Esoteric Traditions: across religion, science and philosophy in European history

Course content

This course will explore Europe’s colorful landscape from antiquity to our present time with a focus on the religious ideas and traditions, which, throughout time, have been categorized as either ‘esoteric’, ‘magical’, ‘occult’, ‘mystical’ ‘irrational’ or as pure ‘superstition’, such as kabbalah, Hermeticism, alchemy, astrology, Platonism, Theosophy, occult philosophy, and ideas and traditions related to various secret societies.

The aim of this course is to analyze the historical, cultural and discursive mechanisms behind the construction of categories such as ‘the occult’ and ‘magic’ and to read these traditions and ideas into their larger historical and philosophical contexts.

Based on current research within the field, this course will historically focus on the pluralistic European religious landscape and on the role of the esoteric traditions in the many exchanges and debates that have taken place between the major religious traditions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. The influence of and influence on the developments in science and philosophy will also be discussed, as well as the relationship between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, reuse of ideas from antiquity, and the continued influence of the pagan religions. This course will also examine the specific religious beliefs, knowledge types, polemical discourses and practices that have characterized esoteric traditions in their interaction with other traditions. Particularly how such ideas have filtered into and shaped several discourses fundamental to the emergence and development of 'the modern world'.

This module allows you to write your exam essays in a variety of relevant topics and addresses students at BA, MA and PhD levels.


Studieordning for det centrale fag på bachelorniveau i Religionsvidenskab, 2015

Fagstudieodning for BA tilvalg i Religionsvidenskab, 2019

Fagstudieordning for KA tilvalg i Religionsvidenskab, 2019

Learning outcome

BA 2015-studieordning:
Valgfrit område (aktivitetskode HRVB00061E)
Valgfrit område med sprogudprøvning (fagelementkode HRVB00081E)

Bachelorprojekt (aktivitetskode HRVB00091E)

BA 2019-ordning

Valgfrit område (aktivitetskode HRVB00151E)

Valgfrit område med sprogudprøvning (aktivitetskode HRVB00171E)

Bachelorprojekt (aktivitetskode HRVB00181E)

BA Sidefag 2019-ordning

Valgfrit område med sprogudprøvning (aktivitetskode HRVB10151E)

BA Tilvalg 2019-studieordning
Valgfrit område (aktivitetskode HRVB10231E)

KA Tilvalg 2019-studieordning
Frit valgt emne (aktivitetskode HRVK13001E)

TThe course is composed of classes, lectures, discussions, supervision, source-work.

Essential background literature, all available online, include:

Goodrick-Clarke, N. (2008). The Western esoteric traditions: a historical introduction. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stuckrad, K. (2010). Locations of knowledge in medieval and early modern Europe, esoteric discourse and Western identities (Brill's studies in intellectual history v. 186). Leiden & Boston: Brill.

Rudbøg, Tim. (2013 & 2021). The Academic Study of Western Esotericism. Vols. 1 + 2. Copenhagen: H.E.R.M.E.S.’ Academic Press.

Hanegraaff, W. (2012). Esotericism and the academy, rejected knowledge in western culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Magee, G. (2016). The Cambridge handbook of western mysticism and esotericism. New York: Cambridge University Press-

Copenhaver, Brian (2015). Magic in Western Culture, From Antiquity to the Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Asprem, Egil and Julian Strube (eds.) New approaches to the study of esotericism, Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2021

Other literature will be available online in Absalon

This international course is in English and will be available online as well as in real-time. It allows you to write an essay in a variety of relevant topics and addresses students at all levels.
Distance learning participation is possible. Writing your exam essays in Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and English is also possible.
Course literature will be available online in Absalon and at the Royal Danish Library.

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Type of assessment
Criteria for exam assessment

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 84
  • Preparation
  • 328,5
  • English
  • 412,5


Course number
Programme level
Bachelor choice
Bachelor’s minor subject
Full Degree Master choice

1 semester

See link below
Study Board of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies
Contracting department
  • Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator
  • Tim Rudbøg   (10-786d717679686673696b446c7971326f7932686f)

Tim Rudbøg,

Saved on the 19-01-2022

Are you BA- or KA-student?

Are you bachelor- or kandidat-student, then find the course in the course catalog for students:

Courseinformation of students