Theosophy across Boundaries

Transcultural and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on a Modern Esoteric Movement

Edited by Hans Martin Krämer & Julian Strube

Subjects: Theosophy, Esotericism And Gnosticism, New Age, Postcolonial Studies, Religion
Series: SUNY series in Western Esoteric Traditions
Paperback : 9781438480428, 486 pages, July 2021
Hardcover : 9781438480411, 486 pages, November 2020

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Theosophy across Boundaries
Julian Strube and Hans Martin Krämer

Part I: New Perspectives on Theosophy

1. Western Esotericism and the Orient in the First Theosophical Society
Wouter J. Hanegraaff

2. Hinduism, Theosophy, and the Bhagavad Gita within a Global Religious History of the Nineteenth Century
Michael Bergunder

3. Theosophying the Vietnamese Religious Landscape: A Circulatory History of a Western Esoteric Movement in Southern Vietnam
Jérémy Jammes

4. Theosophical Movements in Modern China: The Education Provided by Theosophists at the Shanghai International Settlement
Chuang Chienhui

5. Absence Unveiled? The Early Theosophical Society and the Entanglement of History and Historiography
Ulrich Harlass

6. Affinity and Estrangement: Transnational Theosophy in Germany and India during the Colonial Era (1878–1933)
Perry Myers

7. "To Study Judaism in the Light of Theosophy and Theosophy in the Light of Judaism": The Association of Hebrew Theosophists and Its Missions to the Jews and Gentiles
Boaz Huss

Part II: Theosophy in Literature, the Arts, and Politics

8. International Religious Organizations in a Colonial World: The Maha-Bodhi Society in Arakan
Laurence Cox and Alicia Turner

9. Euro-Asian Political Activist and Spiritual Seeker: Paul Richard and Theosophy
Hans Martin Krämer

10. An Irish Theosophist's Pan-Asianism or Fant-asia? James Cousins and Gurcharan Singh
Hashimoto Yorimitsu

11. Theosophy as a Transnational Network: The Commission of the Golconde Dormitory in Puducherry (1935–ca. 1948)
Helena Čapková

12. From Healer to Shaman: Theosophy and the Making of Esoteric Bali
Yan Suarsana

13. Effects of Theosophy on Russian Cultural History
Björn Seidel-Dreffke


Offers a new approach to Theosophy that takes into account its global dimensions and its interaction with highly diverse cultural contexts.


Theosophy across Boundaries brings a global history approach to the study of esotericism, highlighting the important role of Theosophy in the general histories of religion, science, philosophy, art, and politics. The first half of the book consists of seven perspectives on the activities of the Theosophical Society in very different regional contexts, ranging from India, Vietnam, China, and Japan to Victorian Britain and Israel, shedding new light on the entanglement of "Western" and "Oriental" ideas around 1900. The second half explores specific cultural influences that Theosophy exerted in the spheres of literature, art, and politics, using case studies from Sri Lanka, Burma, India, Japan, Ireland, Germany, and Russia. The examples clearly show that Theosophy was part of a truly global movement, thus providing an outstanding example of the complex entanglements of the global religious history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Hans Martin Krämer is Professor of Japanese Studies at Heidelberg University, Germany, and the author of Shimaji Mokurai and the Reconception of Religion and the Secular in Modern Japan. Julian Strube is a Research Fellow in Religious Studies at the University of Münster, Germany.


"This volume makes an important contribution to the global understanding of the Theosophical Society and its transcultural dimensions … Combining different perspectives and case studies, the volume impressively shows the need for interdisciplinary and transcultural research on the Theosophical Society. This collection, indeed, is an important contribution to the global history of religion." — Religious Studies Review

"There is much of value in this edited volume, with diverse voices representing different regions and countries and different disciplinary approaches … Theosophy across Boundaries is recommended for upper-division and graduate courses in religious studies, history, cultural studies, and esoteric movements and currents." — Nova Religio

"This book successfully demonstrates that the Theosophical Society and its derivatives crossed all sorts of intellectual and cultural boundaries, and it makes a strong case that these phenomena—long ignored because of their heterodox nature—must be given the attention they deserve. The volume will appeal to those with an interest in the history of New Age and esoteric thought, but its many strengths include that it reveals Theosophy's broader historical relevance, thereby introducing the movement to a wider audience." — Julie Chajes, author of Recycled Lives: A History of Reincarnation in Blavatsky's Theosophy