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Title: The concept of reincarnation in theosophy
Author: Hall, Julie
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis is a historical analysis of the concept of reincarnation in the thought of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891), the chief theorist of the Theosophical Society, an esoteric movement established in New York in 1875. Developed in England, America and India, Theosophy drew on a range of sources including Hindu and Buddhist thought, Spiritualism, modem science and Western esoteric traditions such as Neoplatonism, Kabbalah and modem occultism. Theosophy has been highly influential, particularly in the development of contemporary alternative spiritualities and the New Age Movement. Drawing on other disciplines but working primarily as a historian of ideas, my research traces the development of Blavatsky’s theories of rebirth. Until 1879, she taught a doctrine of ascendant metempsychosis (meaning rebirth on higher worlds) combined with a theory of non-normative same soul reincarnation. After her move to India, she embraced a doctrine of normative reincarnation on this earth that still allowed for occasional ‘same soul’ reincarnation. I offer a reading of both Blavatsky’s earlier and later doctrines, including a detailed consideration o f their theology, internal logic, relation to other Theosophical concepts, position, and function within the wider Theosophical system. I provide an intellectual history that consists o f both a cultural and historical contextualisation and o f a source criticism based on the eighty or so most important texts that lie behind Blavatsky’s two major works Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Secret Doctrine (1888). My analysis includes a consideration of the relative influence of European and Oriental sources in Theosophical reincarnation, the construction of Blavatsky’s theory and the nature of her hermeneutic. This analysis of a small but significant portion of the Theosophical enterprise functions as a prism through which to view wider historical issues. The mature Theosophical doctrine of normative reincarnation may be considered an emblem for the encounter between the English-speaking world and Oriental religions, the relationship between religion and science, the emergence of esoteric currents in a modem context.
Supervisor: Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available