Letters to the Sage editor Patrick D. Bowen in a new Oxford University Press anthology

Imagining the East: the Early Theosophical Society has been announced by Oxford University Press as forthcoming in late 2019. The coeditors Tim Rudbog and Erik Sand are affiliated with the University of Copenhagen, and contributors are from major universities in the US, Germany, Israel, Canada, and the UK. Both coeditors of Letters to the Sage have chapters in the new anthology, but mine is unrelated to the Letters volumes while Patrick Bowen’s draws heavily on the Johnson correspondence. Here is his description from the beginning of the chapter, “The real pure Yog”: Yoga in the early Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor”:

This chapter traces the early use of yoga by both the TS and the Theosophist-heavy H.B. of L. in three parts. I examine, first, the role of the TS in transmitting yoga to Western audiences in the late 1870s and early 1880s, paying particular attention to why, how, and what forms of yoga were represented by the TS, which ultimately generated a relatively widespread interest in yoga in the Theosophical community. In section two, drawing largely from a collection of letters written to Thomas M. Johnson, a leading Theosophist and H.B. of L. member, I look at the H.B. of L.’s own appropriation of yoga. Here I focus on three aspects of this phenomenon: A) The circumstances—which themselves were highly conditioned by the TS—that permitted and encouraged the use of yoga in this group; B) The ways that the particular forms and elements of yoga that the group had access to were applied during the few months that yoga was explicitly prescribed; and C) The ways in which the influence of yoga on the H.B. of L. teachings persisted even after the order removed overt references to it. Finally, in section three, I discuss the legacy of the TS and H.B. of L. communities’ early use of yoga, highlighting both the direct and indirect influences of these organizations and their former members.


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