By James A. Santucci
Every so often it is necessary to inform the readers of Theosophical History of the mission and goals of the journal. When I first took over the journal, I wrote in the first issue under my editorship (III/1 January 1990) that TH would “continue its role as an independent, impartial and scholarly journal conforming to the standards and expectations of the academic community.” It was a declaration that was specifically intended to support Leslie Price’s (the founder-editor of the journal) aspirations. In volume I, number 4 (page 62), he set forth in very explicit terms the degree of independence he considered necessary:
When “Theosophical History” was conceived, our relationship with the Theosophical societies was carefully considered. We decided to be independent, even of the Adyar Society, in which this editor [L.P.] is active….We feared that ownership by one society might lose us the confidence of other societies. We did not want the officers of any Theosophical group to be the target of pressure to stop or censor our publication.We were worried too, lest any of the fringe groups on the theosophical scene, some of them with limited sympathy for historical enquiry or free discussion, might use their influence to try to control our coverage.
This statement remains in effect. Theosophical History, if it intends to maintain its integrity, must continue to be independent and reflect impartial, academic principles of investigation. In this regard, the journal is first and foremost a history journal that considers Theosophical topics from a wholly empirical perspective. This editor does not consider it within his purview to arbitrate what teachings should be considered truly Theosophical or not.What the journal does provide is an inquiry into any and all historical questions within a Theosophical context. Statements of ‘Truth’ or of authenticity within such a context cannot and should not be deliberated; that is best left to Theosophical writers and journals.
As the editor of an historical journal, it is my task to ensure the publication of material that helps to expand our knowledge of Theosophy, to provide a forum for the free and open exchange of ideas, and to encourage the study of this topic within the framework of academic principles. Such principles include intellectual honesty, open-mindedness, and a critical application of research methods. Any violation of such principles, including the attempt to impose any degree of censorship based on some dogmatic, doctrinal, or ideological viewpoint on the one hand, or the exhibition of a lack of or improper utilization of research methods on the other, will not be condoned. The proper application of research methods must at the very least be supported by a sufficient data base; it must be free from any ideological agenda that might distort the data, and the analysis and conclusions must be intellectually rigorous. Readers should only expect from me an unflinching dedication to intellectual integrity and hard work: nothing more, nothing less.
Theosophical or theosophical?
The above discussion makes it abundantly clear that the more important term in the journal title is “History” and not “Theosophical.” Some may be disaffected by this assertion unless one maintains that the method of study is more important than the object of study. I base this on the strongly held belief that any existent res, any topic is worthy of study. All too often, we who are investigators or researchers–whether in religion, philosophy, and science–have to defend the study of a religious movement, a philosophical viewpoint, or an object of scientific inquiry against attack or ridicule based on an indubitably uninformed opinion towards the subject in question. Anything that is, is worthy of scrutiny. To take one pertinent example, the study of Theosophy and matters Theosophical in academe should, in my opinion, be allowed to proceed unhindered without recriminations from colleagues who consider the subject insignificant or unworthy. After all, the measure of historical inquiry is coeval with the totality of human activity and thought.
It is hardly expected that this history journal will inquire into the totality of human experience: obviously the limitations of the journal are given by the term Theosophical. How far afield does this field of inquiry take us? When Leslie Price initiated the journal in 1985, it was his intention to focus primarily on “the foundation of the Theosophical Society in 1875, and the history of the Theosophical movement since then….” He went on to write:
The assessment of a variety of bodies and impulses that claimed to be Theosophical, or even used different terms altogether but were once part of the same family, is part of our task. Names such as Alice Bailey, Annie Besant, William Q. Judge and Rudolf Steiner that are offensive to this or that group of Theosophists even today, will be found in our pages. (I/1:2)
Mr. Price’s statement is very timely in the present discussion. When I took over TH, it was due in part that it was established as an independent journal committed to an open inquiry into any topic that properly comes under the label “theosophical.” Although he defined the range of “Theosophical” inquiry to be 1875 and later, there was the occasional exception to the rule, such as Leslie Shepard’s “The ‘Anacalypsis’ of Godfrey Higgins.” It was my view that the inclusion of pre-Blavatskyite theosophy and related movements and teachings also would be of interest to the readership. Therefore, the journal’s purpose stated on the inside cover page is evidence of this broader interest.
In order to avoid confusion between what I perceive as two separate categories of “Theosophical” and associated terms, the journal will henceforth employ “Theosophical”, “Theosophist”, and “Theosophy”–all with capital ‘T’–to refer to the societies, individuals, and literature that derive their teachings directly from the writings of H.P. Blavatsky. Conversely, ‘theosophy’, ‘theosophical’, and ‘theosopher’ or ‘theosophist’–all with lower case ‘t’–include all teachings, organizations and individuals that may either predate those of H.P.Blavatsky or that possess only an indirect or superficial relationship to modern Theosophical teachings. Thus, ‘Theosophical’ would refer to all the various Theosophical societies (Adyar, Pasadena, U.L.T., and other organizations that are direct descendants of the 1875 T.S.), ‘Theosophist’ to members of such organizations, and ‘Theosophy’ specifically to the teachings discussed in the writings of H.P.B. and all publications directly derived therefrom. These writings include those of W.Q. Judge, Annie Besant, C.W. Leadbeater, G. de Purucker, B. P. Wadia, Robert Crosbie, and others who belong to the various Theosophical societies. Organizations such as AMORC, the Rosicrucian Fellowship, the Arcane School, the Anthroposophical Society, more recent movements such as Eckankar, the Church Universal and Triumphant, Morningland, the Aetherius Society, and individuals such as Alice Bailey, Rudolf Steiner, Max Heindel, Manly Hall, may all be considered ‘theosophical’ or ‘theosophers’ respectively.