Looking Through the Occult

For the last year or so I've been co-organizing a conference entitled LOOKING THROUGH THE OCCULT: INSTRUMENTATION, ESOTERICISM, AND EPISTEMOLOGY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, a conference that ties together some themes from media archaeology, theology, and science studies. We've got a stellar lineup of scholars from Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, the USA, Canada and farther afield flying in for the event which will be in a week and a half here in Berlin. This conference is sponsored by the Social Innovation through Nonhegemonic Knowledge Production network, a transnational research initiative bringing together scholars in religious studies, media studies, anthropology, the history of knowledge, and other disciplines. It's funded by the German Research Foundation and partner universities in Germany, France, and Switzerland, as part of a broader program aims at reconsidering how ostracized and marginal forms of knowledge contribute to social innovation and renewal. A brief description is below (you may need click the headline of the post above to display this whole blog post, depending on how you logged into this page). More through documentation is online at http://www.culture.hu-berlin.de/occult.




Looking Through the Occult:

Instrumentation, Esotericism, and Epistemology in the 19th Century

November 14 & 15, Humboldt University of Berlin, Main Building (Hauptgebäude), Unter den Linden 6—Room 2103


*pre-register by writing to bernard.geoghegan@hu-berlin.de*

In recent years the history of science has cast new light on how technical instrumentation in the nineteenth-century shaped conceptions of scientific objectivity as non-subjective and independent of human intervention. A parallel body of research in media studies has demonstrated how the contemporaneous rise of technical media (e.g. telegraphy, photography) informed spiritualistic beliefs that automated, technical inscriptions would provide faithful representation of a transcendental or spiritualistic world. Looking Through the Occult brings together scholars in media studies, the history of technology, science studies, and religious studies to consider how these phenomena may interrelate. We will ask questions such as:

  • How did occult and spiritualistic beliefs in automatic writing relate to the scientific belief in “self-recording” instruments as a path towards an objectivity unperturbed by human intervention?
  • How might nineteenth century intersections between scientific and esoteric styles of reasoning inform the way we understand present-day technological and social innovations, in particular those that may run counter to traditional forms of scientific and hegemonic reason?
  • What shared forms of visual, graphical, and instrumental notation interpenetrate scientific , technological, and occult knowledge?
  • Do present-day efforts to transcend space, time, and social difference via social and mobile media recapitulate earlier spiritualistic and technological aspirations?

Conference findings, which will be disseminated as podcasts and in an edited book, will contribute towards a broader synthesis of media and religious studies with research in the histories of technology, science, and cultural techniques (Kulturtechniken).