If you are interested, I sat down with John Price the host of The Sacred Speaks last week and discussed my book The Ancient New Age. The podcast is our unedited talk (The Sacred Works podcast link), so it is longer than most podcasts I’ve done. At the end of the podcast, John features one of the songs from an album I created with two Houston musicians, called Gnosis in Rhythm and Song. I need to get the CD tracks put up on Amazon yet. That is in the works. But this is a nice sample.
Forbidden Gospels Blog
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I am very pleased to announce that Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies has been accepted for indexing in the ATLA Religion Database. This is a very big advance for the journal in its first three years, and I want to personally thank all the authors who published with us in the initial volumes and the editorial board. Your acquisition and review work as editors and your innovative articles as authors have made this all possible. Also a big call out to the graduate student team of copy editors who have done wonders putting together and updating our style guide and managing the articles themselves.
Thanks to the authors:
Catherine L. Albanese
Kevin van Bladel
Christian H. Bull
April D. DeConick
Matthew J. Dillon
Michael S. Domeracki
Kimberley A. Fowler
Margarita Simon Guillory
Sara Iles Johnson
Simon J. Joseph
Ann van den Kerchove
Jeffrey J. Kripal
Bas van Os
Lautaro Roig Lanzillota
John D. Turner
Thanks to our book reviewers:
Kelley Coblentz Bautch
Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui
John C. Johnson
Blake A. Jurgens
Emily Ann Laflèche
Ian N. Mills
Lautaro Roig Lanzillota
Kimberly B. Stratton
Shawn J. Wilhite
Thanks to our editorial board:
Jason BeDuhn (Northern Arizona University)
Dylan M. Burns (Freie Universität, Berlin)
Malcolm Choat (Macquarie, Australia)
Kevin Corrigan (Emory University)
Nicola Denzey Lewis (Claremont)
Ismo Dunderberg (University of Helsinki)
Claire Fanger (Rice University)
Paul Foster (University of Edinburgh)
Majella Franzmann (University of Sydney, Australia)
André Gagné (Concordia University)
Iain Gardner (University of Sydney, Australia)
Michael Kaler (York University)
Todd Klutz (University of Manchester)
Jeffrey Kripal (Rice University)
Edmondo Lupieri (Loyola University)
Gerard Luttikhuizen (University of Groningen)
Bas van Os (Vrije Universiteit)
Tuomas Rasimus (University of Helsinki)
Madeleine Scopello (Paris-Sorbonne)
Gregory Shaw (Stonehill College)
Kocku von Stuckrad (University of Groningen)
Einar Thomassen (University of Bergen)
Sofia Torallas Tovar (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Madrid)
John Turner (University of Nebraska)
Hugh Urban (Ohio State University)
Arthur Versluis (Michigan State University)
Jacques van der Vliet (Leiden University/Radboud University, Nijmegen)
Thanks to our copy editors:
Oihane Iglesias Telleria
Naamleela Free Jones
I am happy to announce that the special issue of GNOSIS 3.1 is published. Christian Bull as a guest editor put together a special collection of papers on Hermes Trismegistus. I am particularly delighted with this special collection because I have felt for a very long time that the hermetic sources often don't get the attention that they should in the study of gnostic movements and literatures.
While this is a single contribution, it shows the wide range of impact that the hermetic materials and traditions have had from religion in the late antique world to modern America. The articles are slices of hermetism playing out in ancient alchemy, divination, the history of science, church sacramental practices, and Theosophy. These articles help us think outside the box, that hermetism is not a set of prescriptions defining a special religion or philosophy. Rather hermetism is the dynamic interplay of traditions authorized by Hermes Trismegistus fluctuating within different cultural situations and locations. Enjoy!
Christian H. Bull, "Wicked Angels and the Good Demon: The Origins of Alchemy According to the Physica of Hermes"
Anna van den Kerchove, "The Notion of Truth in Some Hermetic Texts and Chaldaean Oracles"
Kevin van Bladel, "Al-Bīrūnī on Hermetic Forgery"
Claudio Moreschini, "The Interpretation of the Sacrament of the Eucharist as Palingenesis according to Foix-Candale"
Erin Prophet, "Hermetic Influences on the Evolutionary System of Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophy"
Book Reviews and Received
We had the pleasure of hosting Ann Taves' in our Mellon Seminar this morning. We had an inspiring discussion about the naturalness of extraordinary experiences and how they become religious experiences. She encouraged us to think of experiences as "events" that have shared evolved cognitive processes, cultural contexts (set and setting), and appraisals (interpretations we give the event). We discussed my concept of cognitive ratcheting and how this supports her idea that we share cultural schema that have become automatic for us. In other words, these culturally loaded frames are unconscious enough that they already structure the revelatory event while it is happening, and likely precondition the event too.
She shared her idea that we as humans have the capacities to make things seem real, and that some humans are able to cross over from the imaginary to the real with very little trouble. In her view, states like dissociation and hypnotic states have an innate component which can be trained and legitimated via its cultural value. She thinks of cognitive states that are dissociative or unitive to represent a more primal level of consciousness that usually in our daily activities is suppressed by the higher order of consciousness with its executive functions. We share this more dissociative state of the self with other animals. She believes that more work needs to be done thinking about the brain's default mode network, which is the operations of our brain when we are not doing a task, when we are not involved with the executive functions of the self.
Our esteemed group at the Gnostic America Conference.
I thought it would be fun to track the papers at the conference and post a few words about each one with a photo.
Catherine L. Albanese (Keynote)
“The Gnostic in Us All: Thinking from the Macrobiotics of Michio Kushi”
Abstract: Way back when in graduate school, I wrote a paper on the Gospel of Thomas, one of the documents discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945. The debate over its gnosticizing elements was alive and well, and I weighed in with an argument that its thorough oblivion to history rendered it Gnostic—in the capital-“G” sense. Of course, there were other Gnostic elements cited then by scholars—such as Thomas’s turn within to a self on divinity’s edge and its enigmatic sayings with their salvific and mystical secret. Later, in 1976, I published the paper in an academic journal. That was the end of my Gnostic story.
Or so I thought. But in 1986, I began the practice of macrobiotics. As I studied the teachings of Michio Kushi, its foremost American teacher, I began to smell more than a whiff of religion. His wife, Aveline, had published a cookbook with the subtitle For Health, Harmony, and Peace. Michio Kushi himself, with longtime political interests in world government, elaborated on a cosmological spiral, with humans descending from a “unique principle” as it divided into yin and yang. Finding balance with yin and yang energies through diet and lifestyle would lead to alignment and peace. What lay ahead, if macrobiotic principles were followed, was “one peaceful world.”
Somewhere on the road to one peaceful world, Kushi discovered the Gospel of Thomas. He began to use it regularly, incorporating it into popular “spiritual” seminars. I will leverage an account of the gnostic (here small-“g”) content of macrobiotics on Michio Kushi’s commentary on the Gospel of Thomas—The Gospel of Peace (1992)—and also on related works. My task will be to think through the gnosticism of brown rice and a peaceful world in terms of late twentieth-century American society and culture, to find the lines of connection, and to explore them as encrypted signs—in the twenty-first century still—of the gnostic in us all.
Catherine L. Albanese is J. F. Rowny Professor Emerita and Research Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. With a Ph.D. in American religious history from the University of Chicago (Divinity School, 1972), she is former department chair at UCSB Religious Studies (2005-2010) and former president of the American Academy of Religion (1994). Her award-winning book, A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion, was published in 2007 (Yale). She is the author of numerous other books and articles, including America: Religions and Religion, now in its fifth edition (Cengage, 2013). In 2014, she was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
We hope you can join us for all or part of the Gnostic America conference, March 28-31.
Wednesday, March 28
3:30-5 pm PANEL 1: FROM ANCIENT TO MODERN GNOSTICISM
April D. DeConick, The Sociology of Gnostic Spirituality
Gregory Shaw, Can We Recover Gnosis Today?
7-8:30 pm KEYNOTE LECTURE
Catherine L. Albanese, The Gnostic in Us All: Thinking from the Macrobiotics of Michio Kushi
Thursday, March 29
9-10:30 am PANEL 2: THE THEOSOPHICAL CONNECTION
Erin Prophet, Hermetism, Kabbalah and “Double Evolution” in Blavatsky’s Root Race Theory
Simon Cox, Theosophical Gnosis and Astral Hermeneutics
10:45-12:15 PANEL 3: GNOSTIC NEW RELIGIONS
Victor Nardo, Illuminating the Illuminatus: The Gnosticism of Richard, Duc de Palatine
Cathy Gutierrez, Know Place: Heaven's Gate and American Gnosticism
2-3:30 pm PANEL 4: NEW AGE GNOSTICISM
Simon Joseph, American Gnosis: Jesus Mysticism in a Course in Miracles
Mitch Horowitz, The New Age and Gnosticism: Terms of Commonality
4:30-5:30 pm GNOSIS IN RHYTHM AND SONG, RICE MEMORIAL CHAPEL
April DeConick, Sonja Bruzauskas, and Craig Hauschildt
Friday, March 30
9-10:30 am PANEL 5: GNOSTIC MEANING-MAKING IN MODERNITY
Miguel Connor, Exiting the Black Iron Prison: How My Podcast on Gnosticism Taught Me We Live in Gnostic Times
Matthew Dillon, The Afterlives of the Archons
10:45-12:15 PANEL 6: LITERARY GNOSTICISM
Eric Wargo, The Space Jockey and the Future of Enjoyment: Alienated Sentience in the World of H.R. Giger
Samuel Stoeltje, Channeling a Utopian Apocalypse: Alice Neihardt Thompson’s The Great Adventure
2-3:30 pm PANEL 7: GNOSTICISM AT THE MOVIES
Lautaro Roig Lanzillotta, A Metaphysical Rebel? Camus’s Analysis of Gnosticism and Its Influence on Literature and Cinema
Fryderyk Kwiatkowski, Eric Voegelin and Gnostic Hollywood: Cinematic Portrayals of the Immanentization of the Eschaton
7-10 pm SCREENING OF DARK CITY with POST-FILM PANEL, RICE MEDIA CENTER
Saturday, March 31
9-10:30 am PANEL 8: INTELLECTUAL RESPONSES TO THE GNOSTIC RENAISSANCE
Lance Owens, C.G. Jung and the Gnostic Renaissance
Arthur Versluis, Gnosis in the American Study of Religion
10:45-12:15 PANEL 9: ESOTERIC CURRENTS IN AMERICA
Timothy Grieve-Carlson, American Aurora: Early American Religion and Jacob Boehme
Hugh Urban, The Knowing of Knowing: Neo-Gnosticism from the O.T.O. to Scientology
2-3:30 pm PANEL 10: THE MYSTIC AND THE GNOSTIC
Erik Davis, The Electric Chrism Acid Test: The Problem of Psychedelic Gnosis
Jeffrey J. Kripal, The Mysteries of Safed: Unexplained Correspondences in a Modern Jewish Visionary
There are several special events, all open to the public, as part of the Gnostic America Conference. Here is the poster for the Keynote Address by Catherine Albanese. Hope you can join us. Please share this event around.
I am pleased to announce the Gnostic America Conference. We will convene at Rice University on March 28-31. The conference is free and open to the public. We are exploring the afterlives of Gnosticism in America.
In addition to cutting-edge paper presentations by 20 international scholars and graduate students, we have some spectacular special events in the evenings. Check the poster for times and locations.
On Wednesday evening, Catherine Albanese will deliver the Keynote Address on the Gospel of Thomas and the Macrobiotics of Michio Kushi.
On Thursday evening, the soprano soloist Sonja Bruzauskas and percussionist Craig Hauschildt will be performing GNOSIS IN SONG AND RHYTHM, based on Gnostic liturgies that I translated from the Nag Hammadi literature.
On Friday evening, we will be screening the Director's cut of Dark City, followed by a panel discussion of the film.
I forgot to post the information about our Mellon Seminar Conference. It happened yesterday, but was a great event featuring Susan Palmer as our keynote.
We are pleased to announce that we are accepting applications for our new MA program in Religion. Please share this announcement. Priority deadline for Fall 2018 admission: January 15, 2018. Final deadline for Fall 2018 admission: April 20, 2018.
I received a beautiful book in the mail this week by Andrei Orlov, The Greatest Mirror: Heavenly Counterparts in the Jewish Pseudepigrapha (SUNY). While the idea of a heavenly double—an angelic twin of an earthbound human—is found in Christian, Manichaean, Islamic, and Kabbalistic traditions, scholars have been less familiar with this imagery in early Jewish writings. In fact, most scholars have traced the lineage of these ideas to Greco-Roman and Iranian sources. But in his new book, Andrei A. Orlov shows that heavenly twin imagery drew in large part from early Jewish writings. The Jewish pseudepigrapha—books from the Second Temple period that were attributed to biblical figures but excluded from the Hebrew Bible—contain accounts of heavenly twins in the form of spirits, images, faces, children, mirrors, and angels of the Presence. Orlov provides a comprehensive analysis of these traditions in their full historical and interpretive complexity. He focuses on heavenly alter egos of Enoch, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, and Aseneth in often neglected books, including Animal Apocalypse, Book of the Watchers, 2 Enoch, Ladder of Jacob, and Joseph and Aseneth, some of which are preserved solely in the Slavonic language.
Looking for a summer conference to attend? This one should be terrific. It is hosted by St. Andrews, June 4-6 2018, and features fabulous speakers for the plenary addresses.
I am happy to announce a new book series from Baylor University Press called The Library of Early Christology series. This series is a collaborative effort to bring together "essential readings" that represent the new history of religions school, with a focus on the study of early Christology and its historic Judaic antecedents.
Most of these books were published by other publishers (Mohr Siebeck, Brill, and Fortress) as part of a limited-run series. Now they are being republished and distributed via Baylor in order to bring these important works to a new and wider audience.
With that said, I am so pleased to announce that my first monograph, Seek To See Him: Ascent and Vision Mysticism in the Gospel of Thomas, is now published as part of this series, along with my mentor's book, Jarl Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord: Samaritan and Jewish Concepts of Intermediation and the Origin of Gnosticism. Both of these books (and many more!) are available at very reasonable prices now.
Finally we have a introductory "textbook" that covers the main tenets of the cognitive science of religion as they are applied to the field of New Testament and early Christianity. Czachesz argues that the human component with its mental and cultural constraints is essential to augment traditional biblical exegesis or even to change the conventional focus of biblical exegesis.
Whenever I have spoken about this, I have talked about the missing link in biblical studies: the human factor. That is, biblical exegesis has traditionally forfeited understanding the ways in which humans process information and make sense of the world through their bodies, their brains, their memories, and their emotions. All of these impact the shape and character of the texts people write, and thus our understanding of these texts as historians.
Czachesz further suggests that we are dinosaurs if we think that we can continue to operate as scholars by ignoring science and the scientific method. He thinks that cognitive approaches help us to integrate scientific thinking (experimental research; computer modeling; naturalistic explanations) with our study of early Christianity. He applauds the payoff, suggesting that the naturalistic explanations and materialistic mechanisms, some experimentally based, provide a securer foundation for our historical analyses than traditional methods have allowed.
István’s approach is to divide his subject (religion in the New Testament) into cognitive areas, after first giving a three chapter overview of the standard theories in the cognitive study of religion and the anatomy of the brain.
He begins by asking what studies on memory and transmission of ideas and practices can do for us as biblical scholars. After covering the standard analyses of memory and emotion, and how minds process and structure information, he argues that early Christian literature reflects these processes, here referring to studies of the passion narratives and martyrdom stories in the canonical and apocryphal gospels and acts, the sermon on the mount, and the synoptic problem.
Second he covers ritual, with a nod toward some psychological models on compulsive behavior. He discusses in this chapter baptism, communal meals, and prayer, in terms of cost benefits, modes of religiosity, efficacy and magical agency.
Third, he takes on the intersection of magic and miracle in the Jesus stories, arguing that cognitive approaches can help us see these as two subjects that are interrelated phenomena. He does so by applying studies on superstitious conditioning, mental intuitions about the mechanisms and effects of magic in terms of agency and contagion, and the attractiveness of miracle stories as counterintuitive. He applies these cognitive insights to Paul’s magical practices in Ephesus according to the Book of Acts.
Fourth, he covers what cognitive neuroscience and philosophy of mind have been saying about religious experience and altered states of consciousness, everything from subjectivity to cultural contexts, from the lobes of the brain theory, to extreme religious experience. He applies these studies to the phenomena of speaking in tongues at Corinth, and the tour of heaven in the Ascension of Isaiah.
Fifth, he looks at studies of morality and its origins in the domains of neurobiology, social cognition, group behavior, and moral emotions. He argues that biblical morality is not an artifact created by theologians and philosophers, but rather it is an aspect of human cognition and behavior. The application in this chapter is more broadly conceived in terms of religion, and less in terms of specific test cases within the New Testament.
Sixth, he turns to social networks and computer models to explain the spread of early Christianity.
István’s book is the one that I wish I had a few years ago when I taught a course I designed on Cognitive Science of Religion and biblical studies called The Bible and the Brain. I set up the course with similar thematic sections and then biblical applications. So I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to familiarize themselves with Cognitive Science and Religion and biblical studies, or who wants to create a course on it. It is a perfect learning and teaching tool.
Professor Burke's newest edited volume came my way today: Fakes, Forgeries, and Fictions: Writing Ancient and Modern Christian Apocrypha. It represents the proceedings from the 2015 York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium.
The book collects excellent papers from Bart Erhman, Periluigi Piovanelli, Stanley Porter, Brent Landau, Scott Brown, Pamela Mullins Reaves, Gregory Peter Fewster, Anne Moore, Timothy Pettipiece, Brandon Hawk, Tony Burke, Bradley Rice, Eric M. Vanden Eykel, Caroline Schroeder, James McGrath, Mark Goodacre, and Janet Spittler.
The articles address questions that have long dogged scholars. Are apocryphal Christian texts fakes or forgeries? Were they intentionally written to deceive Christians? Do they contain facts or fictions? Why were they composed?
The answers in this volume are as varied as the stories themselves, from intentional fakes meant to deceive like the fragment known as the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, to honest attempts to capture ongoing religious revelation like the Revelation of the Magi.
Texts covered include Acts of Paul, Apocalypse of Paul, Revelation of the Magi, Secret Gospel of Mark, Letter of Peter to Philip, apocryphal Corinthians, Secret Book of John, Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Life of Saint Issa, Gospel of Jesus' Wife, and miscellaneous early Christian papyri.
I think that this volume is a valuable contribution to how we understand authorship of ancient Christian texts, whether we define them as fakes or the real deal.
I just returned from Erfurt, Germany, where I attended a conference on Esotericism and Deviance put on by the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE). I want to record some of my impressions of the conference and take-aways.
The word esotericism comes from the adjective esoteric, which has been used since ancient times to refer to religious movements and philosophical schools that keep at least some of their knowledge secret, so that it is reserved only for the members who join the group. So in the case of the ancient texts I study, esotericism is equivalent to religious secrecy, and it is very easy to explore how groups tried to capitalize on the secrets for group bonding, and guard any deviant behavior or ideas within this secrecy so that the deviance is shielded from external gaze and retribution from society.
My paper ("Deviant Christians") was on how this worked out for early Christian groups and affected their ability to recruit and survive intergenerationally.
The problem with esotericism comes when academics who study esoteric religious movements since the Renaissance have decided to call their field Esotericism. You might not think this problematic until you realize that the term runs into trouble when esoteric religions meet popular culture in modernity and we end up with the wide distribution of occult secrets, a process that is now being called Occulture (occult+culture). So Esotericism is no longer defined by religious secrecy. It has become openly distributed knowledge.
What about deviance? Is Esotericism then defined by deviancy? It was clear from the papers at the conference that there was trouble in trying to deal with religious deviance and its relationship to Esotericism. Scholars at the conference expressed great discomfort with the idea that Esotericism has to be deviant. And I saw no real model emerge to handle this problem meaningfully.
I think the main trouble comes from the fact that to really work with the concept of deviance, you really have to do so from a sociological perspective. You have to understand local culture and its dominant norms and what the esoteric movement is doing with them. This means that what is deviant is going to change from locale to locale with many shifts over time and geography. What is culturally deviant at one time, may become mainstream down the road. So an esoteric movement might be deviant one day, and maybe move into the mainstream later on. Does the religious movement remain esoteric in this case?
I would argue that this question is not the question that needs to be answered. What makes more sense to me is to problematize the issues that esoteric movements face and outline the patterns of response that result from the movements trying to handle these issues. We can do this with ancient groups and modern groups the same.
- How is the movement using religious secrecy as social capital and as a shield for its deviance?
- What social strategies does the group turn to in order to construct a movement that restricts its internal social network? Why do this?
- How does the esoterized group deal with issues like isolation and recruitment?
- Does the group lessen its deviance and begin to open its social network to outsiders?
- How does the group accommodate to societal expectations and traditional religious perspectives?
- How far does the group go public and reveal its secrets to increasing larger social networks?
- Or does the group stay isolated and secret, or become more isolated and secret over time?
- Why does the group choose these options?
- How do these options affect the long term survival of the group?
If we move to this kind of sociological problematizing, then deviance is most likely in the picture somewhere. It is just a matter of trying to understand the dynamics of deviance within esoteric group formation and development. No esoteric group is stable on any of these issues. Esoteric movements are special because they choose to reserve their internal network to members only, and to bond around religious secrets which are very often deviant or countercultural. This can only be mapped and understood on a case-by-case basis, which will reveal to us both variety and patterns of similarity. It will tell us everything about the social process of esoterization and nothing about Esotericism.
All of this is to say that Esotericism as a field cannot be defined by deviancy, but it is essential for scholars who are involved in the field of Esotericism to unpack sociologically the relationship between deviancy and any given esoteric group. While Esotericism cannot be defined by deviancy, it is a sociological dynamic experienced by esoteric groups that needs much more careful theoretical and historical attention.
I am so pleased to extend to you the link to an interview that I did for Rorotoko (Cutting-Edge Intellectual Interviews) about my book The Gnostic New Age. I was honored to be contacted by Judi Pajo, the acting editor for the website. The site runs weekly distinguished interviews with scholars on their books published in all fields.
Their motto is, "Start the day smart."
In the interview they asked me four questions. Describe your book "in a nutshell." What is "the wide angle" of your work? Give us "a close up" of your favorite passage. And "lastly" what insight do you want to leave your reader with?
Their website also captures authors' biographies. Mine can be found HERE.
Easter in Memory of Her
I am writing this morning to invite you to one of the most special events of the year. This is the fifth performance of a creative work I co-authored with Rev. Betty Adam - Easter in Memory of Her. Additional information can be found on Brigid's Place website which sponsors and organizes the event for the church.
Holy Saturday, April 15, 2017 4:00 pm, Christ Church Cathedral, Houston
What follows is the blurb about the Holy Saturday event posted on the Christ Church Cathedral website.
Once again on Holy Saturday, Brigid’s Place invites you to Easter in Memory of Her, an innovative service of music and mediation that celebrates the voices of the women who loved Jesus — Mary the Mother, the woman at the well, the woman who anointed Jesus, Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdalene.
The service imagines the thoughts and prayers of the women surrounding Jesus and blends them with the music performed by singers from the Houston Chamber Choir and words written by Rice University professor April DeConick and Cathedral Canon Betty Adam.
Following last year’s service, DeConick commented, “The performance of Easter in Memory of Her at Christ Church Cathedral was stunningly beautiful. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the congregation including my own. The women soloists were outstanding yet again. Every time I see this performance I am taken to the cross. It has become my Easter.”
Adam shared, “Easter in Memory of Her continues to be a powerful experience for me — to confront the cross together with these beloved women, whose grief pours forth as well as their unwavering devotion. It helps me gain a deeper understanding of my own spiritual journey. I am so glad we can bring a presentation of such depth and beauty to the Houston area.”
Easter in Memory of Her will be held on Holy Saturday, April 15, at 4 p.m. and is free and open to the public.