First Review of Imagining the East, in Nova Religio, February 2021, Volume 24 Number 3

by W. Michael Ashcraft, Truman State University

This lengthy and thoughtful review appears in the current issue of Nova Religio, pp. 134-136. Re older and younger scholars, Patrick Bowen and I both contributed chapters, his directly and mine indirectly based on Letters to the Sage research. Here are the opening and closing paragraphs:

University of Copenhagen professors Tim Rudbøg and Erik Reenberg
Sand have edited a fine collection that sheds fresh light on the earliest
years of the Theosophical movement. The choice of contributors balances older and younger scholars very nicely. But be forewarned: the contributors assume that their readers know the debates among historians on early Theosophical history. The contributors demonstrate the truth of this assertion in the way they arrange the information in their chapters.
(p. 134)

In the third part of the book, contributors write about interactions
between Theosophists and Indian intellectuals in the important years
between the 1880s and India’s independence in 1947. Various movements among Indian thinkers and activists fed into the stream of the greater independence movement. Michael Bergunder explores Mohandas Gandhi’s relationship with Theosophists during his years in South Africa and in India until his death. Isaac Lubelsky considers the impact that Blavatsky had on Allan Octavian Hume, founder of the Indian National Congress. Sand traces the relationship between Theosophists and members of the Arya Samaj, a reform movement that promoted the Vedas as the basis for a renewed India. And K. Paul Johnson examines Theosophical figures involved in the Bengal Renaissance. This third part of the book contains persuasive arguments in favor of a new look at the role of Theosophists in the massive cultural and social changes leading up to Indian independence.
Imagining the East is a landmark collection. It could easily become one of the most important scholarly texts in the study of the Theosophical movement. Although its chronological scope does not extend past the first two decades of the twentieth century, the early years of the movement’s history are still considered the most important era of Theosophical development. There are still many questions about that era that have not been answered satisfactorily. Hopefully this book will inspire scholars to take a fresh look at older issues and conflicts.