Blavatsky and the Lives Sciences

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This article considers how the matriarch of the Theosophical Society, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) constructed the category "science," situating this construal within a world in which the boundaries of "legitimate" science were more contested than they are today. Focusing on her teachings on rebirth, the article demonstrates that Blavatsky's doctrines owe a considerable debt to the scientific theories under discussion at her time of writing. It explores her debt to the controversial physicists Balfour Stewart (1828-1887) and Peter Guthrie Tait (1831-1909), her hostility towards the popular materialist monism of Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), her hatred of Darwinism, and her preference for theories of evolution influenced by German Romanticism, such as the progressivist versions of orthogenesis proposed by Carl Wilhelm von Nägeli (1817-1891), Karl Ernst von Baer (1792-1876), and Darwin's nemesis, Richard Owen (1804-1892).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-286
Number of pages29
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.


  • Darwinism
  • Ernst Haeckel
  • German Romanticism
  • Helena Blavatsky
  • The Unseen Universe
  • Theosophy
  • evolution
  • materialism
  • nineteenth-century science
  • orthogenesis
  • recapitulationism
  • reincarnation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy


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