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The World of Ancient Gnosticism: Esoteric Traditions in Late Antquity


Admission requirements

Students are expected to have some knowledge of religion in the ancient world.


How do people come to believe that they do not really belong to this world, but to another, more perfect one? How do people learn about that other reality and come to believe that that reality is more important, more ‘real’ than the world in which they actually live? This course will discuss these matters by looking at Hermetism and Gnosticism in the context of the development of religious traditions in Late Antiquity. Gnosticism is considered not as a separate religion, but as a type of religious ideas and practices that could be found in most religious traditions of the late ancient world: Graeco-Roman religions, Christianity, Judaism, etc. It will discuss Gnostic Christianity, Hermetic literature, Manichaeism and the religion of the Mandaeans, and will attempt to show the connections between these developing movements and traditions. It will also pay attention to the ‘afterlife’ of these beliefs and practices in the development of Western esotericism.

Course objectives

Students will learn about the variety of ‘types’ of religion in the late ancient world, the necessity to develop a systemic perspective on religious change, the working of exegetical traditions as well as visionary, experiential dimensions of religion, the use of secrecy and initiation in the transmission of esoteric traditions, and the importance of this type of religiosity for a proper understanding of the development of Western esotericism.


Timetable Religiewetenschappen

Mode of instruction

Mix of lectures and seminar-style sessions .

Course Load

  • Amount of lectures: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks = 26 hours

  • Preparation: 2 hours per week x 12 weeks = 24 hours

  • Mid-term paper: 40 hours

  • Reading + final paper: 50 hours

Assessment method

  • Participation in class

  • Mid-term paper (take home examination; 40 %)

  • Final paper (60 %)
    Resit will consist of the same parts as the first opportunity.

Reading list

N. Denzey Lewis, Introduction to “Gnosticism”: Ancient Voices, Christian Worlds (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013; students need to buy this book)

Other readings will consist of primary and secondary literature: tba



Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Prof.dr. A.F. de Jong