As many of you know, the ESSWE conference is held every two years. Having attended the one in Gothenburg (Sweden) in 2013, I was excited to attend this year’s conference in Erfurt (Germany). I was doubly thrilled as I co-organized two panels on esotericism in antiquity with Dylan M. Burns (Freie Universität Berlin) and I presented a paper at the conference.
The conference was organized by Bernd-Christian Otto of the University of Erfurt. Rather than hosting the conference at the university proper, Otto arranged for the ESSWE to meet at the AugustinerKloister, the place where Martin Luther (yes, that Martin Luther) took his vows to become a monk. Not only was the site well-suited for an academic conference, it was nice to not be holed up in university chambers all day. Also, the conference site was extremely well-organized, which I could certainly appreciate.
As part of the NSEA panel on Magic and Alchemy, I presented a modified version of my forthcoming paper on the curse tablets at Mainz. This paper deconstructed three scholarly frameworks for studying cursing in antiquity and then offered a new way of looking at the tablets. I would say more about this, but you can read the results in the journal Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft when the article comes out!
The NSEA panels demonstrated the variety of topics being studied under the NSEA banner. We had a presentation on alchemy from Olivier Dufault (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München). Trevor Luke (Florida State University) gave a paper on Pliny’s construction of deviance. Dylan M. Burns and April DeConick (Rice University) both presented on Gnosticism, and Alberto Alfredo Winterberg (Freie Universität Berlin) looked at the reception of gnosticism in modern esotericism. This being the first ESSWE conference with NSEA organized sessions, I was very happy with the breadth of topics, our speakers, and our ability to avoid the dreaded manel.
The rest of the conference was lively and insightful. As always, I find that I am able to learn something useful even if the topic at hand doesn’t apply directly to antiquity. Nevertheless, there was plenty of material for those who study antiquity. In addition to the two NSEA panels, Richard Gordon gave a key note address that provided a longitudinal view of magic in antiquity and Jörg Rüpke also gave a key note lecture on the work being done in his group at the University of Erfurt.
The next ESSWE conference will be held in Amsterdam in 2019. I for one am looking forward to it!
(Photos of the Augustinerkloister and Mainz courtesy of Jimi Veale.)