Hugh Urban

Hugh Urban

Hugh Urban

Professor, Comparative Studies

431 Hagerty Hall
1775 S. College Rd
Columbus, OH

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Areas of Expertise

  • Sexuality
  • Secrecy
  • Colonial and Post-Colonial Studies
  • New Religious Movements
  • Religions of South Asia
  • Religion and Politics
  • Comparative Religions


  • Ph.D. in History of Religions, University of Chicago

Hugh B. Urban is interested in the study of secrecy in religion, particularly in relation to questions of knowledge and power. Focusing primarily on the traditions of South Asia, he is author of Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics and Power in the Study of Religion (2003) and Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic, and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism (2006), among other books. He has a strong secondary interest in contemporary new religious movements, and has published articles on Heaven's Gate, Scientology and modern Western magic.



In Progress Secrecy: The Adornment of Silence, the Vestment of Power. Comparative Studies in Esoteric Religions. Under advanced contract with University of Chicago Press.

2011The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion (Princeton University Press).

2009 The Power of Tantra: Religion, Sexuality and the Politics of South Asian Studies (I.B. Tauris/ Palgrave MacMillan).

2007 The Secrets of the Kingdom: Religion and Concealment in the Bush Administration (Rowman & Littlefield).

2006 Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism (University of California Press).

2003 Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics and Power in the Study of Religion (University of California Press).

2001 The Economics of Ecstasy: Tantra, Secrecy and Power in Colonial Bengal (New York: Oxford University Press).

2001 Songs of Ecstasy: Tantric and Devotional Songs from Bengal (New York: Oxford University Press).


2011 “Millenarian Themes in the Hindu Religious Traditions,” in Handbook of Millenarianism, Catherine Wessinger, ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

In Press “Sexuality,” in The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, Glenn Magee, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2011 “Teaching Hindu Mysticism,” in Teaching Mysticism, ed. William Parsons. New York: Oxford University Press.

In Press “The Occult Roots of Scientology? L. Ron Hubbard, Aleister Crowley and the Origins of the World’s Most Controversial New Religion,” Nova Religio, 2011.

2010 “The Rundown Truth: Scientology Changes Strategy in War with Media,” Religion Dispatches, May, 2010.

2010 “Birth Done Better: Conceiving the Immortal Fetus in India, China and Renaissance Europe,” in Notes on a Mandala, ed. Laurie Patton. University of Delaware Press, 2010.

2008 "Secrecy and New Religious Movements: Religious Secrecy and Privacy in a New Age of Information,” Religion Compass,2, no.1, pp.66-83.

2008 "Matrix of Power: Blood, Kingship and Sacrifice in the Worship of Mother Goddess Kamakhya," South Asia (in press).

2007 “Machiavelli Meets the Religious Right: Michael Ledeen, the Neoconservatives, and the Political Uses of Fundamentalism.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 42, 1: 76-97.

2006 “The Secrets of the Kingdom: Spiritual Discourse and Material Interests in the Bush Administration.” Discourse 27, 1: 141-159.

2006 “Fair Game: Secrecy, Security and the Church of Scientology in Cold War America.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 74, no.2: 356-389.

2006 “America Left Behind: Bush, the Neoconservatives and Evangelical Christian Fiction.” The Journal of Religion and Society, 8 (2006).

2005 "Politics and Religion: An Overview." The Encyclopedia of Religion. Lindsay Jones, ed. New York: MacMillan, v.11, pp.7248-7260.

2005 "Religion and Secrecy in the Bush Administration: The Gentleman, the Prince and the Simulacrum, " Esoterica 7: 1-38. On-line at

2004 "Magia Sexualis: Sex, Secrecy and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism." The Journal of the American Academy of Religion 72: no.3: 695-731.

2004 “Songs of Ecstasy: Mystics, Minstrels and Merchants in Colonial Bengal.” The Journal of the American Oriental Society123, no.3: 493-519

2003 "The Power of the Impure: Transgression, Violence and Secrecy in Bengali Tantra and Modern Western Magic." Numen 50: 269-308.

2003 "Sacred Capital: Pierre Bourdieu and the Study of Religion." Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 15, no.4: 354-389.

2003 "The Beast with Two Backs: Aleister Crowley, Sex Magick and the Exhaustion of Modernity." Nova Religio 7, no.3: 7-25.

2003 “An Avatar for our Age: Sathya Sai Baba and the Cultural Contradictions of Late Capitalism.” Religion 33: 73-93.

2003 "Unleashing the Beast: Aleister Crowley, Tantra and Sex Magic in late Victorian England." Esoterica: The Journal of Esoteric Studies 5 (2003): 138-92. On-line at:

2002 “India’s Darkest Heart: Kali in the Colonial Imagination.” In Encountering Kali: In the Margins, at the Center, In the West. Edited by Jeffrey J. Kripal and Rachel Fell McDermott (Berkeley: University of California Press).

2002 "Spiritual Identity in a Transnational Age: Reflections on Religion and Globalization." Ohio State University Humanities Exchange 18: 13-14.

2002 “The Conservative Character of Tantra: Secrecy, Sacrifice and This-Worldly Power in Bengali Sakta Tantra." The International Journal of Tantric Studies 6, no.1.

2002 "Oblatio Rationabilis: Sacrifice in East and West." Sophia: The Journal ofTraditional Studies, v.8, no.1: 153-196.

2002 “A Dance of Masks: The Esoteric Ethics of Frithjof Schuon." In Crossing Boundaries: Ethics in the History of Mysticism, edited by G. William Barnard and Jeffrey J. Kripal (New York: Seven Bridges Press), pp.406-440.

2001 "The Omnipotent Oom: Tantra and its Impact on Modern Western Esotericism," Esoterica: The Journal of Esoteric Studies 3: 218-259. On-line at

2001 “The Marketplace and the Temple: Economic Metaphors and Religious Meanings in the Folk Songs of Colonial Bengal. ” The Journal of Asian Studies 60, no.4: 1085-1114.

2001 “The Path of Power: Impurity, Kingship and Sacrifice in Assamese Tantra.” The Journal of the American Academy of Religion 69, no.4: 597-637.

2001 “The Adornment of Silence: Secrecy and Symbolic Power in American Freemasonry.” The Journal of Religion and Society 3: 1-27. On-line at:

2001 “Syndrome of the Secret: Eso-centrism and the Work of Steven Wasserstrom.” The Journal of the American Academy of Religion 69, no.2: 439-449.

2000 “Making a Place to Take a Stand: Jonathan Z. Smith and the Politics and Poetics of Comparison.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religions 12, no.3: 339-378.

2000 “The Cult of Ecstasy: Tantrism, the New Age and the Spiritual Logic of Late Capitalism,” History of Religions 39: 268-304

2000 “The Devil at Heaven’s Gate: Rethinking the Study of Religion in the Age of Cyber-Space,” Nova Religio 3, no. 2: 268-302.

1999 "The Politics of Madness: The Construction and Manipulation of the 'Baul' Image in Modern Bengal," South Asia 12, no.1: 13-46.

1999 “The Extreme Orient: The Construction of ‘Tantrism’ as a Category in the Orientalist Imagination,” Religion 29: 123-146.

1998 “The Torment of Secrecy: Ethical and Epistemological Problems in the Study of Esoteric Traditions,” History of Religions 37, no.3: 209-248.

1997 “Elitism and Esotericism: Strategies of Secrecy and Power in South Indian Tantra and French Freemasonry,” Numen 44: 1-38.

1997 “The Poor Company: Economics and Ecstasy in the Kartabhaja Sect of Colonial Bengal,” South Asia 19, no.2: 1-33.

1997 “Disinterested Judgment and its Social Interests, in Kant and Abhinavagupta: A New Approach to Comparative Aesthetics,” The Comparative Civilizations Review 35: 15-41.

1996 “Zorba the Buddha: Capitalism, Charisma and the Cult of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh,” Religion 26: 161-182.

1995 “The Strategic Uses of an Esoteric Text: The Mahanirvana Tantra,” South Asia 18, no.1: 55-81.

1995 “The Remnants of Desire: Sacrificial Violence and Sexual Transgression in the Cult of the Kapalikas and in the Writings of Georges Bataille” Religion 25: 67-90.

1995 “Secret Bodies: Re-Imagining the Body in the Vaisnava-Sahajiya Tradition of Bengal,” The Journal of South Asian Literature 28, nos.1&2.

1994 “What Else Remains in Sunyata? An Investigation of Terms for Mental Images in the Madhyantavibhaga Corpus” (with Paul J.Griffiths), Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 17, no1.