The Campbell Theosophical Research Library

4th floor 484 Kent Street Sydney NSW 2000 Australia
Tel: (02) 9264 7056 Fax: (02) 9264 5857

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The Campbell Library Newsletter

theosophy   •   the theosophical movement   •   theosophical history

August 1999                                                                                  Issue No 2

The aim of this Newsletter is to provide information about The Campbell Theosophical Library. Research students, whether members or non-members of The Theosophical Society, are most welcome to use the Library. It is not a lending library but is available by appointment. For further information please contact Naomi Blumensaadt, the Library Coordinator, at the above address

Computer-based Journal Indexes

The Library recently installed comprehensive computer-based indexes of titles and authors of articles, from theosophical and theosophy-related journals and magazines. The indexes have been developed by Mr Gladney Oakley of Sydney and he has very generously donated them to the Library. They contain approximately 70,000 articles covering nearly fifty different journals. This resource is already proving of great value to researchers.

Two types of access to information in the computerised indexes are available:

  1. Find and list all articles/authors containing a given string of characters (eg part of title or author);
  2. Browse through indexes for a group of journals, with or without use of the search facility.

The indexed journals cover a wide range and include:
Theosophy in Australia and its predecessors under other names (eg The Australian Theosophist) dating from 1895 to the present, as well as lesser-known Australian journals eg The Upadhi (1892-93), Magic (1896);
The Theosophist (1879-the present);
Lucifer (1887-97)
Theosophical Review (1897-1909)
The Path (1886-96)
The New Californian (1891-94)
The Herald of the Star (1912-27)
Science Group Journal, Research Centre Journal, Theosophy-Science and Theosophical Research Journal (1957-88);
The Journal of Religion and Psychical Research (1979-the present).

Books of Special Interest

Among the Library holdings are many significant biographies. One such is The White Buddhist of Stephen Prothero, a recently published biography of Henry Steel Olcott. Colonel Olcott, an American, was one of the main founders, in 1875, of The Theosophical Society. He was International President of the Society for many years and his outstanding administrative ability provided a solid basis for the organisational structure and geographic spread of the Society. Olcott’s Old Diary Leaves, in six volumes, written from his own diary records, gives a fascinating account of the early years of the Society.

His was a many-faceted life — one aspect of which was his work on behalf of Buddhists in Ceylon. His important contribution there is widely acknowledged in that country, even to-day. The White Buddhist is, among other things, an account of his work there. Here are excerpts from a review, by Linda Harris, which first appeared in Theosophy Australia in September 1997 and reprinted with permission:

The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott, Stephen Prothero, Indiana University Press. Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1996, 242pp, hc.

While accounts and biographies of the life of Madame Blavatsky [a principal founder of The Theosophical Society] have abounded over the years, Colonel Olcott’s life and work have not enjoyed a similar degree of publicity. This recent biography of him is written by an historian, Stephen Prothero, Assistant Professor in the Religion Department at Boston University. Prothero describes his book as a ‘fish out of water’ tale, chronicling ‘the passage of a New Yorker from America to Asia in an age where “East” and “West” were in the process of inventing one another’. The ‘fish’ is Colonel Henry Olcott and the ‘water’ is 19th century America. The book’s title comes, of course from the Sinhalese people who hailed Colonel Olcott as one of their own -‘The White Buddhist’ - in recognition and appreciation of Olcott’s work in Ceylon.

The author freely admits in his preface that the work is one, not only of history, but also of criticism. He focuses in particular on the Colonel’s work on behalf of Buddhism and Hinduism in Asia. Hence as Prothero acknowledges, the book is not so much a full-blown biography as ‘a case study in cultural or religious contact or ... an examination of the complexities and ambiguities of the 19th century American encounter with Asian religious traditions’. The book seeks to address an imbalance of existing secondary literature which is ‘as skimpy on the Buddhist and Hindu side as it is weighty on matters theosophical’ and in this respect is very useful.

How many times have we heard that we are the product of our conditioning? In this vein, Prothero considers that Olcott’s adult life is best understood as an outgrowth of 19th century American Protestantism. As a result, he considers that Olcott’s faith represented a creative ‘creolization’ (mixture) of American protestant and Buddhist norms. Considerable emphasis is placed on his ‘Protestantisation’ of Buddhism. This a recurrent theme in the book along with anti-Christian statements made by Olcott. However, the author later acknowledges that a number of Christian missionaries working in Asia became the Colonel's friends and that he tempered his attitude toward Christianity over time. While Theosophical Society luminaries have made their mark over the years it is important for us to remember that they are human, rather than minor deities. The price they pay for their very public work includes the exposure, real or imagined, of various personal failings.

The breadth of Colonel Olcott’s life work is acknowledged by Prothero at the outset: ‘theosophist, attorney agricultural reformer, spiritualist, reporter, drama critic, cremationist, editor, investigator of Lincoln’s assassination, and indefatigable spirit’. Toward the end of the book, Olcott is described as not just a ‘reformer of Buddhism’ but ‘a reformer of religions’. However, in some respects the author appears to miss the mark in terms of understanding what Theosophy and The Theosophical Society are.

The White Buddhist provides a thorough coverage of the aspects of Colonel Olcott’s life that it sets out to address and gives a brief treatment of his early years and discovery of Theosophy. The book is extremely well-written as well as entertaining in places and is recommended for theosophical libraries. It is also recommended for those who are particularly interested in Olcott’s work for Buddhism and Hinduism, an interpretation of the broader nineteenth-century American encounter with Asian religions, and in the linguistic category of ‘creolization’ as a device for analysing situations of cultural contact and interreligious interaction.

The Campbell Theosophical Research Library is a part of The Theosophical Society in Australia.

The Society's Objects are:

  1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour;
  2. To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science;
  3. To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in the human being.

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