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Western esotericism is used as an umbrella term for a wide variety of historical traditions that were traditionally neglected in academic research but have been moved to the foreground in recent years. These include “gnostic,” Hermetic, or theurgical currents in late antiquity, the so-called “occult sciences” (astrology, alchemy, magic), Jewish and Christian kabbalah, theosophy, Rosicrucianism, illuminism, occultism, spiritualism, and related trends in modern and contemporary culture such as new age and occulture.

What is the role and meaning of these currents within the cultural and intellectual history of Western and non-Western cultural domains? How does their popular perception relate to historical realities? What implications does research in this field have for established paradigms in the humanities? Located at the UvA is the leading international centre for research and education in this area of study.


Research is focused on the history of so-called ‘Western esotericism’ (a conventional term for the discipline as a whole) from late antiquity to the present, and on the complex interrelations between “esoteric” ideas and mainstream intellectual and cultural history.


The UvA is the only university to offer a specialisation in Western esotericism. A series of courses at the Bachelor’s level are offered as part of the Religiewetenschappen programme. This cluster can also be taken in the form of a minor. At the Master’s level, a specialisation in Western esotericism is possible within the one-year programme Spirituality and Religion and the two-year research master’s Religious Studies.

Due to its interdisciplinary approach, the Research Master’s forms the perfect starting point for eventual PhD research within virtually all humanities disciplines.