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Stephen Prothero on "finessing" certain aspects of Olcott's life

Sep 07, 2004 06:45 AM
by kpauljohnson

Dear theos-talkers,

I had hoped to post some thoughts about religious studies scholarship,
access to scholarly resources in the hands of spiritual organizations,
and ethical considerations. Work has piled up over the long weekend
so I won't have time to share my own thoughts until this evening, but
in the meantime here is a crucial passage from The White Buddhist in
which the issues are addressed.

BTW Prothero has become one of the leading religious studies scholars
in the US and his most recent book American Jesus was widely reviewed
and praised. After commenting on Adyar's cooperation with his
research, I went back and reread his introduction and acknowledgments
and see that while The White Buddhist came out after my two SUNY books
on HPB, his research trip to Adyar was earlier than mine. In his
introduction he writes:

Inquirers interested in a vigorous defense of Olcott as co-sufferer
alongside Helena Blavatsky in the cause of truth will find no comfort
here, but neither will readers interested in a denunciation of Olcott
as Blavatsky's accomplice or dupe. I quite intentionally finesse
questions regarding, for example, the genuineness of spiritual
phenomena attributed to Blavatsky and the reality of her beloved
"Masters" or "Mahatmas." Happily, readers interested in these
subjects will not suffer for a lack of relevant texts. Believers and
skeptics alike have published a seemingly endless stream of tracts and
treatises on these matters, and I do not see anything to be gained by
adding my two cents. My tendency throughout, therefore is to bracket
any judgment not only of Blavatsky's work as a medium but also of
Olcott's various spiritual experiences. I do not know what criteria
might distinguish a genuine mesmeric healing for a fake one. And even
if I did, I do not pretend to occupy any privileged seat from which I
might objectively judge the relevant evidence. I endeavor instead
simply to interpret what those experiences might have meant to Olcott
himself and what significance they might have had on his life.(p. 11)

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