Secret Societies – History and Stories

Secret societies have been part of European intellectual and political life for a long time. In this course, we trace secret societies (e.g. Knights Templar, Rosicrucians, Illuminati, Freemasons) from their earliest occurrences in antiquity to their heyday in in the age of Enlightenment, to their influence in the founding of the United States, to present times. We engage in an in-depth study of the histories and stories, the “truth” and “untruth” of secret societies by exploring their origins (e.g. to protect and to pass on knowledge and to avoid religious and/or political prosecution), intentions, opponents, and various forms of representation in art, architecture, music, literature and film. Besides other materials we will discuss the following: Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia and Astronomer, Gothic cathedrals, buildings in Washington, DC, Mozart’s Magic Flute, Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol and Jon Turteltaub’s film National Treasure.