The Next Generation
In terms of my software analogy, the timing of the volume could not have been more perfect: I would argue that it shows how the shift towards “Western Esotericism 3.0” is in fact already taking place, carried by a “next generation” of young scholars with fresh new ideas and unburdened by some of their predecessors’ preoccupations or blind spots (I estimate that most of the contributors to Contemporary Esotericism are in their twenties or thirties). There is a new tone and a new attitude here, and I would agree with Granholm’s suggestion that it reflects what he calls a “post-secular” mindset: ‘the study of Western esotericism itself, and in particular the growing acceptance of it as a legitimate field of inquiry, could be regarded as an expression of post-secular trends. This is the case if the post-secular implies a broadening of academic sentiments regarding what is worthwhile to study in the world of religion, and indeed what can even be accepted under that very label’ (pp. 323-324).In close connection to this, Granholm points out that ‘Popular culture is an arena in which requirements for the “seriousness of belief” and notions of religion as dealing with “ultimate concerns” must be abandoned’ (p. 324) This is a point that can hardly be emphasized enough. Not only do we need to question the crypto-Protestant bias according to which religion or esotericism must ultimately be about “faith” or “beliefs”, so that dimensions such as practice or experience have to be secondary at best; but with respect to esotericism in popular culture more specifically, we also need to think about the possible relevance of such things as play and humor, irreverence and irony, iconoclasm and blasphemy, sentimentality and provocation, or kitch and commercialism, to mention just a few. Will this still leave room for all those extremely serious elements that have traditionally been highlighted as crucial to “esotericism”, such as the pursuit of gnosis or higher knowledge, secrecy and concealment, worldviews of divine enchantment, or initiatory trajectories? I have no answer to these questions (at least, not yet), but perhaps the next generation does.