Occultism and Esoteric Religions in the U.S.

recommended by Daniel_Gorman_Jr_

These were books I read in grad school that helped me understand U.S. religions that emphasize the mind, combine elements of multiple traditions, and/or don’t fit into simple “denominational” boxes. There is a vast literature on these religions. The books here will get you started!

  • 1


    Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candombl?
    by J. Matory

    Matory talks about the influx of Yoruba traditions from West Africa, and how imported beliefs evolved into traditions like Candomble, Vodun, and Santeria. His big idea? African religions aren't static. They change. You'd be surprised how many authors over the centuries have falsely claimed that "Africa" is unchanging.

  • 2


    A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion
    by Catherine L. Albanese

    Albanese weaves together a vast web of religions in the Americas. She defines "metaphysical religion" as a category of religions emphasizing the use of the mind to interact with and affect the supernatural world. Freemasonry, alchemy, the study of obscure texts by "Hermes Trismegistus" and "Christian Rosenkreuz," Mormonism, New Thought, Spiritualism, Theosophy, UFOs, Shirley Maclaine and her past lives — they're all in here.

  • 3


    Paschal Beverly Randolph: A Nineteenth-Century Black American Spiritualist, Rosicrucian, and Sex Mag
    by John Patrick Deveney

    This mammoth book provides an uproarious and thorough biography of the black esotericist and Rosicrucian Paschal Beverly Randolph. Randolph's ideas about sexuality, magic, and the use of marijuana to fuel religious experiences round out the history of occultism in America. Best read in tandem with Albanese's "Republic"!

  • 4


    The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844
    by John L. Brooke

    Terrific history of the interplay between Mormonism, folk magic, and hermetic traditions. I recommend pairing this with D. Michael Quinn's "Early Mormonism and the Magic World View."

  • 5


    The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences
    by Jason A. Josephson-Storm

    Josephson-Storm shows how religious scholars of the 1800s–early 1900s thought they were being scientific, but still built Christian assumptions into their research, and also were deeply interested in the occult. Thus, the world wasn't disenchanted in the "modern" age, as much as scholars claimed it was!

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