Recycled Lives: A History of Reincarnation in Blavatsky's Theosophy

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This study historicises and contextualises the rebirth doctrines of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891), the matriarch of the Theosophical Society and one of the most influential women of the nineteenth century. It analyses Blavatsky’s complicated theories about the cosmos and its divine source as presented in her two seminal Theosophical treatises, Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Secret Doctrine (1888), as well as her articles and letters. The book argues that Blavatsky taught two distinct theories of rebirth and that the later one developed from the earlier. It reveals Blavatsky’s appropriation of a plethora of contemporaneous works in the construction of these doctrines and contextualises her interpretations in nineteenth-century intellectual and cultural life. In particular, it explores Blavatsky’s adaptations of Spiritualist ideas, scientific theories, Platonism, and Oriental religions, which in turn are set in relief against broader nineteenth-century American and European trends. The chapters come together to reveal the contours of a modern perspective on reincarnation that is inseparable from the nineteenth-century discourses within which it emerged. In addition, it reveals some consequential, perhaps unexpected, and evidently under-acknowledged historical roots of the reincarnationism that is so popular in today’s postmodern world.

Original languageEnglish
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages220
ISBN (Electronic)9780190909130
ISBN (Print)9780190909130
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Oxford University Press 2019.


  • Helena Blavatsky
  • Orientalism
  • Platonism
  • Spiritualism
  • Theosophy
  • esotericism
  • nineteenth-century culture
  • occultism
  • reincarnation
  • science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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