The Future of Religion (2001)

The Engelsberg Seminar 2001

Conference dates 15th to 17th of June 2001 Avesta/Engelsberg, Sweden

The position of religion in the western world today presents a contradictory picture. On the one hand there are many indications of a far-reaching secularisation having taken place. Traditional religions are in many places losing adherents and common knowledge of tradition is diminishing. Has the individual, in religion as in other matters, become an individualistic, “cherry-picking” consumer? There are indications that the hectic pace of the information society and its insistence on flexibility probably is transforming the conditions governing religious experience. Man’s increasing progression, through science and technology, from being created to himself becoming a creator, is probably also impacting on his relation to religion. On the other hand, it is arguable that secularisation is a myth. Perhaps people today believe in other things and in other ways, and possibly this really implies a revitalisation of religious life. Now, just as previously, there is a great need of meaning and coherence, and the discrediting of the political utopias, which in many ways were substitute religions, has put religion back in focus again. Science is triumphant but apparently has little to say about the meaning of existence and the nature of good and evil, even though it sometimes takes on an element of religious conviction itself. The new choices confronting us, for example due to the development of biotechnology, are perhaps making the normative system of religion still more important. There are fears today of western societies being fragmented, partly because they are no longer held together by common convictions and norms, and religion is perhaps necessary as an integrating force. At the same time religion is obviously contributing towards fragmentation by giving rise to sects and fundamentalist movements. How can religious convictions be united with the pluralism of modern society and its insistence on respect for dissidents? Will the fundamentalist movements, like communism, be vanquished by western liberalism, individualism and consumerism, or will they, on the contrary, acquire added importance? Or will the Gnostic ”tradition” instead shape the future, with its scepticism towards doctrinal faith and its emphasis on inward enlightenment?



The Sacred and the Profane

Paul Heelas
Professor, Lancester University
Lecture: The Sacralization of Life

Erik Davis
Contributing Editor, Wired Magazine
Lecture: Techgnosis – The Incarnation of Ideas

José Casanova
Professor, New School for Social Research, Department of Sociology
Lecture: Religion in a Global Age

Morton Narrowe
Chief Rabbi Emeritus
Lecture: The Sacred and Profane


Esotericism, Mysticism & Gnosis

Antoine Faivre
Professor, Directeur d’Etudes à l’E. P. H. E., Sciences Religieuses
Lecture: Western Esoteric Currents of this Turn of the Century. Continuity and New Perspectives

Gilles Quispel
Professor Emeritus
Lecture: Gnosis and the Future of Christianity – A Historical Survey

Elaine Pagels
Princeton University, Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion
Lecture: The Gnostic Approach to Religion



Robert Jay Lifton
Professor, The Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York
Lecture: Fundamentalism in a Psychoanalytic Perspective – The Self

John Farrell
Associate Professor of Literature, Chair Claremont McKenna College
Lecture: Religion and Freud – Secular Fundamentalism

Whitney Bodman
Doctoral Candidate, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University
Lecture: Islamic Fundamentalism

Massimo Introvigne
Doctor, CESNUR
Lecture: The New Religions in Practise

Rolf Ekéus
Lecture: Future Threats


The Future of Religion

John F. Haught
Professor, Georgetown University, Department of Theology
Lecture: Science, Religion and the Question of Cosmic Purpose

Harvey Cox
Professor, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University
Lecture: The Future of the Great Religions