Egil Asprem. Foto: Niklas Björling.

Egil Asprem

Biträdande lektor

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Works at Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies
Telephone 08-16 42 07
Visiting address Universitetsvägen 10 E, plan 7
Room E 722
Postal address 106 91 Stockholm 106 91 Stockholm

About me

Associate professor (docent) in the history of religions, with a focus on western esotericism, new religious movements and alternative spritiualities, and the cognitive science of religion.


I teach the courses “New religious movements and new spirituality” (Nya religiösa rörelser och nyandlighet”), “Western esotericism” (“Västerländsk esoterism”), and also lecture in the course “Theory and method” (“Teori och metod”).

I am interested in supervising projects (on all levels) on the following topics:

  • Western esotericism (middle ages to contemporary times)
  • Occultism
  • Ritual magic, contemporary paganism and shamanism
  • Occulture (esotericism and popular culture)
  • New religions and spiritualites / “new age”
  • Religion and science
  • Religion and conspiracy theories
  • Religious experience
  • Theory and method / philosophy of science (in the study of religion)


My research is primarily in the area of Western esotericism, with a special focus on modern and contemporary currents. Thematically, I am interested in issues such as the relationship between esotericism and science, the transformation of esoteric thought and practice during processes of modernization, and the cognitive and psychological basis for esoteric mentalities, interpretive strategies, and forms of practice. My publications cover a broad range of subjects in this area, including Western ritual magic, parapsychology, contemporary paganism and shamanism, theosophy and anthroposophy, modern kabbalah, new natural theologies, conspiracy theories, new age, popular science in/as popular religion, etc. I am also interested in questions of theory and philosophy of science as related to the study of religion in general and esotericism in particular, and have recently published a long series of articles on how current cognitive science can offer explanations for aspects of esotericism.

I am currently working on the project "Occult Minds: Esotericism as Cognition and Culture" and editing a large reference work for Brill on contemporary esotericism. In addition, I am also involved in developing a “building block approach” to religion and cognition in collaboration with Ann Taves at the University of California Santa Barbara, and am writing a book on how the new interest in mechanistic models of explanations within the philosophy of science sheds new light on the notion of “explanation” in the study of religion.

For more information about my work, please see:

My profile
My website


A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2016. Egil Asprem. Correspondences: Online Journal for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism 4, 1-34

    Scholars agree that the imagination is central to esoteric practice. While the esoteric vis imaginativa is usually attributed to the influx of Neoplatonism in the Italian Renaissance, this article argues that many of its key properties were already in place in medieval scholasticism. Two aspects of the history of the imagination are discussed. First, it is argued that esoteric practice is rooted in a broader kataphatic trend within Christian spirituality that explodes in the popular devotion literature of the later Middle Ages. By looking at the role of Bonaventure’s “cognitive theology” in the popularization of gospel meditations and kataphatic devotional prayer, it is argued that there is a direct link between the scholastic reconsideration of theimaginative faculty and the development of esoteric practices inspired by Christian devotional literature. Secondly, it is argued that the Aristotelian inner sense tradition of the scholastics left a lasting impression on later esoteric conceptualizations of the imaginative faculty. Examples suggesting evidence for both these two claims are discussed. The article proposes to view esoteric practices as an integral part of a broader kataphatic stream in European religious history, separated out by a set of disjunctive strategies rooted in the policing of “orthopraxy” by ecclesiastical authorities.

  • 2014. Egil Asprem.
  • 2017. Egil Asprem. Aries 17 (1), 17-50

    The imagination is central to esoteric practices, but so far scholars have shown little interest in exploring cognitive theories of how the imagination works. The only exception is Tanya Luhrmann's interpretive drift theory and related research on mental imagery cultivation, which has been used to explain the subjective persuasiveness of modern ritual magic. This article draws on recent work in the neuroscience of perception in order to develop a general theory of kataphatic (that is, imagery based) practice that goes beyond the interpretive drift theory. Mental imagery is intimately linked with perception. Drawing on "predictive coding" theory, the article argues that kataphatic practices exploit the probabilistic, expectation-based way that the brain processes sensory information and creates models (perceptions) of the world. This view throws light on a wide range of features of kataphatic practices, from their contemplative and cognitive aspects, to their social organization and demographic make-up, to their pageantry and material culture. By connecting readily observable features of kataphatic practice to specific neurocognitive mechanisms related to perceptual learning and cognitive processing of mental imagery, the predictive coding paradigm also creates opportunities for combining historical research with experimental approaches in the study of religion. I illustrate how this framework may enrich the study of Western esotericism in particular by applying it to the paradigmatic case of " astral travel" as it has developed from the Golden Dawn tradition of ritual magic, especially in the work of Aleister Crowley.

  • 2017. Egil Asprem, Markus Altena Davidsen. Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism 17 (1), 1-15
Show all publications by Egil Asprem at Stockholm University

Last updated: October 9, 2018

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