Lee Irwin

Professor Emeritus

In his own words
I have had a life-long interest in religion, spirituality, and comparative phenomenology of religious experience.  In pursuit of that interest, I have studied the world religions intensively with a strong emphasis on religious experience, such as visions and dreams, and comparative mythology.  My area of specialization is comparative religions of Native North American (including Maya and Aztec) and shamanism of Asia and Siberia.  I also have a very strong interest in eastern religions (MA thesis on Taoism) and Islamic Sufism.  As a comparativist, I am interested in studying religious phenomenology in its typological and morphological structures throughout all world religions.  I am also interested in the historical study and teaching of world religions.  My most recent research and teaching has been in the area of Western Esotericism and contemporary Gnostic and Hermetic spirituality.  I also teach Theory and Method in the history of religious studies as well as other topical courses in phenomenology.


Double BA, English and Philosophy, University of Delaware, 1968

MA, English, Indiana University, 1972

MA, Religious Studies, Indiana University, 1973

PhD, Interdisciplinary, Religion, Folklore, Anthropology, Indiana University, 1989

Research Interests

Native American Spirituality

Western Esotericism

Eastern Religions

Transpersonal Theory

Parapsychological Research

Courses Taught



Reincarnation in America: An Esoteric History Lexington Book, 2017. This work surveys the complex history of reincarnation theories across multiple fields of discourse in a pre-American context, ranging from early Greek traditions to Medieval Christian theories, Renaissance esotericism, and European Kabbalah, all of which had adherents that brought those theories to America. Rebirth theories are shown in all these groups to be highly complex and often disjunctive with mainstream religions even though members of conventional religions frequently affirm the possibility of rebirth. As a history of an idea, reincarnation theory is a current, vital belief pattern that cuts across a wide spectrum of social, cultural, and scientific domains in a long, complex history not reducible to any specific religious or theoretical explanation. This book is cross-disciplinary and multicultural, linking religious studies perspectives with science based research; it draws upon many distinct disciplines and avoids reduction of reincarnation to any specific theory. The underlying thesis is to demonstrate the complexity of reincarnation theories; what is unique is the historical overview and the gradual shift away from religious theories of rebirth to new theories that are therapeutic and trans-traditional

Coming Down From Above: Prophecy, Resistance, and Renewal in Native American Religions. University of Oklahoma Press, 2008. This work traces continuities in Native American prophetic traditions from eighteenth-century Delaware prophets to Western dream dance visionaries, showing that Native American prophecy was not merely borrowed from Christianity but emerged from an interweaving of Christian and ancient North American teachings integral to Native religions.

Esotericism, Art, and Imagination. University of Michigan Press, 2008. (Arthur Versluis and Lee Irwin, editors, along with others). Collected essays from the 2006 bi-annual conference for the Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE), volume one is the ASE series.

The Alchemy of Soul: The Art of Spiritual Transformation. Lorian Press, 2007, 266 pages. In this work the metaphors of alchemy are used to construct a metanarrative on spiritual development. The practice and theory of spiritual development is addressed from a Neo-Hermetic point of view with emphasis on the process of individuation and self-selected spiritual values. The framework is one of religious pluralism, transpersonal developmental theory, and post-modern cosmology.

Gnostic Tarot: Mandalas for Spiritual Transformation. U.S. Games System, 2005. This book is a discussion of the history of Tarot in Western Esotericism and a "gnostic" interpretation of each card aligned with reflections on elemental theory and a complex set of mandala layouts for doing self-reflexive readings.

Native American Spirituality: A Critical Reader.  University of Nebraska Press, 2000. A revised version with new articles of the American Indian Quarterly for which I was guest editor (1996 v20 n3-4 p1-309; Winter 1997 v21 n1 p1-72).

Awakening to Spirit: On Life, Illumination, and Being. State University of New York, Explorations in Contemporary Spirituality Series, Editor, Lee Irwin. Summer, 1999. A reconstructive post-modern work on the concept of "Spirit" in the form of philosophical meditations on 90 aphorisms.

Visionary Worlds: The Making and Unmaking of Reality. State University of New York, Series on Western Esoteric Traditions. Winter, 1996. A largely deconstructive work on issues of contem-porary religious identity and the creative aspects of religious pluralism.

The Dream Seekers: Native American Visionary Traditions of the Great Plains. University of Oklahoma, The Civilization of the American Indian Series, Volume 213, 1994. On the traditional "vision quest" as practiced among 23 tribes of the Greater Plains.

Selected Articles

“American Reincarnation: A Brief History.” In Jeffrey Long (ed.), Special volume on Reincarnation. Religions, 2017, Vol. 8(10), 35 pages; doi:10.3390/rel8100222 URL: http://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/8/10/222

“Finding the Song, Dreaming the Cure: Native Spirituality in the Context of Healing". In Jeffery Kripal, ed., Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks: Religion: Super Religion (New York, NY: Macmillan, 2017: 169-183).

“Panpsychism.” In Cambridge Handbook of Western Esotericism, edited by Dr. Glenn Magee. New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2016: 417-428.

“Mystical Knowledge and Near Death Experience.” Death, Dying, and Mysticism, edited by Christopher Moreman and Thomas Cattoi. NY: Palgrave MacMillan. 2015: 153-175.

“On Lucid Dreaming: Memory, Meaning, and Imagination.” Lucid Dreaming: New Perspectives on Consciousness in Sleep, edited by Ryan Hurd and Kelley Bulkeley. Two Volumes. Berkeley, CA: Praeger, 2014. Vol. 1: 103-126.

“Reincarnation: The Politics of the Psychonoetic Body in Western Esotericism.” Esotericism, Politics, and Religion, ASE series Vol. 3. North American Academic Press, 2012: 293-316.

"Chosen by the Spirits: Visionary Ecology and Indigenous Wisdom." Teaching Mysticism, edited by Dr. William Parsons, Rice University. Oxford University Press, 2011: 121-137.

“The Golden Elixir: Evolutionary Change and the Post-Modern World.” Seven Pillars House of Wisdom, On-line publication, Spring 2010.  http://www.sevenpillarshouse.org/article/the_golden_elixir/

"Esoteric Paradigms and Participatory Spirituality in the Teachings of Mikhaël Aïvanhov.” The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, Religious Studies, edited by Jorge Ferrer and Joel Sherman, January 2008: 197-224, SUNY Press.

"Walking the Line: The Pipe and Sweat Ceremonies in Prison.” Nova Religio Vol. 9/4 (2006): 39-60.

"World and Soul: An Alchemy of Conjoined Loves." Elixir: The Journal of Consciousness, Conscience, and Culture Vol. 1. Issue 2 (2006) 17-22, 117.

"Daoist Alchemy in the West: The Esoteric Paradigms." Esoterica Vol. VI (2004): 31-51.  http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeVI/Dao.htm

"Native American Spirituality: History, Theory, and Reformulation." In A Companion to Native American History edited by Phil Deloria and Neal Salibury. Blackwell Publishers, 2002: 103-120.

"Sending a Voice, Seeking a Place: Visionary Traditions Among Native Women of the Plains."  In Dreams: A Reader on the Religious, Cultural, and Psychological Dimensions of Dreaming, edited by Kelly Bulkeley. Palgrave Press, 2001: 93-110.

"Western Esotericism, Eastern Spirituality, and the Global Future," Esoterica Vol. 3 (2001): 1-47.

"Native Voices in the Teaching of Native Religions." Critical Review of Books in Religion, Vol.11: 1998. Also in European Review of Native American Studies (Winter 1998).

"Different Voices Together: Preservation and Acculturation in Early 19th Century Cherokee Religion." Journal of Cherokee Studies, Vol. 18 (1997): 3-26.

"Walking the Sky: Visionary Traditions of the Great Plains." The Great Plains Quarterly, Vol 14.4, (Fall, 1994): 257-271.

"Cherokee Healing: Myth, Dreams and Medicine." American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 16 (Spring, 1992): 237-257.