The Theosophical Society and politics: esoteric discourse, esoteric monism, and theosophical identity in late 19th and early 20th century Britain and Ireland
University College Cork
This thesis addresses the connection between esotericism and political ideas in the formative decades of the Theosophical Society, including Irish dimensions. The Theosophical Society provided the most influential and widespread forum for esoteric discourse in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This thesis examines how the introduction of the term ‘universal brotherhood’ as one of the Society’s core principles led to an increase in political discourse among the membership of a supposedly ‘neutral’ and apolitical institution. It argues that political and social reform-inspired interpretations of this idea helped to legitimise calls for theosophists to involve themselves more practically in improving the conditions of society. The resulting debates about universal brotherhood brought two of the Society’s other central ideas under scrutiny; the individualist nature of spiritual evolution and the neutrality of the Society with respect to individual beliefs, such as the belief in guiding masters. These three topics were debated and negotiated in the Society’s journals, among a global network of publishers and authors. In this thesis, contributions from two significant periods in the Society’s history are discussed in detail to highlight their centrality. One is the period leading up to the secession, in 1895, of the American Section, under the leadership of William Q. Judge. The second examines the events of Annie Besant’s presidency that led to her eventual rejection of the principle of neutrality in 1916. Several Irish individuals are discussed to demonstrate the importance of esoteric discourse to their political actions and it is argued that the concept of ‘esoteric monism’ provides the most cogent explanation for the connection between esotericism and politics in these cases.
Theosophy , Theosophical Society , George Russell , Esotericism , James Cousins , Margaret Cousins , Western esotericism
Duggan, C. 2018. The Theosophical Society and politics: esoteric discourse, esoteric monism, and theosophical identity in late 19th and early 20th century Britain and Ireland. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.