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Hugh Urban

Hugh Urban playing dotara (Indian instrument)

Hugh Urban

Professor, College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Comparative Studies


431 Hagerty Hall
1775 S. College Rd
Columbus, OH

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Professional Website

Office Hours

By appointment. Please email me for a time to meet.

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
  • MA in Religious Studies University of Chicago
  • BA in Religion, Philosophy, and Art, George Washington University
  • Antioch University Buddhist Studies Program, Bodh Gaya

Hugh B. Urban is interested in the study of secrecy in religion, particularly in relation to questions of knowledge and power. His work focuses primarily on religions of South Asia and new religious movements in the United States. He is the author of numerous books, including:  Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics and Power in the Study of Religion (2003), The Power of Tantra (2010), The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion (2011), and Secrecy: Silence, Power and Religion (2021). He is also an avid amateur mycologist and member of the Ohio Mushroom Society. 



2022  The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Secrecy, co-edited with Paul Christopher Johnson (Routledge)

2021  Secrecy: Silence, Power, and Religion (University of Chicago Press).

2018   Irreverence and the Sacred: Critical Studies in the History of Religions, co-edited with Greg Johnson (Oxford University Press)

2016   Zorba the Buddha: Sex, Spirituality and Capitalism in the Global Osho Movement (University of California Press)

2015   New Age, Neopagan, and New Religious Movements: Alternative Spirituality in Modern America (University of California Press)

2011   The 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).


2022 "Dark Webs: Tantra, Black Magic and Cyberspace." International Journal of Hindu Studies 26, no.2: 237-252.

2022 "Modernity and Neo-Tantra." In The Oxford Handbook of Tantric Studies, edited by Glen Hayes and Richard Payne (Oxford University Press).

2021  “The Knowing of Knowing: Neo-Gnosticism, from the O.T.O. to Scientology.” In Gnostic America: The Afterlives of Gnosticism in American Religion and Culture, 105-121. Ed. by April DeConick and Jeffrey J. Kripal. Leiden: Brill.

2021    “My Life in a Love Cult: Tantra, Orientalism and Sex Magic in Early Twentieth Century Fiction.” In Fictional Practice: Magic, Narration and the Power of Imagination, 203-222. Ed. by Bernd-Christian Otto and Dirk Johannsen. Leiden: Brill.

2021     “Assam.” Oxford Bibliographies of Hinduism. https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195399318/obo-9780195399318-0245.xml?rskey=prEIYR&result=1&q=hinduism+in+assam#firstMatch

2020    “Horrifying and Sinister Tantriks.” In Bollywood Horrors: Religion, Violence and  Cinematic Fears in India, 78-93. Ed. by Ellen Goldberg, Aditi Sen, and Brian Collins. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

2020     “Scientology.” In Handbook of UFO Religions, 329-342. Ed. by Benjamin E. Zeller. Leiden: Brill.

2020    “The Poetics and Politics of Comparison: From Revolutionary Suicide to Mass Murder.” In Remembering J.Z. Smith: A Career and its Consequences, 19-27. Ed. by  Russell McCutcheon. Sheffield: Equinox.

2019 "The Goddess and the Great Rite: Hindu Tantra and the Complex Origins of Modern Wicca." In Magic and Witchery in the Modern West, edited by Ethan Doyle White and Shai Feraro (Palgrave MacMillan)

2019  “The Knowing of Knowing: Neo-Gnosticism, from the O.T.O. to Scientology.” Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies 4: 99-116.

2019 . “Poétique et politique de la comparaison: suicide révolutionnaire ou meutre collectif.” Asdiwal: Revue genevoise d’anthropolgie et d’histoire des religions 13: 61-68.

2019  “The Cradle of Tantra: Modern Transformations of a Tantric Center in Northeast India, from Nationalist Symbol to Tourist Destination.” South Asia 42, no.2.

2019  “Dancing for the Snake: Possession, Gender, and Identity in the Worship of Manasa in Assam.” Journal of Hindu Studies 30, no.7: 1-26.

2018  “Death, Nationalism, and Sacrifice: Ritual, Politics, and Tourism in Northeast India.” In Irreverence and the Sacred: Critical Studies in the History of Religions, eds. Hugh B. Urban and Greg Johnson. New York: Oxford University Press.

2018  “Introduction: Destabilizing the Sacred.” In Irreverence and the Sacred: Critical Studies in the History of Religions, eds. Hugh B. Urban and Greg Johnson. New York: Oxford University Press.

2018  “Rajneeshpuram was More than a Utopia in the Desert; It was a Mirror of the Time.” Humanities 39, no.2.

2018 “The Theology of Stephen K. Bannon.” Religion and Politics 1 (2018): 93-96. Reprinted from 2017 online edition.

2017 “Typewriter in the Sky: L. Ron Hubbard’s Fiction and the Birth of the Thetan.” In Scientology and Popular Culture, ed. Stephen Kent and Susan Raine, pp.33-52. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

2017 “The Third Wall of Fire: Scientology and the Study of Religious Secrecy.” Nova Religio 20, no.4: 13-36.

2017 “The Theology of Stephen K. Bannon.” Religion & Politics, April 17. http://religionandpolitics.org/2017/04/17/the-theology-of-stephen-k-bannon/

2016 “Esotericism Socialized: Esoteric Communities.” In Secret Religion: Gnosticism, Esotericism, and Mysticism, ed. April DeConick. New York: MacMillan.

2016 “Purity.” In The Handbook for the Study of Religion, ed. Steven Engler, pp.609-622. New York: Oxford University Press.

2016 “Secrets, Secrets, Secrets! Concealment, Surveillance and Information Control in the Church of Scientology.” In The Handbook of Scientology, ed. James R. Lewis, pp.279-299. Leiden: Brill.

2016 “Deseo, Sangre y Poder: Georges Bataille y el Estudio del Tantra Indü en el Noreste de la India.” Revista Cientifica Arbitrada de la Fundacion MenteClara, 1, no. 3 (2016).

2016 “Rajneesh and Tantra: A History.” The Utne Reader, September 2016. http://3www.utnereader.com/mind-and-body/rajneesh-ze0z1609zfol.

2016 “Rajneesh, the Guru who Loved his Rolls Royces.” The Wire, May 12, 2016. http://thewire.in/2016/05/12/rajneesh-the-guru-who-loved-his-rolls-royces- 34755/

2015 “Disclosure.” In Vocabulary for the Study of Religion, ed. Kocku von Stuckrad. Leiden: Brill.

2015 “Sexuality.” In The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, ed. Glenn Magee. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2015 “Desire, Blood and Power: Georges Bataille and the Study of Hindu Tantra in Northeast India.” In Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion, ed. Kent Brintnall and Jeremy Biles, pp.68-80. Fordham University Press, 2015.

2015 “New Religious Movements and Religious Diversity.” In The Blackwell Companion to Religious Diversity, ed. Kevin Schilbrack. London: Blackwell.

2015 “The Medium is the Message in the Spacious Present: Channeling, Television and the New Age.” In Handbook of Spiritualism and Channeling, ed. Cathy Gutierrez, pp.319-339. Leiden: Brill.

2014 “Sex Magic.” In The Occult World, ed. Christopher Partridge, pp.564-70. New York: Routledge.

2014 “Paschal Beverly Randolph.” In The Occult World, ed. Christopher Partridge, pp.231-33. New York: Routledge.

2013 “Zorba the Buddha: The Body, Sacred Space and Late Capitalism in the Osho International Meditation Resort.” Southeast Review of Asian Studies 35: 32-49.

2013 “The Church of Scientology.” In Revisionism and Diversification in New Religious Movements, ed. Eileen Barker. London: Ashgate.

2013 “The Church of Scientology.” Virginia Commonwealth University, World Religions and Spirituality Project, ed. David Bromley. http://www.has.vcu.edu/wrs/about.htm.

2013 “The Secrets of Scientology: Concealment, Information Control and Espionage in a Controversial New Religion.” In Contemporary Esotericism, ed. Egil Asprem and Kennet Granholm, pp.181-199. Equinox Publishing.

2012 “The Occult Roots of Scientology? L. Ron Hubbard, Aleister Crowley and the Origins of a Controversial New Religion,” Nova Religio 15, no.3: 91-116.

2012 “Tantra, American Style: From the Path of Power to the Yoga of Sex.” In Transformations and Transfer of Tantra in Asia and Beyond, ed. Istvàn Keul, pp.457- 494. Berlin: De Gruyter.

2012 “The Occult Roots of Scientology: Aleister Crowley, L. Ron Hubbard and the Origins of a Controversial New Religion.” In Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism: An Anthology of Critical Studies, ed. Henrik Bogdan and Martin P. Starr. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

2011 “The Womb of Tantra: Goddesses, Tribals and Kings in Assam.” Journal of Hindu Studies 4: 231-247.

2011 “Teaching Hindu Mysticism.” In Teaching Mysticism, ed. William Parsons, pp.11- 25. 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.

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

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

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 http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeVII/Secrecy.htm

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: http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeV/Unleashing_the_Beast.htm

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 http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeIII/HTML/Oom.html

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: http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/toc/2001.html

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.