Scientific ideas have not just fostered secularity and religious decline, as Max Weber famously argued, they have also been used to help people believe in the existence of unseen, heavenly realms and recover imaginative spaces for the supernatural. In a similar way, religious beliefs are not inevitably antagonistic to science, but have shaped scientific theories and practices as we can see in the case of astrology, alchemy, and the various strands of esoteric thought that have influenced natural philosophers and theologians across the ages and globe. This did not end with the birth of modern science. Einstein, along with quantum mechanics, showed, for example, that nature behaved in confounding ways: clocks ticked more slowly the faster they traveled; events that were simultaneous to one observer were not to another; gravity caused time to slow down; space could be bent and distorted by large objects; energy and mass were interchangeable; and, perhaps most bewilderingly of all, quantum mechanics couldn’t be reconciled with General Relativity, which implied there were two sets of laws and mathematical equations, one for large and another for subatomic particles. Modern physics consequently brought back those “mysterious incalculable forces” Weber thought had been banished forever. This led to an explosion of popular metaphysical speculations dealing with free will, the mind/body problem, the mystery of consciousness, and the possibility of multiple coexisting universes in the work of many artists, writers, philosophers, and speculative scientists, not to mention sci-fi authors and devotees of New Age religions.
We invite papers and panel proposals dealing with the way esoteric ideas, theories, and practices have shaped the scientific imagination from the ancient to the modern world in both the East and West.