Collaborating with Patrick Bowen on Letters to the Sage has been a five year investment of time and energy, which we both look forward to completing this year. Meanwhile, he has two other recent publications in 2017 and another forthcoming in 2018. In Victorian Muslim Patrick addresses the milieu that led him to be interested in Thomas Moore Johnson: late 19th century Western converts to Islam. Abdullah Quilliam, the most prominent figure in early British Muslim history, is the subject of a scholarly collection published by Hurst Publishing in England, and distributed internationally by Oxford University Press. From the publisher’s description:
In this timely book, leading experts of the religion, history and politics of Islam offer new perspectives and shed fresh light on Quilliam’s life and work. Through a series of original essays, the authors critically examine Quilliam’s influences, philosophy and outlook, the significance of his work for Islam, his position in the Muslim world and his legacy. Collectively, the authors ask pertinent questions about how conversion to Islam was viewed and received historically, and how a zealous convert like Quilliam negotiated his religious and national identities and sought to indigenise Islam in a non-Muslim country.
Patrick’s chapter, “Abdullah Quilliam and the Rise of International Esoteric-Masonic Islamophilia,” identifies Quilliam as a member of more than a dozen fringe Masonic groups, most of them associated with John Yarker. This connects him to Letters to the Sage through Yarker’s correspondence with Johnson and their shared interest in Sufism (although Johnson was not a Mason.)
The second of three volumes of Patrick’s History of Conversion to Islam in the United States is subtitled: The African American Islamic Renaissance, 1920-1975. Published by Brill Publications in the Netherlands, the book (in the words of the publisher’s website)
offers an in-depth account of African American Islam as it developed in the United States during the fifty-five years that followed World War I. Having been shaped by a wide variety of intellectual and social influences, the ‘African American Islamic Renaissance’ appears here as a movement that was characterized by both great complexity and diversity. Drawing from a wide variety of sources—including dozens of FBI files, rare books and periodicals, little-known archives and interviews, and even folktale collections—Patrick D. Bowen disentangles the myriad social and religious factors that produced this unprecedented period of religious transformation.
More directly relevant to Letters to the Sage is a chapter Patrick contributed to a forthcoming 2018 publication from Oxford University Press, Imagining the East: the Early Theosophical Society. The chapter title, `”The real pure Yog”: Yoga in the Early TS and H.B. of L.’ is taken from a question asked by Josephine Cables in one of her letters to Thomas Moore Johnson. Here is a summary by the author:
This chapter argues two main points: First, that the H.B. of L., the Western occult order that was the main competitor of the TS in the 1880s, obtained an interest in yoga directly from its being promoted in the Theosophist magazine in the early 1880s. Second, that, as a result of this Theosophical influence, in 1885 the H.B. of L. became possibly the first Western organization to require the study and practice yoga for all of its members. Using previously unmined letters of early members of the TS and the H.B. of L., this chapter traces the history of yoga in these organizations. Yoga was introduced into the Western organized occult community in the early 1880s when considerable attention was paid to it in the pages of the Theosophist. This led to some English and American readers of the journal to start independently studying yoga. Then, in 1885, the newly-formed H.B. of L., a Theosophist-heavy organization that focused on practical occultism, began instructing members to read about and practice Theosophy-connected forms of yoga as a way to prepare for occult initiation. After 1885, the order ceased explicitly recommending yoga, but it retained some of the practices and ideas that it had originally gained from yoga, incorporating them into its revised teachings. Meanwhile, when some of the early members of the H.B. of L. left the group, such as Rev. William Ayton, they continued to take an interest in yoga and encourage others to study and practice it. In fact, it appears that it was primarily through Ayton that Aleister Crowley and other British occultists became interested in yoga.
I will also have a chapter in the same collection, “Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance,” which relates to the second volume of LTS through Alexander Wilder’s admiration for Peary Chand Mitra which features in several of his letters.