The Leverhulme Trust awards an International Network grant to the History of Art Department

Posted on 16 July 2012

Dr Sarah Turner from the Department of History of Art will lead the 'Enchanted Modernities: Theosophy, Modernism and the Arts. c. 1875-1960' International Network over a period of three years.

'Music of Gounod' - a Thought Form from Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater, 'Throught Forms' (1901)

Bringing together scholars who are experts on the visual arts, music, sound and literature from all over the world, the Network's events will explore what the visual, material and performing arts can tell us about the relationships between Theosophy, modernity and mysticism c. 1875-1960. The research carried out by the Network’s partners will examine where and how artists, writers and performers came into contact with Theosophy and other mystical practices, and how Theosophical ideas, especially those of key figures in the Society in this period, such as Helena Blavatsky and Annie Besant, were given material, visual and audible form and shape.

Founded in 1875 in New York, the Theosophical Society quickly went global, attracting a cosmopolitan community of adherents worldwide. Often treated as a footnote in modern cultural history, there has been very little research about why this esoteric organisation was so popular with artists, musicians and writers in this period and, furthermore, what impact it had on their artistic endeavours. The purpose of this international and interdisciplinary network is to bring together scholars working on the interconnections between mysticism and modernism across the arts.

The 'Enchanted Modernities' network will be managed by Dr Sarah Victoria Turner in the Department of History of At at York and includes five other partners: Professor Gauri Viswanathan (Columbia University, New York); Professor Rachel Cowgill (University of Cardiff); Dr Christopher Scheer (Utah State University); Dr James Mansell (University of Nottingham) and Dr Marco Pasi (University of Amsterdam). Dr Helena Capkova (Waseda University, Japan) will be a visiting scholar associated with the Network's activities. Conferences in Amsterdam and New York are already being planned, as are two exhibitions: one at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum at Utah State University and one at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York. A a research trip to the Theosophical Society's International Headquarters Library in Chennai, India, will take place in December 2013. The Fry Street Quartet based at Utah State University will travel to partner institutions to play concerts of Theosophically-inspired music. It is hoped that these activities will bring together new, interdisciplinary research on Theosophy, modernism and the arts and display it to international audiences through talks, exhibitions, perfomances and publications. 

The activities of this Leverhulme Trust-funded International Network formally beign on 15th October 2012.