Looking Back at the CAS-E Conference “The Politics of Authenticity in Esoteric Practices,” November 15-17, 2023

Our second international CAS-E conference “The Politics of Authenticity in Esoteric Practices” took place from November 15 to 17, 2023 at the conference center “Forschungscampus Waischenfeld”,” nested in a beautiful Franconian landscape in Waischenfeld, a town in the Upper Franconian district of Bayreuth.

Birds eye view on the location, the buildings, from a nearby hill.
Fraunhofer Forschungscampus Waischenfeld—from above.

The conference was aimed at a collegial meeting and discussion on the overarching theme of “The Politics of Authenticity in Esoteric Practices”, which is to be published as the second CAS-E anthology. The meeting was divided into five themes, each dealing with a particular principle organizing claims of authenticity, its politics and thus its efficacy. These were the five themes (sessions), each consisting of three panelists and one discussant: 1) Nature and the Body as Source and Resource; 2) Margins, Circulations and Boundaries; 3) Portability and Presence; 4) Spatiotemporal Origins Recovered and Remade; and 5) Science as Legitimizing and Delegitimizing Means. You can find the full program and abstracts of the general theme and individual panels here.

Keynote speaker Paul C. Johnson giving a presentation on "Charcot‘s Brazilian Monkeys: Psychiatry, Religion, and the Authenticity of Automatism."
Keynote speaker Paul C. Johnson giving a presentation on “Charcot‘s Brazilian Monkeys: Psychiatry, Religion, and the Authenticity of Automatism.”

The conference began with a welcome and introduction by Dr. Raquel Romberg, followed by a fascinating and stimulating keynote lecture “Charcot’s Brazilian Monkey: Psychiatry, Religion, and the Authenticity of Automatism” by Prof. Paul Christopher Johnson (University of Michigan). Over the next two days, we heard about similar issues played out in difference places of the world, and the Q&A sessions were never enough to address all the burning questions from the audience, some of which were discussed during the coffee breaks, dinners and lunches. Some of our Advisory Board members were able to attend and enriched our discussions. Not everything consisted of presentations and discussions. One evening there was a beer tasting and in the free time the participants explored the surrounding village and hills.

Impressions from a walk along part of the Franconian Marienweg, path of Maria.

The collegial atmosphere created by such informal conversations will surely last beyond the conference. Overall, we had the challenging but also wonderful feeling that we needed more time to discuss the interesting presentations and explore the new avenues they opened up for comparative study in the future. The unique interdisciplinary composition of participants who would not otherwise have met at a specialized conference did indeed create synergies that are in line with CAS-E’s mission and which we hope to present in the forthcoming edited volume.

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