Sunday, February 12, 2012

Vanguard of the New Age: The Toronto Theosophical Society, 1891-1945

The Toronto Theosophical Society was one of the most notable of the Theosophical groups, and Gillian McCann’s forthcoming book, Vanguard of the New Age: The Toronto Theosophical Society, 1891-1945, due in May from Mcgill-Queen’s University Press in Canada, tells the story of this group “that introduced Victorian Toronto to Eastern thought and theology, vegetarianism, reincarnation, cremation, and the pacifism of Mohandas Gandhi.”

Vanguard of the New Age unearths a largely ignored dimension of Canadian religious history. Members of the Toronto Theosophical Society were among the first in Canada to apply Eastern philosophy to the social justice issues of the period - from poverty and religious division to the changing role of women in society. Among the most radical and culturally creative movements of their time, the Theosophists called for a new social order based on principles of cooperation and creativity. Intrigued by this compelling vision of a new age, luminaries such as members of the Group of Seven, feminist Flora MacDonald Denison, Emily Stowe, and anarchist Emma Goldman were drawn to the society.

Meticulously researched and compellingly written, this careful reconstruction preserves Theosophist founder Albert Smythe’s dream of a culturally distinct, egalitarian, and religiously pluralist nation. Gillian McCann is assistant professor in the Religions and Cultures Department at Nipissing University.

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