Alice and Laurence Oliphant's Divine Androgyne and "the Woman Question"

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This article offers a historical and cultural analysis of two treatises of heterodox spirituality: Sympneumata (1885) and Scientific Religion (1888), and a novel, Massolam (1886). The main author was the celebrated Victorian diplomat Laurence Oliphant (1829-1888). Drawing on the teachings of the American "prophet" Thomas Lake Harris (1823-1906), Laurence Oliphant and his wife, Alice Le Strange (1846-1886), taught that everyone has a spiritual and physical complement of the opposite gender that can be encountered internally through spiritual practice. Humanity must abandon sexual intercourse in favor of individual communion with this counterpart, in order to return to its prelapsarian androgynous nature. Despite antecedents in earlier esoteric currents, the Oliphants' androgyne was a Victorian androgyne. It was intimately entwined with the pressing social, cultural, intellectual, political, and religious needs of a secularizing world in which the roles and rights of Woman were central-and contested-issues. It can be read as an answer to the nineteenth-century "problem of sex" and the "Woman Question," and it was both conservative and transgressive.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)498-529
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Religion
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Author.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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