Majoritarian currents of Euro-American esoteric thought (e.g., Spiritualism, Theosophy, Hermeticism, Ceremonial/Crowleyan Magick, Neo-Paganism, Chaos Magic, etc.) frequently overlook, oversimplify, and/or downplay the pertinence of African traditions to their history, practice and self-understanding. This is just as true of the academic philosophies of religion dedicated to understanding such esotericisms. Important contemporary scholarship addresses this negligence from several productive angles. These include (but are by no means limited to) “Africana Esoteric Studies” (Stephen C. Finley, Margarita Guillory, Hugh R. Page Jr. et al.), “Indigenous Hermeneutics” (Jacob K. Olupona et al.) and Mikel Burley’s “Radical Pluralist” philosophy of religion (particularly when read alongside Oludamini Ogunnaike’s constructive critique, recently published in Journal of the American Academy of Religion).
This panel (or series!) welcomes scholarship exploring the complex and contentious intersections of African (diaspora) and Euro-American esotericisms, magical and mystical practices, philosophies, and religious traditions. The aim is to gather a diverse array of perspectives on the situation or figuration of African(a) traditions in Euro-American constructions of the Esoteric, the Occult, the Magical, the Mystical, the Paranormal, etc.
Interdisciplinary approaches are encouraged, as are perspectives highlighting the extent to which these encounters exceed the bounds of discourse and textuality, permeating the worlds of art, photography, music, dance, cinema, digital/social media practice, interaction ritual, and so on.
Please share your abstract (200 word max) with me via email at [email protected] by 5pm March 27.
Please let me know if you would be ready to chair a panel and/or discuss papers rather than presenting one.
My own contribution to the panel(s) proposes to highlight Frantz Fanon’s (almost) unacknowledged role as a progenitor of François Laruelle’s “non-philosophical” and “non-theological” Gnosticism. In a very Fanonian vein, Laruelle’s “non-philosophy” suspends at once the authority of the phenomenological paradigm of experience and the dialectical-material paradigm of production in the name of a universal “Black consciousness,” immanently identical to itself and radically allergic to appropriation. I will investigate the merits and motivations of Laruelle’s concealment of his debt to Fanon and to Négritude more generally. Foregrounding Fanon’s influence, I then focus on Laruelle’s critical revival of a 20th century trope – “Athens and Jerusalem” – in order to think philosophy as something other than a zero-sum conflict between spiritually incompatible urban centers.
What follows is a list of questions intended to signal the wide range of potential topics for this panel. Please note that my imagination is limited by the fact that I’m not primarily an Africanist by training!
How might contemporary esoteric studies reproduce and/or resist the racism endemic to many strains of Euro-American esotericism (e.g. the legacy of Theosophy’s emphasis on “root races”)?
How does the “urban” character or designation of certain Africana traditions or practices (e.g. Hip-Hop and the Five Percent Nation in North America) inform their subversion of and/or cooptation by popular or scholarly cultures?
How are Africans portrayed or imagined by popular esoteric, paranormal, conspiracy-theoretical, and/or magical discourses? (e.g. the significance of the Dogon people or the 1994 Ariel School UFO sighting in Ruwa, Zimbabwe to the fields of “UFOlogy” and “Ancient Astronaut Theory”)
How do Jordan Peele’s films destabilize moviegoers’ expectations regarding black bodies vis-à-vis supernatural or occult forces? Are there interesting points of comparison in contemporary African filmmaking?
How do specific Euro-American esoteric and/or philosophical movements stake a claim to conceptual/practical innovation through ignorance or willful negligence of African precursors?