Received a positive response to my “brief technical report” from a number of my “big name” contacts including ISSSEEM President Norm Shealy Md PhD who requested I also offer a workshop at next year’s ISSSEEM.
I’m finalizing that submission over the next few days — Norm extended the deadline to 12/1.
Meanwhile, my friend and colleague Amy Beddoe referred me to a most interesting and Yoga Science relevant book, A History of Modern Yoga, 2005, by Elizabeth de Michelis.
De Michelis draws heavily upon the work of a recently opened scholarly field — history of Western esotericism:
Antoine Faivre at the Sorbonne holds the chair in History of Esoteric & Mystical Currents in Modern and Contemporary Europe. He has a number of books in English available at amazon. I’ve just ordered three: Modern Esoteric Spirituality 1992, Access to Western Esotericism 1994, and Gnosis and Hermeticism from Antiquity to Modern Times 1997. According to de Michelis, his is the first formal academic chair in esoteric studies ever.
Wouter Hanegraaff, a student of Faivre, is now Professor in History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Amsterdam. I’ve ordered his New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, 1996. His is the “second chair.”
De Michaelis herself is Director of the Dharam Hinduja Institute of Indic Research at the Cambridge Faculty for Divinity’s Center for Advanced Religious and Theological Studies (http://www.divinity.cam.ac.uk/CARTS/dhiir/default.html). I dont know if this qualifies hers as the “third chair.”
Taking a look at Wouter’s website (http://home.medewerker.uva.nl/w.j.hanegraaff/) you’ll see his recent publications prominently featured. Of perhaps greatest potential interest to Yogi Scientists will be the Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism 2006. I’ll wait for it to come out in paperback — but a used copy of this 2 vol 1200+ page must have book is available at half.com for $144. (It looks also to be available at “Brill Online” but I cannot figure out how much they want for a subscription.)
De Michelis has made, in my view. a most important contribution by tracing the dense network of connections that extend back now nearly three centuries between Hindus responding to the presence of Westerners in India taking their Hindu traditions seriously and Westerners finding new resources in India for their long-standing esotericist interests.
De Michelis sheds a bright light on the degree to which the Yoga so many in my generation have come to know and love over the past 40 years was “specially prepared” for a Western audience via this long process only now coming into focus.
Of particular interest to me is how “scientific” ideas from the West were deliberately and consistently incorporated as Yoga was being shaped.
Of particular importance for the Yoga Science, de Michelis reports that Hanegraaff points out that “a concern with synthesizing religion and science was already present in one of the main components of esotericism, Renaissance Hermeticism, at that it “has remained characteristic of esotericism up to the present day, and is the foundation of an ever-present ambiguity.”” (Hanegraaff 1996, p 396-7).
(It is precisely that “ambiguity” that has made me “a marginal man.” Fascinating to discover that perhaps there is a long history of others in a similar predicament.)
A most interesting factoid: the first American to ever refer to himself as a “yogi,” writing to a friend in 1849, was Henry David Thoreau!
The central figure in de Michelis’ story, however, is Swami Vivekanada — in his 1896 Raja Yoga she finds his seminal interpretation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras that laid the essential groundwork for the “yoga movement” we’ve seen in the West throughout the 20th Century, formed its “neo-Vedantic” source, along with his peculiar distortion of the Hindu tradition.
Of course, there are other most important Yoga currents to be found as well in how Buddhism has entered the West over the past century: via Zen, Vipassana, and, most recently a whole range of ancient Yogas preserved unlike anywhere else in Tibet.
But that is a whole other story.