Theosophy and the Arts: Texts and Contexts of Modern Enchantment

Friday, October 9, 2015 - Saturday, October 10, 2015  9:00am International Affairs Building, Kellogg Center, Rooms 1501 and 1512


Piet Mondrian, "Broadway Boogie Woogie," 1942-1943


Gauri Viswanathan, Class of 1933 Professor in the Humanities

This is the second conference of the international research network Enchanted Modernities: Theosophy, Modernism and the Arts, c.1875-1960 funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The Network’s first conference, ‘Enchanted Modernities: Theosophy and the Arts in the Modern World’ held at the University of Amsterdam in 2013, mapped Theosophy’s varied influence on painting, sculpture, applied and decorative arts, music, architecture and other art forms in the period c.1875-1960. It focused on the translation of Theosophical ideas, especially those of key figures in the Theosophical Society in this period, such as Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Annie Besant, into material, visual, and audible form.

Register for the conference at the Eventbrite link.

The conference schedule is now available here. An accompanying booklet of abstracts, which contain full details of the conference papers, is available here. The conference website can be explored here, and the conference poster is here.

Theosophy was, without question, a major source of inspiration and influence for artists in the modern age. Our second conference, to be held at Columbia University on October 9–10 (Friday-Saturday), 2015, seeks to locate that influence within its cultural contexts and to trace the textual practices and philosophical, historical, and cultural traditions that produced and sustained Theosophy. This conference also seeks to explore the wider contexts of Theosophy’s influence in the arts. How can we locate Theosophical arts within broader cultural and social histories of the period c.1875-1960? Interest in Theosophical ideas was often far more than an aesthetic inclination. For many, Theosophy was useful precisely because it gave social and political purpose to the arts. Beyond these conscious commitments, how might we go about understanding the historical specificities of Theosophical arts? For example, how might we understand these arts in relation to class, gender and race, to momentous historical events such as the First World War, to geopolitics, or to the local politics of place?

In the first place, the writings of Blavatsky, Besant and other thinkers influenced by Theosophy are worthy of attention in their own right. How should we read these texts as contributions to modern (re)enchantment? How did these writings come to influence artists and thinkers in such a wide variety of fields, and what was the nature of that influence? Secondly, we should account for the textual life of Theosophy beyond its official publications: writers of fiction and poetry were influenced by Theosophical ideas, and artistic figures of all kinds produced their own texts, such as manifestos, which extended the textual reach of Theosophical enchantment. In addition, we might ask how Theosophical ideas made the transition between elite and popular forms of writing, for example, to genres such as science fiction and fantasy, and what this might tell us about the location of esoteric thought in modern culture. Thirdly, we should note the rapidly expanding social movements influenced by Theosophical writings, such as vegetarianism and animal anti-vivisection. How did these movements shape life practices and bring about cultural transformations?  Finally, we also invite reflection on the entanglement between Theosophy and the arts on the one hand and science, technology and medicine on the other. The period c.1875-1960 was one of momentous change not only in the arts, but also in the sciences: how might we trace the connections between artistic and scientific practice which formed in relation to Theosophy and related movements?


  • Toshio Akai

    Professor of Cultural Studies

    Kobe Gakuin University

  • Stefan Andriopoulos

    Professor of Germanic Languages

    Columbia University

  • Shiben Banerji

    Assistant Professor of Art History, Theory and Criticism

    School of the Art Institute of Chicago

  • Fae Brauer

    Research Professor for Visual Art Theory, School of Cultural Studies and Creative Industries

    University of East London

  • Helena Capkova

    Assistant Professor of Art History

    Waseda University, School of International Liberal Studies

  • Sarah Cole

    Professor of English and Comparative Literature

    Columbia University

  • Rachel Cowgill

    Senior Lecturer of Musicology

    University of Huddersfield

  • Giuliano D’Amico

    Associate Professor

    Norwegian University of Science and Technology

  • Joy Dixon

    Associate Professor of History

    University of British Columbia

  • Colin Duggan

    Researcher and Lecturer

    Univeristy College Cork, Ireland

  • Christine Ferguson

    Senior Lecturer in English

    University of Glasgow

  • Annika Forkert

    Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in Music

    University of Bristol

  • Pia van Gelder

    Research Associate

    University of New South Wales Australia

  • Emily Gephart

    Academic Faculty

    School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

  • Michael Gomes


    Emily Sellon Memorial Library in New York

  • Marta Ferrer Gómez

    Graduate Student in Latin American and Iberian Cultures

    Columbia University

  • Wouter Hanegraaff

    Professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents

    University of Amsterdam

  • Matthew Hart

    Associate Professor of English & Comparative Literature

    Columbia University

  • Linda D. Henderson

    David Bruton, Jr. Centennial Professor in Art History

    University of Texas at Austin

  • Chuang Chien Hui

    Specially Appointed Assistant Professor

    Osaka University

  • Christina Iglesias

    Graduate Student in English

    Columbia University

  • Massimo Introvigne

    Professor of Sociology of Religion

    Pontifical Salesian University

  • Paul Ivey

    Professor of Art History

    University of Arizona, College of Fine Arts

  • Serena Keshavjee

    Associate Professor of Art History

    University of Winnipeg

  • Ayla Lepine

    Lecturer in Art History

    University of Essex

  • James Mansell

    Assistant Professor in Cultural Studies

    University of Nottingham

  • Cóilín Parsons

    Assistant Professor of English

    Georgetown University

  • Marco Pasi

    Associate Professor in History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents

    University of Amsterdam

  • Susan Pedersen

    Gouverneur Morris Professor of British History

    Columbia University

  • Carmel Raz

    Lecturer in Music

    Columbia University

  • Christopher Scheer

    Associate Professor of Music

    Utah State University

  • J. Barton Scott

    Assistant Professor of Historical Studies and the Study of Religion

    University of Toronto

  • Jeremy Stolow

    Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies

    Concordia University, Montreal

  • Yuri Stoyanov

    Research Associate

    University of London School of Oriental and African Studies

  • Corinna Treitel

    Associate Professor of History

    Washington University in St. Louis

  • Sarah Victoria Turner

    Assistant Director for Research

    Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

  • Gauri Viswanathan

    Class of 1933 Professor in the Humanities

    Columbia University

  • Mimi Winick

    PhD Candidate in English

    Rutgers University

  • Christopher White

    Associate Professor of American Religious History

    Vassar College

  • Devin Zuber

    Assistant Professor of American Studies, Literature, and Swedenborgian Studies

    Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley


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