Authored by: Andreas Önnerfors

The Occult World

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415695961
eBook ISBN: 9781315745916
Adobe ISBN: 9781317596769


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‘Illuminism’ is an expression that since the last decade of the eighteenth century has been used to denote a proto-romantic, esoteric and largely subversive undercurrent of Enlightenment reason. The origin of the concept lies within post-revolutionary conspiracy theories (primarily expressed by Augustin Barruel and John Robison) where ‘illuminism’ was used as a derogative term describing various esoteric practices such as somnambulism, Swedenborgianism or Martinist theosophy. But at the same time, illuminism was conflated with the ideology and teachings of the Bavarian Order of Illuminati (1776–85) and thus, current discussions often associate it with the assumed Illuminati agenda of radical political change. Hence it is sometimes difficult to make a clear-cut distinction between these two ambiguous usages of illuminism that can be found in the literature. Illuminism might refer to the principles and doctrines of the Illuminati themselves or to beliefs in and claims to extraordinary spiritual or intellectual enlightenment and its societal application. As it will emerge in the subsequent discussion, the academic treatment of illuminism has not always contributed to the clarification of the matter, but rather has preserved some ungrounded preconceptions concerning its meaning. This article treats the development of the concept in its original context, misconceptions as to its use, scholarly definitions and, finally, presents an epistemological revaluation identifying illuminism as a form of psychology avant la lettre.

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