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Esoteric Practices and the Master-disciple Relationship in the Digital Age

Esoteric Practices and the Master-disciple Relationship in the Digital Age

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Workshop date: June 28th, 2021 / Place: Online / Convenor: Stéphanie Homola

How is esoteric knowledge transmitted in contemporary societies where communication technologies allow all kinds of information to circulate and be disclosed to an ever-wider audience? For instance, the young generations in Taiwan can learn about the complex and obscure Chinese tradition of divination through various channels: get personally acquainted with a specialist who agrees to transmit his/her knowledge and skills, attend a six-months course on horoscopy along with other fellow classmates, or learn the techniques in didactic handbooks and apply them using do-it-yourself manuals or apps. Why and how to engage in a master-disciple relationship when even the most esoteric traditions are available on the Internet and can be shared and discussed in forums, blogs, and social media? Do information technologies dilute the potential of the dyadic relationship between a master and his/her student or do they make it even more relevant?

This workshop aims at exploring the contemporary developments of the master-disciple relationship – a mode of knowledge transmission which has traditionally been prevailing in the teaching of esoteric practices. It adopts a working definition of this teaching relation as an elective, personal, and moral relationship between a practitioner and his/her pupil. This relationship often involves teaching and learning processes based on observation, intensive study, and memorization, a hierarchical tie between the master and the disciple, and long-term commitment and dedication that can extend to sharing daily life tasks, providing assistance, and travelling together. In some cases, the teaching relationship can be loosely defined along these characteristics and produce various stages of knowledge transmission rather than a full and well-defined path to expertise. In the same way, it can, but not necessarily, imply initiatory or binding rituals which give the apprentice access to hidden and controlled knowledge and tie him/her to a master and, potentially, to a line of transmission or school of thought.

This workshop addresses esoteric practices in a global perspective, along the lines of the Research Program “Alternative Rationalities and Esoteric Practices from a Global Perspective” developed at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU). Convened by Michael Lackner, Andreas Nehring, Dominik Müller, and Bernd-Christian Otto, this project is at the core of an on-going application to establish a Centre for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences (CAS) at FAU, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). It develops a theoretical and methodological framework for the transcultural study of esoteric practices in a perspective that extends beyond the Eurocentric category of Western Esotericism […]


  • Deadline for abstract submission: April 15th, 2021
  • Feedback and Conference schedule: May 7th, 2021
  • Workshop date: June 28th, 2021

Please send an abstract of your intended contribution with title, institutional information, and expected location (time-zone) to <> before April 15th, 2021.

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