The Theosophical Society: The History of a Spiritualist Movement

Jeffrey D. Lavoie is a doctoral candidate in the history of Western Esotericism at the University of Exeter in England. The program in which he studied was led by the late Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, author and editor of several books that have enriched the field of study in which he was a pioneer. Prior to his Exeter studies, Lavoie obtained a Master’s degree from Episcopal Divinity School and did post-graduate work at Harvard University. He is senior pastor of a Baptist congregation in Hanson, MA, and writes about Theosophy and Spiritualism not as a believer or disbeliever but as an objective scholar.

His 2012 study The Theosophical Society: The History of a Spiritualist Movement challenges the self-definition of Theosophy as entirely independent of Spiritualism, grounding his argument in abundant evidence that makes his study the best-documented and most thoroughly researched study of the TS. In the introduction he writes:

It is the belief of the author that despite the shifting claims made by Blavatsky and Olcott implying that the Theosophical Society was a separate organization distinct from Spiritualism…the Society remained open and embracing to Spiritualists. The second purpose of this work is to provide updated biographical information for the important figures related to these two movements who have largely been ignored by modern scholarship.(p5)

Among the figures illuminated by this study are Charles Carleton Massey, M.A. Oxon (Stainton Moses), Arthur Lillie, William Emmette Coleman, Richard Hodgson, Emma Hardinge Britten, and Alfred Russel Wallace. In his concluding remarks, Lavoie acknowledges that the relationship between Spiritualism and Theosophy “was much more complex than a simplistic dualist `yes’ or `no’ answer could provide.”(p355)

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