This research project seeks to explore the process of dissemination of Occultism in oriental society – as a modern western esoteric current – and the role of the Indian theosophists within the given context of British colonialism and neo-Hindu spiritual climate of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bengal. The study of the theosophical movement in Bengal remains an uncharted territory. This project will try to examine the historical development of Theosophy in Bengal in the colonial socio-spiritual space thus locating it within the broader understanding of Western Esotericism. The Theosophical Society started operating in India from 1879 under the leadership of H.P. Blavatsky and Colonel H.S. Olcott. The Bengal Theosophical Society was established in Calcutta in 1882 in the drawing room of Maharaja Sir Jatindramohan Tagore, one of the leading intellectuals of nineteenth century Bengal and a distant predecessor of Rabindranath Tagore. The Central Lodge in Calcutta, one of the earliest and highly significant branches of the Theosophical Society across the world, drew large numbers of members from the intellectual and social elites of Bengal and infused a curiosity among the Bengalis regarding occultism and Western Esotericism in general. This led to the appropriation of occult sciences from the West within indigenous colonial society and also refashioning of modern Hindu thought-world. The dissemination of western esoteric ideas to the society and culture of Bengal created a profound impact upon religion, politics, art and literature. This project will examine what was the process by which Occultism – as a western esoteric current – disseminated in the oriental society and culture of Bengal through the activities of the Bengal Theosophical Society during the colonial period and what was the role of the Indian, and specifically Bengali, theosophists in this process? This project will also try to find out how Theosophy created a closer interlink between Occultism and Religious Nationalism in colonial society under the guidance of Annie Besant and her Indian associates. Podcast Rejected Religion 24 September 2021 ‘Voices From Within’: An Indian Perspective on the Theosophical Society in 19th c. Calcutta
As part of the University of Amsterdam, our research falls under the umbrella of the Amsterdam School of Historical Studies (ASH) at the Faculty of Humanities.
As part of the Religious Studies unit the HHP centre participates in the interdisciplinary research group on Religious Dynamics and Cultural Diversity.
The presence in Amsterdam of the famous Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, situated in the Embassy of the Free Mind, and of the rich material of the Amsterdam University Library’s Special Collections (Bijzondere Collecties) provides important research facilities for our staff. The HHP’s strong emphasis on historical research of primary sources is greatly advanced by these libraries and collections.
The HHP centre is an intrinsic part of a larger international network that promotes, creates and distributes peer-reviewed academic research in the interdisciplinary field of Western esotericism.
The European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE) was founded in Amsterdam in 2005, the staff at the HHP centre continues to be deeply involved with the further development of this international learned society.
Current research projects at the HHP Centre
An overview of dissertations completed at the HHP centre.
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