore these themes of gender and sexuality within contemporary and historical Sufi traditions. Keeping in mind the call to decolonize knowledge production and epistemologies that subvert binaries of “resistance versus subordination” in Muslim women’s life-worlds, we aim to take an expansive discussion of the complex processes of the agentive formation of gendered Sufi subjectivities.
Conference to be held in Venice on 3 December 2021. Abstracts by 1 June 2021. See https://www.cini.it/en/events/sufism-and-gender-in-contemporary-societies

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Residential scholarships in Venice

The Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice, offers 10 residential scholarships to PhD students and post-doc students who must not be over 40 years old on June 10, 2021, and interested in spending two consecutive months in Venice between January and December 2022. The selected projects have to be connected with Cini's research centres and libraries. Among them, there is the Centre for Comparative Studies and Civilisations that focuses also on spirituality, esotericism, and mysticism.

Wednesday 10 March 2021

2021 Meeting of ENSIE: Call for Papers

Islam and Esotericism: Societies, Politics, and Practices

2021 Meeting of the European Network for the Study of Islam and Esotericism (ENSIE) 
29 September-1 October 2021 on Zoom 

The European Network for the Study of Islam and Esotericism (ENSIE) invites proposals for its 2021 meeting, to be held on Zoom 29 September-1 October 2021. The theme for the meeting is “Islam and Esotericism: Societies, Politics, and Practices.” 

Religious studies, and especially the study of esotericism, tend to focus on text production and ideas. Societies, politics, practices—and also economics, social forms, and the material—are often neglected in the study of esotericism, partly due to methodological challenges. We would therefore like to invite scholars to submit proposals focusing on these dimensions of Islam and esotericism, of esotericism and Islam, and of Islamic esotericism. 

We especially invite proposals from sociologists and anthropologists, as well as other scholars. The chronological scope stretches from medieval to contemporary times. 

We invite papers that engage with these aims, but—as usual—proposals relating to Islam and Esotericism that do not relate to the meeting theme are also welcome. 

The meeting will be held over successive afternoons to make it possible for both European scholars and scholars in American time zones to participate. 

There is no fee for attending the meeting. 

The meeting is being held in 2021 rather than 2022 (when it would normally be held, following ENSIE’s standard practice) because the 2021 meeting of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE), of which ENSIE is a thematic network, has moved its 2021 conference to 2022 because of Covid, and ENSIE’s 2022 meeting will therefore be part of ESSWE’s 2022 conference. 

By 15 May 2021, please send to ensie21@ensie.site
  • The title and abstract (250 words maximum) of your proposed paper.
  • Your name, institution, academic position, a brief bio
  • A short CV. 
Scientific committee 
The meeting is organised by
  • Mark Sedgwick, Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies, Aarhus University, and Convener of ENSIE
  • Liana Saif, assistant professor in the History of Western Esotericism in The Middle Ages, University of Amsterdam
  • Francesco Piraino, Postdoc, Università Ca’ Foscari, Venice, and Fondazione Giorgio Cini
  • Michele Petrone, Adjunct professor, Università di Milano
Updates at http://ensie.site/conferences.html.

Friday 5 March 2021

Esoteric Transfers and Constructions

Just published: the book of the 2018 ENSIE conference, held in Venice. Esoteric Transfers and Constructions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, ed. Mark Sedgwick and Francesco Piraino (New York: Palgrave, 2021).

Similarities between esoteric and mystical currents in different religious traditions have long interested scholars. This book takes a new look at the relationship between such currents. It advances a discussion that started with the search for religious essences, archetypes, and universals, from William James to Eranos. The universal categories that resulted from that search were later criticized as essentialist constructions, and questioned by deconstructionists. An alternative explanation was advanced by diffusionists: that there were transfers between different traditions. This book presents empirical case studies of such constructions, and of transfers between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in the premodern period, and Judaism, Christianity, and Western esotericism in the modern period. It shows that there were indeed transfers that can be clearly documented, and that there were also indeed constructions, often very imaginative. It also shows that there were many cases that were neither transfers nor constructions, but a mixture of the two.

See https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030617875 for full table of contents and other details. 

Monday 1 February 2021


Because of Covid restrictions, the eighth ESSWE conference, for which ENSIE has arranged three panels, which was originally scheduled for 5-7 July 2021, has been postponed until the summer of 2022, probably also 5-7 July, and still in Cork.

Given this, the third ENSIE conference, originally planned for the summer of 2022, will be brought forward to 2021, almost certainly online. Further details will be announced later.

Friday 29 January 2021

ENSIE committee member joins University of Amsterdam

Liana Saif, a member of the ENSIE managing committee, has been appointed assistent professor in the History of Western Esotericism in the Middle Age at the History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam. This is, of course, the leading and largest centre in Europe for the study of Western Esotericism, and so Dr Saif's appointment thus marks another step in the integration of the study of Islam and esotericism into the study of Western Esotericism.

Dr. Saif (Ph.D, 2012) is a historian of Islamic esotericism and the occult sciences. With a medieval focus, she has a special interest in the exchange of esoteric and occult knowledge between the Islamic and Latin ecumenes. Her book The Arabic Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015. She is currently preparing a long-awaited critical translation from Arabic into English of Maslama b. Qāsim al-Qurṭubī’s (d. 964) Ghāyat al-ḥakīm, known in its Latin translation as the Picatrix. She has conducted research on the tenth-century secret brotherhood Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ (The Brethren of Purity), the pseudo-Aristotelian Hermetica, and Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (Geber in Latin).

Thursday 14 January 2021

ENSIE 3 (2021/22)

Following our successful 2020 conference on "Islamic Esotericism in Global Contexts" (ENSIE 2), our next conference (ENSIE 3) will be on "The Social History of Islamic Esotericism." We understand "social" to include both the economic and the political, and everyday life. A formal Call will be issued later, but as usual we will also accept papers of relevance to the study of Islam and esotericism that do not directly address the conference topic.

We are still hoping that the 2021 ESSWE meeting, scheduled for 5-7 July in Cork, will happen according to plan, including the ENSIE panels that have been submitted. In that case, ENSIE 3 will be in 2022. If, however, Covid-19 means that the 2021 ESSWE meeting is delayed until 2022, we may well hold ENSIE 3 online in 2021 instead.

Islamic Occult Studies Working Group, March–December 2021

Guest post by Matthew Melvin-Koushki:

The study of Islamic occultism and esotericism as an interdisciplinary field has grown with astonishing rapidity over the last several years, as showcased in recent volumes, conferences and workshops. Due to this rapid growth, however, we do not yet have a full database of Islamicists working either wholly or partially on matters occult. Impelled by the exigencies of 2020-2021, which has seen the canceling or moving online of our events (including the wonderful December ENSIE conference), the formation of such a database would seem to be the most productive way of moving the field forward while we wait out the pandemic and its socioeconomic aftermath.

In lieu of the “Islamic Occult Studies on the Rise” symposium, organized by myself, Matthew Melvin-Koushki, and Noah Gardiner, that was to take place at the University of South Carolina last March, and whose funding remains available, we therefore propose a nine-month working group. It will consist of one three-hour meeting per month, beginning this March and going to December, with a month's break in the summer. Keeping with the spirit of our original plan, each meeting will showcase the work primarily of junior scholars in the field, with mid-career and more senior folks acting as chairs and discussants, with some exceptions based on theme.

Each meeting will feature two panels, each of which will consist of two 15-minute talks followed by a half hour of moderated conversation. There will be short breaks in between, and each meeting will conclude with a "happy hour" for those who'd like to stay on and chew the fat or otherwise network with old friends and new, including in private breakout rooms. Rather than being traditional conference papers, the 15-minute talks are intended as opportunities for presenters to briefly summarize their current research trajectory and questions as fodder for extended discussion. Each presenter will also be asked to submit a 1,000-word blog post summarizing their research, which will be published – in citable format – on the new Islamic Occult Studies working group website, islamicoccult.org (currently under construction). To further sweeten the deal, presenters who are grad students or postdocs will receive a $300 honorarium.

We realize that not everyone will be able or desire to attend every monthly meeting, but do ask that those interested attend as many as is feasible, so we can achieve critical mass at and continuity between each. Given the large number of invitees, however, it will be difficult to find a day and time that works for everyone. If the final schedule doesn't quite fit yours, feel free to come and go as necessary, or even pop in for the happy hour only. But we propose the third or fourth Friday of each month (with exceptions for MESA and AAR), from March onward, as the most likely bet. Being the day of Venus, it also accords well with our happy hour theme! And to make it accessible for everyone interested, we propose a start time of 11 am EST (UTC -5:00) [17:00 CET], so most folks from California and British Columbia to Iran and India will be able to join during waking hours.

We've created a poll to this effect. Even if you're not sure of your schedule yet, please do indicate all the Fridays you might be able to attend (two clicks on the box), just for our planning purposes. And if the 11 am EST timeslot doesn't work for you on a given Friday, but a later or earlier timeslot does, please let us know that as well in the comments: https://doodle.com/poll/a3brx73yskhx948u?utm_source=poll&utm_medium=link. Based on your responses, we'll start putting together the working group program, and send out speaker and chair invitations.

The plan, in short, is to use this working group to a) create a mutual support network, and b) compile a Who's Who in the study of Islamic occultism and esotericism for easy reference by specialists and nonspecialists alike. Now that the field, astonishingly, boasts many dozens of invested scholars internationally, most of them nontenured, we figure it's time to strike while the iron's hot, and show each other and the larger academic community exactly what we're all up to. For those of us on the job market, it will also serve as a handy database of like-minded scholars we can turn to for reference letters, tenure and promotion letters, reviewer suggestions, research collaborations, etc. Likewise, this working group will involve publication opportunities, most likely in the form of one or more special issues of Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft.

Note that this working group is not open to the public. If your scholarly focus is wholly or partially on Islamic occultism and esotericism, please fill out the above poll, then contact me with a brief description of your work and interests at mmelvink@sc.edu, and I’ll add you to the ever-growing roster!