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Idealizing India: A transformative perspective on Theosophists contribution to education and politics (1879-1930)
Karlstad University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (starting 2013), Department of Political, Historical, Religious and Cultural Studies.ORCID iD: 000-0002-6959-1414
2016 (English)Book (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study (originally published as a thesis “Indien som utopi och verklighet: Om den teosofiska rörelsens bidrag till indisk utbildning och politik 1879-1930”, 2012) aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of the political ambitions and actions of the Theosophical Society within the emerging nationalist movement in India during 1879-1930.

   The enquiry takes place against the background of the research about the Theosophical Society having earlier been characterized by polarization and rigid standpoints. The interest that the movement has attracted for its role during the Indian movement for independence has since the 1980s diminished considerably in historical research. A question asked after the enquiry is: can the theosophists’ place in the history of Indian independence movement still be defended?

   The study is based on different kinds of textual sources: chiefly material of the movement for different addressee as well as archive material, personal letters and biographical material. Since the enquiry stretches over more than half a century I have also introduced brief historical summaries. Different theoretical perspectives have been applied depending on the historical context, and Ludwik Fleck’s theory of thought collectives and thought styles served as a general frame for interpreting the movement’s actions and development

     A central concern in this study has been the attempt to explain how a numerically small movement with its roots in the West could come to have political influence in India for a period of time.

The study starts off in a western historical context in an attempt to uncover ideas and reasons behind the movement's commitment to India. It focuses on a culture or civilization critique the Theosophical Society shared with several other contemporary movements.

The first part examines the theosophical movement's establishment in India. The relationship with other Indian reform movements has been identified and dividing lines behind the official's eclectic attitude have been shown. The theosophical activities in India can thus be understood in relation to its critique of the modern development of society. My study of the period partly indicates shifts in opinions over time and position-takings with clear elements of competition in relation to other reform movements.

The second part examines the theosophist’s involvement in education and discusses how the nationalist/theosophical educational ideals are reflected in tuition and in textbooks. Emphases on the connection to the students’ own reality in order to develop a national consciousness is central. The theosophist’s ambitions were to overcome the political and religious issues, but the network that was developed were too challenging to be accepted.

The third part examines theosophy in the open political arena. The pattern is partly the same in terms of methods to reach a consensus for the main target - Home Rule. The political challenges were reflected in an increased political mobilization, which broadened the political activities outside the Congress. But it also shows that there was an opposition in the theosophical movement to the politicization, also among leading theosophists. After the war the marginalization of Theosophy was obvious in politics when the theosophical leadership choseto opt out of the Congress under Gandhi's leadership.

The view of India that the theosophists contributed to establish is an India enriched by other cultures and religions during thousands of years. Islam is no exception. The threat was posed by Western materialism.


Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Karlstad: Karlstads universitet, 2016. , 300 p.
Keyword [en]
Theosophy, Modern Indian History, Nationalism, Education
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-41705ISBN: 978-91-7063-683-7OAI: diva2:919959

The book is a translation, originally published as a thesis “Indien som utopi och verklighet: Om den teosofiska rörelsens bidrag till indisk utbildning och politik 1879-1930”, 2012. ISBN 978-91-7063-425-3.

The book is published as a celebration on the Centennial Year of Banaras Hindu University which coincides with the Silver Jubilee of BHU-Karlstad University cooperation.

Available from: 2016-04-15 Created: 2016-04-15 Last updated: 2016-09-19Bibliographically approved

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