Theosophy and the Society in the Public Eye


London Review of Books, July 5, 2012, has a long and detailed article on Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) by Perry Anderson, entitled “Gandhi Centre Stage.” It includes the following allusion:

“The composition of Gandhi’s faith, [Kathryn] Tidrick [author of Gandhi: A Political and Spiritual Life (2007)] has shown, was born of a cross between a Jain-inflected Hindu orthodoxy and late Victorian psychomancy [‘occult communication between souls’], the world of Madame Blavatsky, theosophy, the planchette and the Esoteric Christian Union. The two were not unconnected, as garbled ideas from the former — karma, reincarnation, ascetic self-perfection, fusion of the soul with the divine — found occult form in the latter. Little acquainted with the Hindu canon itself in his early years, Gandhi reshaped it through the medium of Western spiritualisms of the period.”

Read more: Gandhi

Cultural Diversity

In Praise of the Clash of Cultures

Carlos Fraenkel – Canada

[Carlos Fraenkel is an associate professor of philosophy and Jewish studies at McGill University in Montreal, and the author of the forthcoming book, “Teaching Plato in Palestine.”]

On September 2 a fascinating article appeared in The New York Times and the compilers of Theosophy Forward recommend readers to follow the link underneath the introduction.

Read more: Cultural Diversity

Evidence in Science and Religion

A note from the compiler:

The New York Times of April 9, 2012, has an article by Stanley Fish, who is described in Wikipedia as a “Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and a professor of law at Florida International University, in Miami, as well as Dean Emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the author of 12 books.” The article is part 2 on its subject, but it begins by summarizing part 1, so can be read independently. It does not mention Theosophy, but it is a contribution to the activity prescribed by the Theosophical Society’s second object (which I slightly paraphrase to clarify what I believe is its meaning: “To encourage the comparative study of religion, philosophy, and science.”

Stanley Fish

Evidence in Science and Religion, Part Two

Stanley Fish – USA

In the post previous to this one, I revisited the question of the place of evidence in the discourses and practices of science and religion. I was prompted by a discussion on the show “Up w/ Chris Hayes” (MSNBC, March 25) in which Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins stated with great force and confidence that a key difference between science and religion is that the conclusions of the former are based on evidence that has emerged in the course of rigorous rational inquiry publicly conducted, while the conclusions of the latter are based on dogma, faith, unexamined authority, subjectivity and mere trust.

Read more: Evidence in Science and Religion

The Victory Boogie Woogie - A Corpse Dissected

Marty Bax – The Netherlands

Last week I received a review copy of a new book, from the Amsterdam University Press,  Marton Piet Mondrian, Inside Out Victory Boogie Woogie, edited by Maarten van Bommel, Hans Janssen and Ron Spronk.

Inside Out Victory Boogie Woogie

Mondrian had started on the painting Victory Boogie Woogie, in 1942, but it remained unfinished, because of his death in February 1944. The painting was purchased in 1998 from the collector, Samuel Irving Newhouse, at a whopping price of 82 million Guilders (approx. 37 million Euros) through a gift from the Dutch National Bank, to commemorate the introduction of the Euro into The Netherlands. The acquisition caused a public outrage, and even the House of Representatives raised questions about the way in which it was acquired. Today, however, the painting is on victorious display in the Gemeentemuseum of The Hague, and is, by now, a prominent attraction of the museum.

Read more: The Victory Boogie Woogie - A Corpse Dissected

Contraception and Theosophy

A book review in the New Yorker magazine of April 9, 2012 (pp. 77-80), entitled “The Case against Kids: Is Procreation Immoral?” examines that topic as it has been treated in two recent books on the subject offering opposite views.

Annie Besant

The review begins with a discussion of a little 1832 book by Dr. Charles Knowlton, Fruits of Philosophy: The Private Companion of Young Married People, by a Physician, which discusses several methods of preventing impregnation—all awkward and inefficient.

Read more: Contraception and Theosophy

Benjamin Lee Whorf, Theosophist

John Algeo – USA

Theosophy has greatly influenced artists and musicians, but also some in the broader areas of science, such as Benjamin Lee Whorf, a scientific linguist, who will be of interest to readers of this Web site.

Benjamin Lee Whorf

The Times Literary Supplement of March  23, 2012, has an article on Victoria Welby (in full, the Hon. Victoria Alexandrina Maria Louisa Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie, Lady Welby-Gregory, 1837-1912), a very unusual woman and a pioneer in the study of meaning via the analysis of linguistic expressions, which she called “Significs,” and the author of several books on that subject that influenced such later scholars as C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richardson, whose Meaning of Meaning (1923) depended on her work, and George Orwell, whose Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) also derived from her.

Especially indebted to her is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, derived from the work of Edward Sapir at Yale University but fully formulated by his student, Benjamin Lee Whorf and made generally known in a collection of Whorf’s papers, Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, ed. John B. Carroll, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1956. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis holds that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its speakers are able to think about the world. Physically we may be what we eat, but intellectually we are how we talk.

The TLS article ends (on page 15 of the issue) by observing that Benjamin Lee Whorf’s “work aims, overtly or covertly, at reconciling science and religion, a reflection  . . . of his lifelong commitment to Theosophy.”


Evolution & Amelioration

An article in an issue of the New York Times (Nov. 29, 2011) does not mention Theosophy but does treat a fundamental Theosophical idea, namely, that human evolution helps to perfect our species. The article concerns a linguist named Steven Pinker, whose most recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, argues that violence has declined during human history because evolution results in an improvement in human behavior. He maintains: “Even if we do have inclinations toward violence, we also have inclination to empathy, to cooperation, to self-control.” The implication is that evolution is not simply a matter of causation, but has a purpose; and that is a basic principle of Theosophy.

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