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Esotericism in Bali between Tradition and Globality

Funding: German Research Foundation (DFG); Project duration: 2017-2021

During the past decades, esoteric movements have set foot on the Indonesian island of Bali where they could merge with the traditional religious context. Since then, Balishamans, the guru Ratu Bagus and the local Yoga movement have gained international attention - significantly boosted by spiritual tourism. However, virtually no research on Esotericism in Bali has been done so far. The present project aims to fill this gap: By exploring the three movements mentioned, it seeks to give a complete overview of Esotericism in Bali – in terms of its history, structure, and content.


The focus lies on a qualitative analysis of the various esoteric protagonists in Bali. Special attention is given to doctrines, practice, and the transformation process of Balinese Esotericism to make visible the amalgation of esoteric concepts with the traditional context of Bali. Furthermore, the structures of knowledge of the various esoteric adherents are to be characterized, to figure out how different biographical backgrounds can shape the conceptualization of Bali as a place of esoteric wisdom. This way, the conceptual fitting points can be revealed which made it possible for the several esoteric actors in Bali to unite their diverging fanbase to a single movement that can be identified as esoteric - by addressing concepts of global Esotericism along with the colonial idea of Bali as litte India and local visions of balineseness.


Researcher: Dr. Yan Suarsana

Recent Publications/Activities:

  • From Healer to Shaman. Theosophy and the Making of Esoteric Bali. In: Hans-Martin Krämer/Julian Strube (eds.): Theosophy Across Boundaries. [upcoming]
  • Die Insel der Weisheit. Balinesische Esoterik und globale Religionsgeschichte. In: ZfR 23/2 (2015), pp. 320-342.
  • From Healer to Guru. The Esoterization of Balinese Medicine. Paper submitted to the International Conference "Theosophy Across Boundaries" at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (24–26 September, 2015).
  • Die Insel der Weisheit. Zur Erforschung der Esoterik auf Bali. In: Jahresheft der Theologischen Fakultät der Universität Heidelberg 10 (2014/15).
  • Of Shamans, Gurus, and Witches. Esoteric Bali as a Global Concept. Paper submitted to the 5th ESSWE Conference "Western Esotericism and the East" in Riga, Latvia (16–18 April, 2015).