Looking for a Kindle publication from the Western esotericism academia, I ran into the Dutch translation of Von Stuckrad’s Was Ist Esoterik? Kleine Geschichte des geheimen Wissens (‘What is esotericism. Small history of secret knowledge’) from 2004. The Dutch translation by André Haack and Ruud van der Helm got the title Esoterie. De zoektocht naar absolute kennis (‘Esotericism. The quest for absolute knowledge). The English translation of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke kept the subtitle in tact (“A brief history of secret knowledge”) but apparently wanted to place more focus on the fact that the book is about Western esotericism. In any case, this review is based on the Dutch translation, but know that there are different translation of the book out there.
Von Stuckrad (1966-) is a Ghanese scholar who lived in Germany for a large part of his life, but who lectures at the universities of Groningen and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. His focus within his field of religious studies: Western esotericism.
His writings are often fairly dry and academic while his colleagues such as Wouter Hanegraaff more often manage to strike a tone more fit for a general audience. Yet, this general audience is exactly what the present title aims at. The book presents a quite general, and more often told, story of Western esotericism, dealing with Greek philosophy, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Medieval and Renaissance esotericism, the period of the Enlightenment, ‘secret societies’ and using modern Theosophy as a bridge to the modern era ending with ‘New Age’.
There is not really anything here that I did not already know. It is quite obvious that the author is well informed about most of his subjects and here and there he manages to compress a complex worldview into a short description. There are also subjects which seem to be (somewhat) outside his personal interests.
Like I said, the book brings a general history of Western esotericism and will certainly form a descent starting point if the subject is (relatively) new to you. When you have kept yourself occupied with the subjects in this book for some time and/or are looking for the latest findings in the academic investigations of them, this is not the book you should buy.
2004 Beck, 2014 Routledge (isbn 1844657477), 2014 Amsterdam University Press