Introduction to Modern Western Esotericism (PHI 251)


Esotericism is an attractive topic but its study is usually made difficult by prejudices (either pro or against it). The course has been designed to offer a balanced approach, proposing both insider and outsider/academic perspectives. The course will focus on Modern Western Esotericism (MWE) from the perennial philosophy of the Renaissance to the New Age. Its purpose is to prepare the student for more advanced material by introducing major currents as well as topics.

Antoine Faivre’s A Concise History of Western Esotericism as well as Wouter J. Hanegraaff’s Western Esotericism: A Guide to the Perplexed as manuals for the course.


This course is divided into ten, one-hour sessions.

Session 1 | Esotericism as a reality and as an object of study

Session 2 | Perennial philosophy, the esoteric tradition ad esoteric ecumenism

Session 3 | Initiation and symbolism: the language of inner transformation

Session 4 | French Masonic Illuminism

Session 5 | Gnosis, Gnosticism and Metaphysical realization

Session 6 | Sacred Feminine and Goddess Spirituality

Session 7 | Esotericism and the modern world

Session 8 | Esotericism, Gnosticism and the roots of totalitarianism (I)

Session 9 | Esotericism, Gnosticism and the roots of totalitarianism (II) – Remarks about the New Age movement

Session 10 | Esotericism outside of the West


At the end of the course, students will be able to…

  • By the end of the course, the students will be familiar with the major currents and figures of MWE.
  • The students will be able to distinguish between esotericism and other forms of discourses and practices (Hermeticism, Theosophy, Gnosis, Gnosticism, Occultism, New Age etc.)
  • The students will become familiar with different academic approaches to MWE.
  • The students will discover the impact of the esoteric discourse on the larger/main-stream culture.


Renaud Fabbri, Ph.D. – Maitrise (M.A.) in Philosophy [Summa Cum Laude] Paris IV, la Sorbonne, France 2004. Doctorat (Ph.D.) in Political Science [Summa Cum Laude with the special mention from the Board of Examiners] University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France 2012. Currently a Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Study of World Religions (Harvard Divinity School).

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