"TO MIX OR NOT TO MIX": SYNCRETISM/ANTI-SYNCRETISM IN THE HISTORY OF THEOSOPHY

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Abstract

Once defined as a "mishmash of religions," syncretism has been referred to as a meaningless, derogatory and essentialistic term which should be banned from the fields of religio-historical research. Written in defence of the category, this article provides a review of problematic aspects and recent attempts to deal with them. Particularly useful in this concern, anthropologists Rosalind Shaw and Charles Stewart have suggested a demarcation between "syncretism" (as the politics of religious synthesis) and "anti-syncretism" (as attempts to protect religious boundaries). Taking their tools as a starting point, this article discusses shifting tendencies in the history of Theosophy. The Theosophical Society started out, it is argued, as a hyper-syncretistic religion, while at the same time promoting anti-syncretism on behalf of other religions. More recently, these strategies have been replaced by efforts to protect boundaries and demarcate its Blavatskian roots.

"TO MIX OR NOT TO MIX": SYNCRETISM/ANTI-SYNCRETISM IN THE HISTORY OF THEOSOPHY

in Numen

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