Copenhagen Center for the Study of Theosophy and Esotericism (CCSTE) – University of Copenhagen

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Copenhagen Center for the Study of Theosophy and Esotericism (CCSTE)

About the Center

The Copenhagen Center for the Study of Theosophy and Esotericism offers a distinct opportunity for students and scholars alike to focus on influential, yet still vastly overlooked, aspects of European and global intellectual, religious and social history often categorized as ‘Western esotericism’. 

Ideas, thinkers, practices and groups related to terms such as esotericism, esoteric traditions, occultism, theosophy, kabbalah, alchemy, astrology, magic, the supernatural, gnosis and secret knowledge are not as obscure as they might seem at first sight, but have been significant and highly influential facets of human culture.

For example, it is less known: that the great philosophers of antiquity such as Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle all divided their teachings into a public or exoteric exposition and an esoteric one only available to the initiated; that significant theologians from the Byzantine empire and the Western Middle Ages, such as Michael Psellus and Albertus Magnus were engaged with magic, the study of demons and occult sciences; that so called magicians helped develop the experimental method prominent in modern science; that the collection of texts from late antiquity known as the Corpus Hermeticum influenced the development of humanism, the modern concept of man, Renaissance art and the emergence of modern science; that several courts of Europe had a prominent astrological counselor, such as John Dee at the court of Queen Elizabeth I; that philosophers such as Leibniz and Hegel also studied Kabbalah and hermeticism; that the discoverer of the law of gravitation, Isaac Newton, was preoccupied with alchemy; that H.C. Ørsted, the discoverer of electromagnetism, was a freemason; that many modern scientists such as Alfred Wallace, the co-formulator of the theory of natural selection, and the pioneer chemist and inventor William Crookes believed in communication with spirits; that the Russian Helena P. Blavatsky and the modern Theosophical Society, she co-founded, directly influenced modern abstract art, archeological expeditions and India’s independence.

The impact of this continued ‘revisionist history’, when brought to its full potential, when categories such as esotericism and occultism are scrutinized and the forgotten entanglements between what we term esotericism, religion, philosophy and science are historically and critically revisited, is no less than revolutionary for our understanding of the past and present and for understanding the discursive mechanisms in play when dominant categories are constructed and histories told.  

This center is particularly dedicated to teaching and research related to modern Theosophy, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) and the history of esotericism.

The disciplinary frame of the Science of Religion under the Institute for the Study of Cross Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen is especially suited for this new development of research and teaching related to esotericism as several local scholars work on modernity, cultural interchanges, alternative traditions, and intellectual history.

The Center is funded by The Blavatsky Trust

Teaching

The center is dedicated to offering a full course related to esotericism each semester. Courses are taught in English and are internationally available to all academic levels (BA, MA, PhD). It is possible to follow the courses in class on location or as distant learning courses as all teaching is recorded and available online. Themes include the Theosophical movement, esoteric traditions, hermeticism, Platonism, Kabbalah, the cultural history of magical practices, esoteric knowledge systems, mysticism, Christian theosophy, gnosis, secrecy and secret societies. Specialized supervision is equally available at all academic levels.

Research

The center is particularly dedicated to research projects related to Blavatsky, Theosophy, and the history of esotericism in general. Themes include: interactions between East and West and relations between science, religion, philosophy and esotericism. 

Current projects include:

  • Intellectual history and H. P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy, cosmogenesis, anthropogenesis, and the concept of evolution (Tim Rudbøg, primary research project 2017-2022)
  • Imagining the East: the early Theosophical Society and the East (Tim Rudbøg & Erik R. Sand)
  • The Theosophical Current and the Cultural Arts (Tim Rudbøg & Catharina Raudvere)

Network

The center is cooperating with similar initiatives, particularly in Scandinavia and has also an Erasmus agreement with the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.

Events

Workshops, seminars, guest lecturers, summer schools and conferences related to the focus of the center are offered occasionally. Internationally recognized scholars such as Prof. Kocku von Stuckrad, Prof. Henrik Bogdan and Associate professor Jesper Aagaard Petersen have already given guest lectures.