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Empire of ReligionImperialism and Comparative Religion$

David Chidester

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780226117263

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226117577.001.0001

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Spirit of Empire

Spirit of Empire

(p.257) Chapter Nine Spirit of Empire
Empire of Religion

David Chidester

University of Chicago Press

Abstract and Keywords

Focusing on the authentication of knowledge about religion and religions, this chapter examines three versions of authenticity—interfaith, theosophical, and critical—that emerged within imperial comparative religion. Interfaith comparative religion, which is illustrated by the Religions of Empire Conference organized in 1924 by the colonial agent and nature mystic Francis Younghusband, was authenticated by adherents describing their own faiths. The presentation by South African Albert Thoka demonstrated problems in this approach by rendering African religion as nature mysticism. Theosophical comparative religion, which invoked secret wisdom as authentic knowledge, directly challenged mainstream scholarship. In 1927, the theosophist Patrick Bowen published his discovery of secret wisdom among the Zulu of South Africa that was authenticated by being the same as Theosophy. Critical comparative religion, which relied on the authenticating power of the footnote, is illustrated by comparing the handling of the Zulu term Itongo (spirit) by Friedrich Max Müller, E. B. Tylor, Andrew Lang, and James Frazer.

Keywords:   authentication, Frazer, interfaith, Lang, Max Müller, Theosophy, Thoka, Tylor, Younghusband, Zulu religion

The genius of the Empire is to make every nation that you conquer feel that you bring them into the Imperial Family.


In August 1907, hoping to revive the manly and military spirit of the British Empire, Robert Baden-Powell (1857–1941) founded the Boy Scouts. As a professional soldier in the British imperial army, Baden-Powell drew upon his military experience in India, West Africa, and South Africa in creating a movement that imitated military discipline, particularly imitating the khaki uniforms, green and gold colors, and motto, “Be Prepared,” of the South African Constabulary that came under his command after the South African War.1 As an amateur ethnographic enthusiast, Baden-Powell derived songs, myths, and rituals from his experience in British imperial wars against the Zulu, calling upon all Boy Scouts to imitate the Zulu war song and war dance as a ritual for instilling military discipline and martial courage among British boys. Introduced in Baden-Powell’s scouting manual of 1908, Scouting for Boys, the Zulu war song, recast as the “Scout’s Chorus,” was to be performed in a formalized war dance:


  • Een gonyâma-gonyâma.

  • Invooboo.
  • Yah bôbô!
  • Yah bô!
  • Invooboo.
  • The meaning is—

  • “He is a lion!”

  • “Yes! He is better than that; he is a hippopotamus!”2
  • This appropriation by the Boy Scouts of a Zulu war song, however, required an authenticating original. Baden-Powell accounted for that original (p.258) in describing how he had first heard this Zulu song in 1888 while serving in a British regiment that sought to contain the resistance of the Zulu king Dinizulu. His column was joined by two thousand Zulu warriors under the leadership of John Dunn, a white Zulu chief. Baden-Powell told of his original encounter with the Zulu war chant: “I heard a sound in the distance which at first I thought was an organ playing in Church. … But when we topped the rise we saw moving up towards us from the valley below three long lines of men marching in single file and singing a wonderful anthem as they marched. Both the sight and the sound were intensely impressive.”3 Like a church organ, this sacred anthem, with its wonderful polyphony, its immense roar of sound, exhibited authentic intensity, but it was also part of a structure of authentication based on subordination to a chief, even if the authentic Zulu chief in this case was John Dunn, the appointed chief of Scottish background, because this was the song that the Zulu warriors used to sing to their chief. In appropriating this Zulu war song, Baden-Powell reinforced the very notion of an authenticating original, certifying the authenticity of his imitation.

    However, the question of the authenticity of any Zulu war dance poses a problem that can be easily resolved by recalling the research findings of South African historian Jeff Guy: there was no such thing.4 Although delegates of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1905 were convinced they had witnessed a genuine Zulu war dance, even if assegais had been replaced by sticks, the original notion of a Zulu war dance was a British colonial construction, built out of a mix of misunderstanding, paranoia, and propaganda, which has no originating authenticity. Rituals of purification, for example, could be rendered in colonial reports as war dances. As the anthropologist Charles Lindholm has argued, claims to authenticity tend to be based on an alignment with either a genealogical origin or an essential content.5 If there never was any such thing as a Zulu war dance, then no one could possibly include it in their genealogy or faithfully reproduce its essence in the present. They would have no historical ground on which to stand. However, the Boy Scouts, informed by the Zulu war song and war dance, circulated throughout the British Empire.

    In 1921, the president of the Theosophical Society and founder of the Indian Boy Scout Movement, Annie Besant (1847–1933), recited the Scout Promise before Chief Scout Robert Baden-Powell at a ceremony in India. Designated as the “Honorary Commissioner for All India of the Boy Scout Movement,” in 1932 she received “The Silver Wolf” in recognition of her service to scouting.6 Having been a prominent feminist, socialist, and activist (p.259) for Irish home rule, Besant discovered Theosophy and moved to India to work for Indian independence. How did she reconcile her antiimperialist campaigns in Ireland and India with the implicit imperialism of the Boy Scouts? Ashis Nandy and Shiv Visvanathan have proposed that she rejected Baden-Powell’s imperialism and appropriated from the Boy Scouts themes that matched her own interests, highlighting love of nature, skill in woodcraft, and kindness to animals; the last theme resonated with her opposition to vivisection and promotion of vegetarianism.7 However, from her theosophical perspective, Annie Besant also had a vision of the spirit of empire. “The genius of the Empire,” she observed, “is to make every nation that you conquer feel that you bring them into the Imperial Family, that they and you from that time forward are brothers, and not conquered and conquerors.”8 In the Theosophical Society, the notion of brotherhood had a specific resonance, since the ancient wisdom upon which the society was based had been derived from the spiritual adepts of Tibet, the Great White Brotherhood. As the unseen governors and administrators of the universe, this ancient brotherhood maintained the spiritual empire of theosophy. However, in theosophical terms, Besant affirmed the unifying power of the British Empire, observing that in the cycle of reincarnation, the ancient Egyptians had been reborn as ancient Romans and had been reborn again as modern Anglo-Saxons in London, “again Empire-building.”9 Although she imagined an imperial system in the future that was “not an Empire made by force but a commonwealth made by mutual goodwill and friendliness,” Great Britain remained the center of Besant’s theosophical world order.10 In this respect, she could easily make common cause with Chief Scout Baden-Powell in working to revitalize the spirit of empire.

    As a theosophist, Annie Besant directly engaged imperial comparative religion, since one of the guiding principles of the Theosophical Society was to advance the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science. In The Ancient Wisdom, she observed that anyone could recognize the similarities among the religions of the world. How should those similarities be explained? According to eminent scholars of comparative religion, the unity of religions could be explained as the product of primitive human origins, savage origins in which “religions have grown up on the soil of human ignorance tilled by imagination,” evolving from fear or desire, fetishism or animism, as “fear, desire, ignorance, and wonder led the savage to personify the powers of nature, and priests played upon his terrors and hopes, his misty fancies and his bewildered questionings.” Whether they preferred a solar theory or a phallic theory, the Doctors of Comparative Mythology (p.260) traced religion to this savage origin. In opposition, Besant demanded: “Are all man’s dearest hopes and loftiest imaginings really nothing more than the outcome of savage fancies and of groping ignorance?” Rejecting the findings of the doctors of imperial comparative religion, Annie Besant proposed an alternative explanation for the unity of religions: all religions originated in the teachings of a universal brotherhood of spiritual masters. Besant argued, “The second explanation of the common property in the religions of the world asserts the existence of an original teaching in the custody of a Brotherhood of great spiritual Teachers, who—Themselves the outcome of past cycles of evolution—acted as the instructors and guides of the child-humanity of our planet, imparting to its races and nations in turn the fundamental truths of religion in the form most adapted to the idiosyncrasies of the recipients.”11 Contradicting the evolutionary assumptions held by the authorities of imperial comparative religion, Besant insisted that religion had been imparted, in its original purity, by a spiritual brotherhood. Although that pure revelation might have been distorted, its essence could be recovered. Comparative religion, as practiced by the Theosophical Society, was a project of recovery.

    Developing an alternative approach to the study of religion, theosophical comparative religion rejected the findings of scholars such as Friedrich Max Müller, E. B. Tylor, Andrew Lang, and James Frazer, even if the “savage” remained a crucial reference point. In Annie Besant’s account of the ancient wisdom, the savage featured as both opposition to theosophy and the point of departure for the theosophical version of evolution. On the one hand, savagery was opposed to theosophy. Besant stressed “the immense differences that separate the lowest savage and the noblest human type in mental and moral capacities.”12 In this respect, theosophical attention to race, with its seven root races, placed savages at the bottom of the human hierarchy. Their minds, Besant insisted, were radically different from the mind of a philosopher or a saint. On the other hand, savagery was posited as the beginning of the evolution of human souls, through many lifetimes, in what Besant described as “the stages of man’s ascent, from the lowest savagery to the divine manhood.”13 Convinced that a secret brotherhood governed the universe like an imperial bureaucracy, Besant held that each soul proceeded on a long evolutionary trajectory from savagery to theosophy. In their understanding of savagery, theosophists and imperialists found common ground.

    Focusing on savagery, this chapter reviews three versions of imperial comparative religion—interfaith, theosophical, and critical. First, interfaith (p.261) comparative religion was on display during 1924 at an imperial conference in London that featured religious adherents speaking about their own faiths, including a presentation by an African from South Africa, Albert Thoka, who outlined the indigenous nature mysticism of the Bantu. While interfaith comparative religion relied upon the authentic voices of religious adherents, nature provided a common ground for religious unity. The unifying force of nature was a conviction firmly held by Francis Younghusband, who was a leader of the conference, an explorer, a soldier, a spy, and the founder of the World Congress of Faiths. Revisiting this conference at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924, we will see how savagery was incorporated in interfaith comparative religion. Second, theosophical comparative religion, which was central to the mission of the Theosophical Society, was evident in the report in 1927 by Patrick Bowen, who, by his own account, was also a soldier, an explorer, and a secret agent; he reported on a secret African brotherhood that had preserved the ancient wisdom in Africa. While the Great White Brotherhood of the Himalayas taught the ancient wisdom in Sanskrit, identifying the Universal Spirit as the Atma, the African Brotherhood used the Zulu language to convey the same truth of the Universal Spirit as the Itongo. Although Bowen’s discovery might be unbelievable, it recovered African savagery for theosophy. Finally, in counterpoint to interfaith and theosophical comparative religion, we will review the theoretical work of imperial theorists of religion—Friedrich Max Müller, E. B. Tylor, Andrew Lang, and James Frazer—by looking back at how they dealt with the Itongo, the Zulu term for spirit, in theorizing religion. As simple as it might sound, these theorists advanced a critical comparative religion by providing footnotes.

    Interfaith Comparative Religion

    From September 22 to October 3, 1924, under the auspices of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, and the Sociological Society, the Imperial Institute in London hosted an interfaith event, “Religions of the Empire: A Conference on Some Living Religions within the Empire.” Linked with the British Empire Exhibition of 1924–25, this conference featured representatives of the ancient religious traditions and new religious movements that had been encompassed within the vast scope of the British Empire. Speakers explained the tenets of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Jain, and Sikh traditions as well as those of more recent religious movements such as Brâhmo Samâj, Ârya Samâj, and the Bahâ’i Cause. (p.262) The organizers explained that the “spokesman of each religion should be one who professed such religion.”14 By inviting presentations from religious adherents, the Religions of the Empire conference looked back to the precedent of the World’s Parliament of Religions held in Chicago during the Columbian Exposition of 1893, which provided a model for interreligious dialogue.15 The organizers hoped that interreligious understanding would form the basis for the peaceful coexistence of all the religions under imperial rule. This aspiration was shared by the speakers. For example, in his presentation, “The Spirit of Islam,” Mustafa Khan expressed his ambition for the conference by declaring: “Let us hope that it will lead to a better understanding among the apparently conflicting religions of the British Empire; and will thus bring about a permanent peace and tranquility in humanity.”16 Representatives of Christianity and Judaism were not included in the program on the grounds that these religions should already be familiar to the audience in London. By excluding familiar religions, however, the conference gave the impression that it was gathering together representatives of strange foreign religions, “queer religions,” as the Times reported, perhaps because they were perceived as potentially threatening to peace within the empire.

    In addition to the precedent of the World’s Parliament of Religions, the organizers invoked the series of conferences in the history of religions that began in Paris in 1900 and convened at Basel in 1904, Oxford in 1908, and Leiden in 1912.17 Although claiming this academic lineage, the Religions of the Empire conference clearly departed from the principle that had been established in Paris as a fundamental rule: All presentations and discussions about religion must be historical rather than confessional. At the imperial conference in 1924, religious adherents confessed their faith not only in their own religions but also in the unity of religions and the peace of the British Empire. For some speakers, the unity of religions was evident in the meeting of East and West. While Mustafa Khan proclaimed the East as the source of religious light for the West, G. P. Malalasekera observed that the Buddhist revival in Ceylon, under British rule, was “combining all that is best in both the East and West.”18 New movements, in particular, stressed interreligious unity, such as the Brâhmo Samâj understanding of the “harmony of religions” and the Bahâ’i commitment to “religious unity.”19 In summarizing the entire proceedings, Rev. Tyssul Davis of the Theistic Church observed that the conference had demonstrated the central finding of the study of religion, the unity of religions. “Every student of comparative religion knows,” he asserted, “that the same truths are taught in the great (p.263) religions.”20 According to many speakers, religious unity was ensured by the peace of empire, which Pandit Shyam Shankar identified as the “grand lesson of religious toleration given by the Imperial Government.” Although the spokesperson for Jainism employed a minimal definition of peace by insisting that “the Jains are a law-abiding people; their criminal record is marvelously white,” most participants embraced a larger vision of religious toleration, harmony, and unity under British imperial rule.21

    Religious unity and imperial peace were ideals fervently held by a driving force behind the Religions of the Empire conference, the soldier, explorer, and mystic Sir Francis Younghusband (1863–1942). Over a long career in the British military and colonial administration, Younghusband served imperial interests in China, India, and Tibet. He also acted as a Times correspondent in South Africa, reporting on the intensifying conflict between Boers and British uitlanders.22 While leading the British invasion of Tibet in 1903–4, Younghusband had a mystical experience of union with the entire world. Combining a “deep inner-soul satisfaction” with a sense of “being literally in love with the world,” as he later described this transformative experience, Younghusband’s mysticism was also a kind of imperial patriotism, a “patriotism extended to the whole universe.”23 As his mystical interests developed, Younghusband saw the unity of religions, blending East and West, manifest in reverence for nature and devotion to empire. Just as humans must find themselves in nature, he held, the English could “only attain their full personality in an England which has personality,” a personality revealed in the spirit of empire.24

    Giving the opening address at the Religions of the Empire conference, Francis Younghusband observed that the rationale for the gathering was to highlight the spiritual development of empire. While the empire’s material development was obvious, the conference demonstrated that the British took “count also of its spiritual development.” Inviting representatives to describe their religious views, Younghusband asserted that their different religious perspectives could all be drawn into providing a spiritual foundation for imperial unity. “Our conference,” he declared, “will be a potent means of advancing that sacred cause of religion.” But he also suggested that the empire itself was a sacred cause. Invoking the imperial spirit of Queen Victoria, he maintained that she was worshipped by her subjects, citing the imperial faith of “one of the great Chiefs of India,” who reportedly declared, “To be in her presence was like being in a temple: she was divine.”25 For Younghusband, therefore, the unity of religions within the empire was underwritten by a spiritual recognition of the religion of (p.264) empire. Recalling Max Müller’s vision of the entire empire extending out from Queen Victoria’s throne, Francis Younghusband expanded this imperial vision by reporting that colonized subjects also beheld the divinity of the British Empire.

    These religious transactions between empire and subjects were spiritual but also natural. In his presentation at the end of the conference, “Man and Nature,” Francis Younghusband celebrated a natural mysticism that communed with the “soul of nature” and established “fellowship with Nature.” Discerning divinity in nature, he asserted, “Nature and God are one and the same.”26 Attention to nature as a common ground for adherents of all the religions of the empire was a recurring theme in the last section of the conference, which was devoted to social and psychological reflections on religion. While the sociologist Victor Branford observed that “man and nature must balance,” the naturalist J. Arthur Thomson proposed that nature reveals “a glimpse of a continued divine creation.”27 However, the most detailed exposition of the religion of nature was presented in the section devoted to primitive religions by Albert Thoka of Pietersburg, South Africa. In his exposition, “The Bantu Religious Ideas,” Thoka explained how his people, the Bapedi, adhered to a nature mysticism that understood God as He was revealed through nature and nature as providing glimpses of God.

    In her introductory note to this section, Alice Werner, who served on the organizing committee for the conference, pointed to the recurring themes— animism and ancestor-worship—that ran through the four presentations on primitive religion. Here the principle of religious adherents speaking on behalf of their own faiths broke down. The Anglican Archdeacon of New Zealand, the venerable H. W. Williams, provided an account of the indigenous religion of the Maori. Richard St. Barbe Baker, the former assistant conservator of forests, Kenya Colony, and founder-in-chief of the African Forest Scouts, described the religious beliefs and practices of East Africa. Captain L. W. G. Malcolm, who had served in the West African Frontier Force before securing a position in the Department of Archaeology and Ethnology, Bristol Museum, described the religions of West Africa. These lectures differed in style, with Baker’s personal observations and anecdotes about the Kikuyu, “my friends,” contrasting with Malcolm’s ethnographic description, supported by relevant literature, and systematic analysis with reference to imperial theorists such as E. B. Tylor and James Frazer.28 Nevertheless, all three departed from the principle that speakers should describe their own religions. In this context, the presentation by Albert Thoka was particularly striking for featuring an African explaining (p.265) African religion. As Alice Werner observed, his presentation was also striking for its spiritual sophistication. “His paper may surprise some readers,” she warned, “who are not prepared to find so spiritual a view of the universe taken by people whom they are accustomed to regard as savages.”29 Speculating that his contact with Europeans and an English education might have led him to insert alien religious ideas into his account of Bantu religion, Werner defended its authenticity, maintaining that Albert Thoka was articulating themes that were implicit in his tradition.

    There are other striking features of this presentation, “The Bantu Religious Ideas.” Although Thoka is a common surname in Pietersburg (now Polokwane), South Africa, Albert Thoka does not seem to feature anywhere else in the historical record. The African Yearly Register, a “Who’s Who” of Africans in South Africa, published by Mweli T. D. Skota in 1930, includes C. Thoka of Pietersburg, “General Dealer and Fresh Produce,” but makes no mention of Albert Thoka, evidently an accomplished African intellectual, who represented African religion at a major international conference.30 Unlike his contemporary, S. M. Molema, who also emerged as an African intellectual, historian, and scholar of religion while in the United Kingdom, Albert Thoka left no trace of his education or accomplishments. In his paper for the Religions of the Empire conference, Thoka certainly employed a self-effacing style by referring to Africans in the third person, describing what “they,” “the natives,” or “the Bantu” believe about God and nature. Although he was ostensibly speaking on behalf of his own people, Thoka used “we” to refer to humanity in general, declaring, for example, “We are all one in nature.”31 Most surprising, however, is the remarkable resemblance between Thoka’s account of Bantu religion and the nature mysticism advanced by Francis Younghusband. In both cases, God and nature are one and humanity knows God through nature.

    According to Albert Thoka, Bantu religion is based on belief in God, “the native belief in a certain Supreme Being whom they regard as exercising divine dispensations over the whole universe.” Although this supreme being is known by different names, such as Modimo, Utixo, Unkulunkulu, and Chikewe’vu, all Bantu understand God as the “Supernatural Power” who “ordained the universe.” As Thoka explained this theology, the Bantu understand God as being both above nature, as a supernatural power, and within nature, as “an indwelling being within the universe.” Since God is the “essence of all attributes,” the Bantu find God dwelling in every aspect of the natural world. According to Thoka, “they believe that, all attributes being inherent in God, He is capable of residing in every element of Nature, (p.266) be it organic or inorganic.” Accordingly, to know nature is to know God. The supreme being is gradually revealed, “unfolded to mankind,” through the “study and apprehension of natural phenomena.” God lives in perfect knowledge; God reveals that knowledge through “the operation of phenomena”; God reveals his Will in the “laws of Nature”; God’s knowledge, character, and will can be known through studying the “phenomena of the universe.” In phrasing reminiscent of an aphorism attributed to the geologist Louis Agassiz, Thoka observed, “To understand God, therefore, we must study His works in Nature.”32 Certainly Francis Younghusband must have welcomed this exposition of Bantu nature mysticism, which so obviously resonated with his own understanding of God as a spiritual power, supernatural in determining, directing, and controlling the universe but also indwelling in nature, since “physical nature is merely the outward manifestation of this inward spirit.” In his conference presentation on the unity of God, nature, and humanity, perhaps Younghusband was thinking of this Bantu religion when he remarked, “The most cultured European feels affinity with the most primitive savage in the farthest wilds.”33 Bantu religion, as recast by Albert Thoka, provided a primitive analogue for Francis Youngblood’s modern European religion of nature.

    In his account of Bantu religion, Albert Thoka challenged basic categories of imperial comparative religion. Implicitly redefining animism as knowing God in nature, Thoka explained ancestor worship as insight into the “infinite continuity of life,” in which human beings develop “to a higher plane of existence in the growth of human intelligence.” Animism and ancestor worship, which Alice Werner had identified as the two basic themes in the conference presentations on primitive religion, were translated by Thoka into a modern religion of nature mysticism and spiritual evolution. Turning to the vexed problem of totemism in imperial comparative religion, Thoka proposed that the role of animal emblems in Bantu religion had been misunderstood. Instead of serving as markers of clans, ancestors, or taboos, the totems were communication media between God and humanity. On the one hand, totems were media for addressing God. Totems were “emblems to praise God for His wondrous works of creation.” On the other hand, totems were media for understanding God, as “one object, or totem, was in each case chosen as symbolic of the whole universe of God.” While God was present in every element of nature, the entire universe, animated by God’s indwelling spirit, was present in each totem of Bantu religion. Supporting this analysis, Thoka provided an example of totemic praise poetry of the Bakwena, the people of the crocodile: “Mokwena moila (p.267) lethlaka, Moroka’ metse a pula, Modheana modhalabetji, ‘Mina tjeka la boroka.” Although he provided an English translation, “Hail, you that revere the reed,” Thoka cautioned that the meaning of the praises remained hidden by their “philosophical frame.” Concluding with this secret significance of totemic praises, Albert Thoka nevertheless hoped that during his presentation “the pure significance of Totemism [had] been clearly explained, and that any misapprehension of the native point of view regarding it [had] now been obviated.”34

    So much is curious about this presentation of Bantu religious ideas at an imperial conference. The spiritualist turns of phrase, the invocation of laws of nature, and the echoes of nature mysticism all seem strange. Certainly, as Alice Werner proposed, Albert Thoka might have been influenced in his interpretations of African religion by his English education and interreligious contacts. Under similar conditions, Africans were reinterpreting tradition not only in the light of the Christian gospel but also in the idiom of a universal spirituality, which John Tengo Jabavu formulated for the Universal Races Conference in London in 1911 as the indigenous African “veneration for a Great Omnipresent, Omnipotent Unknown.”35 Accordingly, Thoka might have been advancing a similar reinterpretation of indigenous African religion as a spirituality of the Great Unknown for an imperial conference. However, Albert Thoka’s translation of African indigenous religion into a universal nature mysticism, in which God is not unknown but known through the study of natural phenomena, was so specific, with numerous echoes of the imperial spirituality of Francis Younghusband, that we must begin to suspect a ventriloquism reminiscent of the missionary Alfred T. Bryant, who pretended to be the Zulu philologist uNemo in order to address Max Müller and attack Henry Callaway, thereby intervening in the ongoing mediation between imperial theorist and colonial expert in the production of knowledge about Zulu religion. As an indigenous voice, asserting indigenous authenticity, uNemo was able to disrupt that mediation. Of course, as we now know, uNemo was a mask for a Catholic missionary. Was Albert Thoka a mask for a nature mystic? Although this question cannot be resolved as easily as in the case of uNemo, since Albert Thoka might very well have been a real person participating in the interreligious exchanges of the religions of the empire, his account of God and nature clearly coincided with the religious interests of Francis Younghusband.

    Nevertheless, like uNemo, Albert Thoka contradicted imperial theory, in this case dismissing established academic constructions of animism, ancestor worship, and totemism in the anthropology and history of religions. (p.268) Here also he served an aim of the conference. Liberated from academic theory, adherents of the religions of the empire, speaking for themselves, were the primary adjudicators of knowledge. However, as we find in the presentation by Albert Thoka and so many other participants in the conference, that knowledge was formulated in ways that could be easily assimilated into the unity of religions and the peace of empire.

    Following the Religions of the Empire conference, Francis Younghusband and other organizers established the Society for Promoting the Study of Religions, which published a journal dedicated to advancing interreligious understanding. After attending a reprise of the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago during 1933, Younghusband convened another interfaith conference in London in 1936 to mark the formation of a new organization, the World Congress of Faiths.36 Featuring prominent Asian scholars such as D. T. Suzuki and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, this conference also highlighted unity and peace, with so much sweetness and light that one reviewer of the proceedings described the experience as like “dieting on pure honey.”37 Younghusband organized annual conferences of the World Congress of Faiths until his death in 1942. Surviving its founder, the organization continued to promote interfaith understanding through dialogue, meetings, and publications into the twenty-first century. Although the Religions of the Empire conference had explicitly claimed the lineage of international congresses for the history of religions going back to Paris in 1900, the aims of the World Congress of Faiths were clearly confessional rather than historical, a crucial difference highlighted by the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR), which also traced its lineage to 1900 in Paris. Committed to producing knowledge about religion and religions through philological and historical methods, the IAHR was not a forum for religious adherents working toward mutual understanding, world peace, or a new religion suited to modern conditions. As the historian of religions C. J. Bleeker insisted, “A sharp, clearly-defined line separates the purely scientific work of the historian of religions from those who labour on behalf of the Ecumenical movement or the World Congress of Faiths.”38 Although sometimes blurred in the work of the historian of religions, this sharp line challenged the special privilege of religious insiders, such as those featured at the Religions of the Empire conference who spoke about the religions they professed, as the most authentic and authoritative producers of knowledge about religion and religions.

    As we have seen in the case of Albert Thoka, the religious representative, speaking as an insider, is not always representative of a religious community. If not a mask, then Thoka was an indigenous African intellectual who (p.269) was thoroughly informed by contemporary international productions and circulations of knowledge about religion within interfaith comparative religion. He represented the privilege of a religious adherent, the commitment to nature as a common ground for humanity, and the hope that interfaith dialogue, in obviating misapprehensions, would lead to mutual understanding. Many other religious adherents, like Albert Thoka, have been similarly informed by interfaith comparative religion in drawing religious resources into campaigns for world peace or global ethics. Even when they are explicitly anti-imperial, these campaigns have their roots in the interfaith comparative religion of the empire of religion.

    Theosophical Comparative Religion

    Although the interfaith movement might include mystics, its notion of comparative religion was essentially public, drawing religious adherents into public dialogue about social ethics and world peace. Based on the assumption that all religions teach the same truths, interfaith comparative religion found that those truths were immediately available to the general public. In a parliament, congress, or league of world religions, interfaith comparative religion could generate knowledge about the role of religion in personal and social ethics that could be shared globally. By contrast, the Theosophical Society, founded in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891) and Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907), developed a theosophical comparative religion that was essentially secret, mysterious, and obscured from public view. Representing what Peter van der Veer has called an “anti-Christian comparative religion,” centered in the ancient wisdom of the East, Theosophy based its knowledge of religion and religions on secrets, thereby exemplifying, as Wouter J. Hanegraaff has observed, “Comparative Religion on occultist premises.”39 In Isis Unveiled (1877), The Secret Doctrine (1888), and other publications, Helena Blavatsky documented the secrets of the ancient wisdom of the East.

    While employing mysterious means for gaining knowledge, including spiritual correspondence with Buddhist masters of Tibet, Blavatsky also worked along lines that resembled philological and historical research in the comparative study of religion. As a philologist, she had gained access to the ancient language of Senzar, which enabled her to translate ancient Asian texts, such as the Secret Book of Dzyan, that formed the basis for her extended commentaries, explications, and elaborations of theosophy in The Secret Doctrine. Looking to Friedrich Max Müller as the leading nineteenthcentury philologist in the study of religion, Blavatsky saw him as a model (p.270) for her research, citing his account of Emperor Akbar, Max Müller’s candidate for the founder of the comparative study of religion, who was not able to obtain, even by threats and bribes, the complete texts of the Vedas. Max Müller boasted that under the British Empire scholars had gained access to the Vedic texts that Emperor Akbar could not acquire, but Madame Blavatsky was able to trump his boast by insisting that she could discern their secret meaning. Having outdone Max Müller in the philology and history of religions, Blavatsky nevertheless invoked his authority as a warrant for Theosophy, even if she misquoted his paraphrase of a participant in the debates about religion at the court of Akbar as if it was his own assertion. She informed her readers that Max Müller agreed with Theosophy that there is “only one true religion—the worship of God’s spirit.”40 Following Blavatsky’s lead, other prominent theosophists invoked Max Müller’s authority and imitated his philological methods but ultimately dismissed his science of religion as hopelessly ignorant of the secrets of religion.

    Taking an interest in Madame Blavatsky in 1879, Max Müller developed a friendship with Henry Steel Olcott and included him among his correspondents. An issue of the Theosophist in 1889, on the assumption that he was a regular reader since he had mentioned to Olcott that he had been a subscriber since the beginning, extended an invitation to Max Müller to visit India.41 Although he welcomed attention to ancient texts of the East, Max Müller attacked Theosophy’s version of “Esoteric Buddhism” as “Buddhism misunderstood, distorted, caricatured.”42 For his 1892 Gifford Lectures, published the following year as Theosophy or Psychological Religion, he explained that he used the term theosophy to mean the highest knowledge about God in order to rescue it from its recent misappropriation and from any association “with spirit-rappings, table-turnings, or any other occult science or black art.”43 In these interventions he was more temperate than his colleague Edward Clodd, who complained in his presidential address to the Folklore Society in 1896 about “that colossal old liar, Madame Blavatsky.”44 Nevertheless, Max Müller’s engagement with Theosophy resulted in a vigorous polemic in both mainstream and theosophical journals. Although they were also happy to distance Theosophy from common spiritualism, theosophists objected to his academic contempt for their secret wisdom, which displayed the ignorance of learned men. Max Müller insisted that there was nothing secret in Hinduism or Buddhism. Sacred texts and relevant commentaries for learning about these religions were available for open inquiry. In the ensuing polemic, theosophists dismissed Max Müller’s construction of the science of religion. An unsigned commentator (p.271) in Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine in 1893 observed, “Any man with brains and leisure can do what Mr. Max Müller has done; only a pupil of Occultists and an Occultist can do the work of H. P. Blavatsky.” Accusing Max Müller of being jealous of the accomplishments of Madame Blavatsky, this commentator alleged that he was a sexist academic elitist who resented a woman who could not decline Sanskrit nouns but knew more than he did about “hidden Sanskrit literature.”45 Although one of the founding aims of Theosophy was to encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science, theosophical comparative religion was pursued on the premise that the ancient wisdom at the root of all religions could be acquired only by mysterious means from the sacred texts of the East.

    Proceeding in secrecy and mystery, the Theosophical Society nevertheless had a profound public role in India. Annie Besant, who assumed the presidency of the society in 1907, played a crucial role in anti-imperialist politics. She campaigned for Indian independence, formed the Home Rule League, and briefly served as president of the Indian National Congress.46 Besant eventually gave way to the leadership of Mohandas K. Gandhi, who had learned his Hinduism from the Theosophical Society in London, when he returned from South Africa to take up the struggle for India. South Africa and India, which Max Müller had identified as the twin poles of the British Empire in his last publication, The Question of Right between England and the Transvaal, were also linked by the Theosophical Society. As we recall, Gandhi had presented a series of lectures on religion to the society in Johannesburg in 1905. Although his audience would probably have preferred more of the “gleam” of ancient wisdom, he focused on the solidarity between the Indians and the British, certified by Max Müller, in a common empire. However, Gandhi also found Max Müller useful in public confrontations with British imperialists, invoking his authority in arguing for the glory of India and the solidarity of Aryans in the context of fighting for Indian rights in South Africa. Committed to the British Empire, arguing that the English could “retire from South Africa as little as from India,” Max Müller might have agreed with Gandhi’s construction of the unifying spirit of empire while opposing his political campaign against British colonialism. Founder of the study of religion Max Müller left an ambiguous political heritage, providing the Indo-Aryan model for colonial constructions of Bantu migrations that were used to justify European possession of the “empty land” of South Africa, while offering a reference point in Gandhi’s anticolonial struggles for human rights in South Africa and political independence in India. (p.272)

    In August 1927, the Theosophist featured an article by Patrick Bowen (1882–1940), “The Ancient Wisdom in Africa.” In a section of the periodical devoted to comparative religion, philosophy, and science, which was headed by a graphic montage featuring the Buddha, the Star of David, the Sanskrit Om, an eternal flame, and the pyramids of ancient Egypt at the rising sun, this article reported on the author’s discovery of the secret wisdom that had been preserved among African tribes in South Africa. In his meetings with remarkable men among the Zulu, Bowen learned that a secret brotherhood—the Bonabakulu Abasekhemu, the Brotherhood of the Higher Ones of Egypt—were custodians of a tradition of ancient wisdom going back to the founder of the brotherhood, a priest of Isis during the reign of the Pharaoh Cheops in ancient Egypt. Acknowledging the theosophical principle that Asia was the source of all philosophy, Bowen proposed to demonstrate that Africa, the “Dark Continent,” also held the ancient wisdom. Bowen’s text was a remarkable instance of theosophical comparative religion in South Africa.

    An extraordinary traveler’s account of indigenous religion in Africa, Bowen’s article was structured by two episodes, his meeting with the Zulu Isanusi Mankanyezi (the Starry One) and his yearlong apprenticeship with the Berber spiritual master Mandhlalanga (the Strength of the Sun), who lived among the Zulu. In the first episode, young Patrick Bowen, ten or twelve years old, by his recollection, accompanied his father on a wagon trip through the “wild Bushlands” of southern Africa. Meeting many socalled witch doctors, who he knew should be addressed by the Zulu term Isanusi, Bowen gained the confidence of the Isanusi Mankanyezi, a “pure Zulu, of the royal blood,” with physical features that were “of a distinctly Jewish cast.” When young Bowen told the Zulu Isanusi that his father wanted to place him in a missionary school, Mankanyezi attacked Christian missionaries for trying to force their religious beliefs on Africans without understanding African beliefs, complaining that not even Sobantu, referring to Bishop John William Colenso, knew anything about the real religion of Africa. “They think we worship the spirits of our ancestors,” Mankanyezi told the boy, but the missionaries did not understand the true meaning of the Itongo. Not the ancestral spirit of a family, clan, or tribe, the Itongo is “the Spirit within and above all men.” As the source and end of all life, the Itongo dwells in each human, as a spark, while every soul struggles through a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth to eventually become “one with that from which it came—the Itongo.” During the time he spent with Mankanyezi, young Patrick witnessed the Isanusi’s powers of telepathy, mental travel, (p.273) and extrasensory exchanges with members of his brotherhood as far away as Kenya. His brotherhood extended throughout Africa, with at least one representative in every tribe. The leaders of the brotherhood, the Brothers, Elders, Masters, and Higher Ones, “whose names may not be spoken,” were “the guardians of the Wisdom-which-comes-from-of-old,” the ancient wisdom of the Itongo.47

    In the second episode, sometime after the Anglo-Boer War, Patrick Bowen entered government service in Natal, on a secret mission “in a certain large Native Reserve,” where his work’s “confidential nature” made it necessary for him “to be vague concerning dates and places.” While he was on this secret government assignment, Bowen discovered a small community, living in a remote, inaccessible valley, of people who appeared to him as Europeans. Although they had adopted Zulu names, customs, and lifestyles, these people had physical features that “were of pure European type, more classical indeed than is usual among Europeans.” Their leader, Mandhlalanga, had features that were “almost pure Greek.” Although he had adopted a Zulu name and lived among the Zulu, acquiring the “reputation of being a supernatural being,” Mandhlalanga was a Berber from North Africa. Having traveled widely through Europe, Asia, and America, speaking English and other European languages fluently, Mandhlalanga was a Master in the secret brotherhood of Africa. Accepting Patrick Bowen as a pupil, the Master taught him “the secret Bantu tongue,” the language of instruction in his lectures on African ancient wisdom, which had been lost to most Africans and undiscovered by European scholars. From his course of study over one year, Bowen was able to translate Mandhlalanga’s essential teachings of the ancient wisdom in Africa.48

    Although he claimed to know nothing at the time about the Theosophical Society, Patrick Bowen outlined the ancient wisdom of Africa as if it were a summary of Theosophy. Like Blavatsky, Bowen gained his knowledge by mastering a sacred language, in this case the secret ur-Bantu language Isinzu; he gained access to secret texts, which in Africa were written on parchment or the entrails of a hippopotamus in hieroglyphic symbols; and he received instruction from a spiritual master representing an occult brotherhood. In Bowen’s translation of the discourse of the master on “The Riddle of Existence,” Mandhlalanga declared,

    The Itongo (Universal Spirit) is all that ever was, is, or ever shall be, conceivable or inconceivable. The Itongo is all things, all things are of it; but the sum of all things is not the Itongo. The Itongo is all the power there is, all power is (p.274) of it; but all power, perceivable or conceivable, is not the Itongo. The Itongo is all the wisdom there is, all wisdom is of it; but all wisdom conceivable is not the Itongo. all substance, all power, all wisdom is of it, and it is in them and manifest through them, but it is also above them and beyond them, eternally unmanifest.49

    The notion of life as a riddle with a theosophical solution was familiar to theosophists not only from the proverbial riddle of the Sphinx but also from Annie Besant’s The Riddle of Life and How Theosophy Answers It. In Africa, the Zulu Itongo seems to have taken the place of the Sanskrit Atma that was used in Theosophy to designate the divine source and ultimate destiny of human existence. In The Occult Way, published in 1933, Patrick Bowen presented a version of Mandhlalanga’s formulation of the riddle of existence, almost word for word, as an ancient Hermetic text, “An Asservation (Hermetic Ritual),” removing both the African Master and the Zulu term Itongo.50 For theosophical comparative religion, the recurrence of similar religious themes, formulas, and even phrases did not necessarily raise the question of plagiarism. Instead, such coincidences could confirm the theosophical truth that the same ancient wisdom was being preserved by secret brotherhoods in Asia and Africa. While the Great White Brotherhood of the Himalayas taught that the goal of life was union with the Atma, the African Brotherhood of the Higher Ones of Egypt taught that the goal for every human is “union with the source of his being—the Itongo.51 Only years later, by Bowen’s account, after he had moved to London in 1927, did he learn that the African teachings about the Itongo “were, in one word, theosophy.”52

    Unacknowledged by Patrick Bowen, other parallels with Theosophy were obvious in the teachings of the African brotherhood. Mandhlalanga outlined the Seven Principles of Man in Zulu: (1) the Physical Body (Umzimba), (2) the Etheric Body (Isitunzi), (3) the Lower Mind (Amandhla), (4) the Animal Mind (Utiwesilo), (5) the Human Mind (Utiwomuntu), (6) the Spiritual Mind (Utiwetongo), and (7) the Itongo, the “Ray, or spark of Universal Spirit which informs all lower manifestations.”53 These seven principles, representing man’s “sevenfold being,” or “septenary foundation,” were familiar to theosophists, although they were designated not by Zulu but by Sanskrit terms: (1) sthula sharira, (2) linga sharira, (3) prana, (4) kama, (5) manas, (6) buddhi, and (7) atma, the “direct ray of the Universal Spirit,” the “Spark of the Universal Spirit.”54 Eventually shifting from Zulu to Sanskrit, in 1933 Bowen presented these Seven Principles under their Sanskrit designations, with no reference to the Zulu terms or the African brotherhood.55 (p.275)

    Like Theosophy, the African brotherhood observed seven grades of initiation, from pupils, under probation, to “perfect ones.” As Bowen learned from Mandhlalanga, the various grades displayed spiritual powers—the Disciple, mesmerism; the Brother, astral consciousness; the Master, clairvoyance and clairaudience on the Etheric Plane—that built toward the knowledge of the Isangoma, “Those who Know,” who “have attained consciousness on the Plane of the Real Self.”56 Only those who had been Masters in a previous life could achieve this higher level of consciousness of what Bowen called Isangomaship. The highest grade, however, was the Abakulubantu—the Supreme Ones, the Perfect Men—who were liberated from the cycle of rebirth and appeared in physical form only as they chose. In its stages of spiritual development to perfection, the African brotherhood clearly resembled Theosophy’s understanding of what Annie Besant called “the steps by which a man may climb to the status of the Super-man.”57

    Patrick Bowen’s account of the African brotherhood must seem like fiction, especially given his reference to the romances of H. Rider Haggard as a precedent for his discovery of a white race in Africa.58 Nevertheless, he rose in prominence in the London Theosophical Society, partly because he published extracts from notes taken by his father, Robert Bowen, at secret seminars with Helena Blavatsky forty years earlier in 1890 and 1891. Although he claimed to have never heard of the society, his father turned out to be a member of Blavatsky’s inner circle, providing material for guidelines on how to study Theosophy.59 Patrick Bowen, therefore, discovered not only a secret theosophical brotherhood in remote Africa but also a lost text at the center of Theosophy. Continuing to publish on the ancient wisdom, including a book-length translation from a secret Isinzu text, The Sayings of the Ancient One, Patrick Bowen eventually became president of the Dublin Hermetic Society.60

    Patrick Bowen’s unbelievable discovery of the secret African wisdom of the Itongo was authenticated by its circulation through publications in India, South Africa, and England. In The Essential Unity of All Religions, published in 1932, the Indian theosophist and politician Bhagavan Das reproduced almost all of Bowen’s “Ancient Wisdom in Africa.” Bowen’s discovery was valuable, according to Bhagavan Das, as evidence of the nearly universal belief in the cycle of rebirth and the evolution of the soul.61 In 1951, the general secretary of the Theosophical Society in Southern Africa, Eleanor Stakesby-Lewis, revived interest in Bowen’s African wisdom in The Sayings of the Ancient One, repeating its claims in her own article, “The Mystery Tradition of Africa,” to assert the importance of a local theosophical (p.276) tradition in Africa.62 In 1969, the former spiritualist Francis Clive-Ross, editor of Studies in Comparative Religion, a London-based journal devoted to “traditional studies,” republished Bowen’s “Ancient Wisdom in Africa” in its entirety, presumably as evidence of the “perennial philosophy” that the editor found at the heart of all religions.63 Through these and other circulations, Bowen’s discovery acquired a certain kind of credibility, or at least weight, merely by being reproduced in different sites of knowledge production about the mystical essence of religion. Although his own evidence for discovering a secret brotherhood in Africa was suspect, Bowen’s text could nevertheless be cited as evidence for a theory of religion that was localized in Africa but also perennial and universal, always and everywhere, because it was being reproduced in these circuits.

    As a significant feature of the empire of religion, theosophical comparative religion discovered the mystical essence of humanity and the spiritual government of the entire universe. Combining myth, fiction, and scholarship, Patrick Bowen’s discovery of the secret of the Itongo can be cited here as evidence for how knowledge was produced in theosophical comparative religion. Although his account of the secret wisdom in South Africa must seem more like invention than discovery, it nevertheless resonates with the search for spiritual essences and eternal returns of ancient wisdom that has been a recurring theme in theosophical scholarship within the study of religion. Often neglected in histories of the study of religion, this theosophical current was evident in the work of scholars such as Mircea Eliade, Henry Corbin, and Joseph Campbell, who participated in the Eranos conferences, beginning in 1933, under the guiding influence C. G. Jung.64 By explicating secret wisdom, these scholars were part of a broader imperial quest for theosophical authenticity in which Patrick Bowen was also a participant.

    Critical Comparative Religion

    How do we distinguish among religion, fiction, and scholarship about religion? During the early 1980s, the scholar of religion W. Richard Comstock proposed a framework, as a “thought experiment,” for distinguishing religion, fiction, and scholarship as three different logical modalities. Adopting his basic terms from Immanuel Kant, Comstock proposed that we should understand these domains not in terms of any essential content but by the ways in which they are perceived. They are conventionally perceived as three different modes—possibility, necessity, and factuality. Imaginative literature is generally regarded as the play of possibility, religion as a domain (p.277) of necessity, and scholarship as a discipline of factuality. Having proposed these distinctions, Comstock complicated his framework by insisting that these three modes are in dialectical tension with each other and that in any particular work of fiction or formation of religion, these modes “combine, coalesce and interfuse with one another in diverse ways.”65 Distinct but not separate, these three logical modes—possibility, necessity, and factuality—defined for Comstock the basic relations among fiction, religion, and scholarship.

    Twenty years later, the historian of religions Bruce Lincoln examined these terms in theorizing myth. Power relations, rather than logical relations, were most prominent in his analysis. Defining myth as ideology in narrative form, Lincoln returned to Greek epic poetry to distinguish between two kinds of poetic discourse, the speech of mythos asserting the authority of the strong and the speech of logos demonstrating the cunning of the weak, which effectively embedded fiction in structural relations of power. Turning to academic research, Lincoln provocatively defined scholarship as myth with footnotes, inevitably displaying (or concealing) ideology in narrative form, but necessarily anchored in factual evidence that is publicly accessible, subject to review, and open to disputation. For these reasons, footnotes were crucial to authenticating scholarship.

    Although he developed a very different approach to Comstock’s key terms, Lincoln was also attentive to the ways in which they might combine, coalesce, and interfuse with each other. For example, he called attention to James Macpherson’s Ossian, a work of imaginative fiction published between 1760 and 1763, which was presented by the author and generally accepted by readers as an ancient sacred myth of Ireland, inspiring a nationalist ideology in narrative form. But its assertion of strong authority depended upon the cunning of an author who relied on the myth of scholarship to fashion himself as an author not of fiction but of serious factual research.66 Myth, fiction, and scholarship, therefore, can be distinguished but not always separated in any particular cultural production.

    As a cultural production of empire, imperial comparative religion combined myth, fiction, and scholarship. Footnotes were crucial to the production, authentication, and circulation of knowledge about religion and religions in imperial comparative religion. Its leading figures, such as Friedrich Max Müller, E. B. Tylor, Andrew Lang, and James Frazer, were masters of the footnote. Not merely a referencing device, the footnote was an engine of production, a means for extracting raw religious materials, mediated by colonial middlemen, into the centralized manufacture of imperial theory. (p.278) At the same time, footnotes exposed any imperial theory to critique, making it vulnerable to critical disputation over the relation between theory and evidence.

    Take the Zulu term Itongo, for example, as an entry into reviewing imperial theory in critical comparative religion. In his inaugural lectures in the science of religion, Max Müller announced an imperial theory of religion as a sense of the infinite, which could be positioned against a long colonial history of European travelers, explorers, missionaries, and government agents finding indigenous people who had no religion. Against this colonial denial of indigenous religion, Max Müller invoked the Zulu term Itongo, a word used by Africans who had been described as people lacking religion. Citing the research of Henry Callaway, Max Müller reported that the Zulu had an indigenous name for the Creator, Itongo, which Mpengula Mbande explained should be understood not as a man who had died and risen again but as “the up-bearer of the earth.”67 In the colonial context, as we have seen, missionaries engaged in an intense contest over appropriating Zulu terms to designate their Christian God. African converts at the Wesleyan Methodist mission station of James Allison, as John William Colenso found in 1855, were familiar with the use of Itongo for the Christian God. “The proper word for God, they said, was iTongo, which meant with them a Power of Universal Influence—a Being under whom all around were placed.” Disagreeing, Colenso insisted that “Mr. Allison’s [Africans] were in error as to the universal comprehension of the name iTongo.” He found instead that the Zulu terms uNkulunkulu and uMvelinqangi more closely approximated the Christian God.68 Disagreeing with Colenso, Henry Callaway acknowledged that Christians had appropriated the Zulu term Itongo, which “probably means a sleep-ghost or a dream ghost,” as “a word to designate the Supreme,” because it was the closest word the missionaries could find to “the idea of the impalpable and immaterial.”69 In citing Henry Callaway, Max Müller was apparently unaware of this missionary controversy. Nevertheless, this footnote enabled Max Müller to extend his theory of the religious sense of the infinite to all of humanity. In the case of the Zulu, he observed, “Thus we find among a people who were said to be without any religious life, without any idea of a Divine power, that some of the most essential elements of religion are fully developed.”70 Revolving around the Itongo, the Zulu had a religion featuring an invisible God, the creator of the universe, who caused storms, punished the wicked, and required sacrifices. Therefore, Max Müller concluded, we must be careful with evidence before finding that anyone has no religion. (p.279)

    While Max Müller invoked the Itongo as evidence of the universality of religion, E. B. Tylor was interested in Zulu data that might support his theory of the religious psychology of animism. In this respect, the Itongo appeared twice in Tylor’s Primitive Culture. First, in analyzing the theology of sneezing, “best shown among the Zulus,” Tylor cited the “native statements” provided by Henry Callaway. “Sneezing reminds a man that he should name the Itongo (ancestral spirit) of his people without delay,” as one of Callaway’s informants reported, “because it is the Itongo which causes him to sneeze, that he may perceive by sneezing that the Itongo is with him.”71 In this case, the Itongo was evidence of primitive animism, the “savage doctrine of pervading and invading spirits,” a survival of the “theological stage” of sneezing in human evolution. Second, more important for Tylor’s analysis, the Itongo appeared in Zulu dreaming. “So the Zulu may be visited in a dream by the shade of an ancestor, the itongo, who comes to warn him of danger, or he may himself be taken by the itongo in a dream to visit his distant people, and see that they are in trouble.” Here the Itongo, as an ancestral spirit, is also a psychological phenomenon, an insubstantial apparition of primitive dream-life that generated religion. Although an ordinary feature of Zulu dreaming, available to everyone, ancestral spirits were also the specialized field of the diviner, the “professional seer,” who becomes “a house of dreams.”72 In this reading of the Itongo, Tylor suggested that the psychological origin of religion in dreaming developed into the professionalized role of the diviner. As we recall, this particular Zulu diviner, James, was caught up in the crisis of dreaming under colonial conditions of dispossession, displacement, and interreligious relations. For Tylor, however, the Itongo was significant not in the here and now of a colonial situation but as evidence for reconstructing the evolution of religion from sneezing, through dreaming, into the emergence of religious professionals who mediated the evolution of religion from beliefs in spirits to beliefs in God.

    Andrew Lang, arguing against Tylor’s evolutionary theory of supreme beings, invoked the Itongo in support of his own theory that gods came first, spirits later, in the development of religion. Turning to the Zulu for evidence of ancestral spirits, Lang noted that although they revered their amatongo, they did not remember the names or praises of specific ancestors beyond one or two generations. “Thus,” he observed, “each new generation of Zulus must have a new first worshipful object—its own father’s Itongo.” Since any memory of that paternal spirit would be lost in the future, the Itongo cannot provide the basis for the evolution of a deity. “The name of (p.280) such a man,” Lang concluded, “cannot survive as that of the God or Supreme Being from age to age.”73 Although the ancestral spirit could not be the germ of a deity, the Itongo could reveal the role of religion in establishing social rank. Criticizing Max Müller for ignoring the role of religion in politics, Lang invoked the Zulu, citing Callaway: “The Itongo (spirit) dwells with the great man; he who dreams is the chief of the village.” By possessing the Itongo, the Zulu chief ruled the present from the past, drawing upon the ancestral spirit for political power. Such a link between spirits and power, Lang proposed, had been instrumental in the emergence of social status, hereditary aristocracy, inherited property, and political authority. The Itongo, in this case, was not the germ of a deity but the focus of spiritual forces that provided the “germs of rank” in human society.74 Although Lang was interested in the poetics of the Itongo, noting that “Zulu Inyanga or diviners learn magical couplets from the Itongo,” he was more concerned with the politics of the Itongo, the ways in which religious and political power intersected.75 Finally, for James Frazer, Zulu transactions with the Itongo confirmed his pragmatic theory of ritual. Focusing on children and food, ancestral ritual ensured that the dead would provide. When they felt afflicted by ancestral neglect or punishment, the Zulu enacted a kind of ritual ultimatum by warning the ancestral spirit that if his children died he would have no food. Citing Callaway, Frazer noted that the Zulu “suggest to the Itongo, by whose ill-will or want of care they are afflicted, that if they should all die in consequence, and thus his worshippers come to an end, he would have none to worship him; and therefore for his own sake, as well as for theirs, he had better preserve his people, that there may be a village for him to enter, and meat of the sacrifices for him to eat.”76 The Itongo, therefore, provided Frazer with further evidence that practical concerns about food and children were central to the practice of religious ritual.

    In his ongoing reflections on dying and rising gods in the history of religions, Frazer invoked the Itongo as an illustration of the worship of the dead in Africa, especially when he explained the ancient Egyptian deity Osiris as having been a man, ruling as king, who was transformed into a god by being worshipped after death. As powerful ancestral spirits, Zulu kings were offered prayers and sacrifices. Although he knew that the Zulu reportedly forgot their remote ancestors, Frazer nevertheless found that the widespread African worship of the dead, especially dead chiefs and kings, provided a model for concluding that the myths and rituals of Osiris grew up around the memory of a dead man. Of course, he also drew an analogy between Osiris and Christ, implying that both could be understood in the (p.281) light of African worship of the dead. Presenting his conclusion tentatively, or evasively, Frazer suggested that Osiris and Isis, although they might be purely imaginary beings, could also be unveiled as “originally a real man and woman about whom after death the myth-making fancy wove its gossamer rainbow-tinted web.”77 For James Frazer, therefore, the Itongo was a nexus of human interests and human gods.

    By using the Itongo to cut a cross-section through imperial theory, we can see different theorists drawing upon the same body of evidence. Recalling Patrick Bowen’s Itongo, the “spark of the Universal Spirit which informs all lower manifestations,” the Zulu ancestral spirit, especially as it appeared in the oral testimonies collected by Henry Callaway, was cited as evidence informing all theories of religion. Max Müller’s claim for the universality of religion, E. B. Tylor’s explanation of the evolution of religion, Andrew Lang’s arguments for the priority of “savage supreme beings” and the formative role of religion in politics, and James Frazer’s suggestions that religion was the mystification of human interests and the deification of the dead—all of these theories of religion, at one point or another, drew upon the Itongo in their theoretical manifestations. Struck by the diversity of their findings, we might conclude that these theorists were simply forcing data into theory, kidnapping the Itongo to serve their own theoretical projects. However, ambiguity was inherent in the data. As we have seen, what Callaway collected was not a coherent religious system but a chaos of voices, a variety of indigenous positions, all influenced, in one way or another, by colonial disruptions and missionary incursions, which could be mined for evidence in support of almost any theory. Unlike interfaith or theosophical comparative religion, however, these theorists made their mining of data transparent through the revealing window of the footnote.

    Authenticating Knowledge

    In the preceding discussion, we have seen different ways of authenticating knowledge about religion. First, in interfaith comparative religion, the religious adherent, speaking from within a community of faith, was vested with authoritative knowledge. By insisting on speakers describing religions they personally professed, the Religions of the Empire conference was an instance of what has been called the insider-outsider problem in the study of religion.78 If insiders provide authoritative accounts, then scholars of religion, as outsiders, can only faithfully reproduce believers’ versions of their own religions. Authentic knowledge is premised on the adherent’s assertion (p.282) “I am a believer.” As many recent critics have argued, this privileging of insider accounts of religion raises epistemological problems by assuming that adherents possess a true subjective knowledge, innate or acquired, simply by virtue of affiliation. This assumption, as Jeppe Sinding Jensen has argued, is a “mystical postulate” that cannot be supported by any theory of mind or language.79 However, the privileging of the insider can serve a politics of knowledge. As we have seen, at the Religions of the Empire conference this mystical postulate of the authenticity of insider knowledge served the political project of imperial peace. Accordingly, the privileged position of the insider was a politics of knowledge, authenticating the insider but also appropriating that aura of authenticity for an interfaith understanding that would form the basis for peaceful coexistence in the British Empire.

    By violating the privilege of religious adherents when it came to primitive religions, the conference perpetuated the division of the empire of religion into citizens of world religions and subjects of savage religions. As we recall, Alfred C. Haddon found that South Africa was on the frontline of that division, a perfect site for studying the sociology of the religions of the higher races and the ethnology of the religions of the lower races. Breaking through this barrier, South African Albert Thoka claimed full citizenship in the empire of religion. This religious adherent, speaking on behalf of the indigenous religion of his own people, carried the authenticity of the insider into the conference. However, he also carried traces of the nature mysticism advanced by the organizers of the conference. In this transaction between inside knowledge and outside influence, his account of indigenous African religion recalled other indigenous accounts. If Magema Fuze could find the roots of African tradition in the Bible or John Tengo Jabavu could find them in the Great Unknown, Albert Thoka could certainly locate them in Nature. Although proponents of interfaith comparative religion might want to hear a pure indigenous voice, an authentic expression of indigenous religion by an insider, no indigenous speech about religion was possible without such mediations.

    Like other religious adherents at the conference, Albert Thoka was informed by imperial constructions of religion—religion was a belief system; religion was a practical system; religion was a system that linked belief and practice with a social system. In the empire of religion, from the religious system of the Zulu to the religious systems of the world, religious adherents could only speak, not for themselves but for a collectivity, on behalf of a religious system that ostensibly validated their voices. The mystical postulate of authentic subjectivity, therefore, was underwritten by an imperial (p.283) politics of divide et impera—“classify and conquer,” as Max Müller translated this imperative in 1870, or “classify and understand,” as he revised his rendering in 1882—in which representatives of the many religions of empire could all speak freely at the same table as long as it was clear who owned the table.

    Second, in theosophical comparative religion, knowledge about religion and religions was authenticated by claiming access to secret wisdom. As we have seen, that secret wisdom, which could never be achieved by ordinary methods of philological analysis, textual exegesis, or historical research, nevertheless imitated these methods in discovering new languages, sacred texts, and hidden histories of religion. In creating an aura of authenticity, theosophical comparative religion depended upon what the historian of religions Paul Christopher Johnson has called secretism, which is not the keeping of secrets but the “divulgence of a reputation of secret knowledge.”80 Instead of being silent about secrets, secretism openly declares the possession of secrets. Even in the absence of real secrets, secretism generates an aura of authenticity for those who develop a reputation for knowing things that no one else knows. As a strategy for authenticating knowledge about religion, secretism was certainly practiced by the Theosophical Society, but it has also been evident in proponents of the mystical, spiritual, or perennial essence of all religions. In these cases, knowledge about religion is authenticated not by the testimony of religious adherents but by an underlying secret hidden from most religious adherents. In this respect, theosophical comparative religion represents a kind of conspiracy theory of religion, in which the essential truth of religion has been hidden from the world. Accordingly, not even religious adherents, if they were not in on the secret, would be able to speak authentically about their own particular religious traditions.

    As we recall, the Theosophical Society invoked an imperial government—as above, so below—that ruled the spiritual universe and reincarnated on earth from the ancient Egyptians, through the Romans, to the British in empire building. By this account, an esoteric tradition was institutionalized in the world, secretly, by a spiritual brotherhood that acted like imperial rulers, governing everything, even if their day-to-day operations, as Gauri Viswanathan has observed, resulted in secret correspondence with Madame Blavatsky that often resembled the work of lower-level colonial bureaucrats.81 Nevertheless, as exemplified by Mohandas Gandhi’s political mobilization of a Hinduism he initially learned from Theosophy and by Annie Besant’s role in the Indian National Congress, this esoteric tradition (p.284) had a profound public impact on the long struggle for independence in India.

    Patrick Bowen, who discovered the theosophical secret of the Itongo in South Africa, was also participating in a wider imperial exchange linking South Africa and India. Great Britain, as Max Müller insisted in his defense of English sovereignty over its colonies, depended upon securing the twin poles of India and South Africa. As we have seen, Gandhi was not the only one to move between these two poles. Henry Bartle Frere, Baden-Powell, and many others in the imperial military moved between India and South Africa, while the South African missionary A. T. Bryant drew upon academic research on India to construct a history of migrations of the Bantu into South Africa that mirrored contemporary historical speculations about the migrations of the Aryans. Bowen’s discovery of the ancient wisdom in Africa, however, was secretism. He built a reputation for gaining access to secrets previously unnoticed in the exchanges between India and South Africa, even if what he revealed about these secrets mirrored the wisdom of the Theosophical Society by transposing its Sanskrit vocabulary into Zulu. In the circulations of his account, this mirroring registered not as plagiarism but as authentication, confirming that the same ancient wisdom was preserved all over the world. As above, so below; as in India, so in South Africa—the perennial wisdom was authenticated by its replication.

    Finally, in critical comparative religion, we find traces of these strategies of authentication—insider purity and multiple replication—in the work of imperial theorists. With respect to the authenticity of insiders, as we recall, E. B. Tylor erased the social contexts of data collection to distill pure accounts of savage religion. Since his data were drawn from colonial situations, this distillation required the theorist “to separate the genuine developments of native theology from the effects of intercourse with civilized foreigners.”82 Likewise, James Frazer insisted that “every observer of a savage or barbarous people should describe it as if no other people existed on the face of the earth.”83 Savage insiders, in this respect, were social isolates, rendered as if they had been unaffected by the colonial relations, contacts, and exchanges within which data about religion were being produced.

    With respect to the authenticity of replication, Andrew Lang established repetition as a principle of verification, a way of validating evidence by cross-checking colonial accounts from all over the world to see if they said the same thing. If local experts tell the same stories, “then we may presume that the inquirers have managed to extract true accounts from some of their native informants.”84 As in theosophical comparative religion, the (p.285) recurrence of a religious theme was not evidence of plagiarism—or diffusion—but confirmation that replicating accounts were authentic.

    For critical comparative religion, however, these strategies of authentication depended upon colonial middlemen who were mediating the global exchange between indigenous insiders and imperial theorists. Genuine knowledge, as Frazer observed, relied upon local experts providing “full, true, and precise accounts of savage and barbarous peoples based on personal observation.”85 By stressing personal observation, this strategy of authentication invoked the modern primacy of sight in verifying knowledge.86 As opposed to hearsay, seeing is believable. Being there, which was eventually developed in ethnographic methods of participant observation, was essential for genuine knowledge, even if the claim to being there could be abused by the fabrications of a theosophist or confused by the fictions of a novelist. Being there could also be problematic for anthropologists, as we recall from the responses of the British scientists to witnessing a Zulu war dance in 1905, which they validated as genuine even though it had been staged to display the contrast between savagery and civilization. Although subsequent generations of ethnographers rejected the speculations of armchair anthropology, imperial theorists also invoked personal observation as validation. Without being there themselves, they relied upon the personal observations of local experts such as Henry Callaway or Henri-Alexandre Junod, who were crucial in verifying genuine knowledge about indigenous religion and religions. Even if they never left the comfort (and, according to Hartland, the dangers) of the study, imperial theorists relied upon local observation to authenticate knowledge about religion.

    However, as we have seen, authentication of knowledge in the imperial study of religion was thoroughly intertextual. As imperial texts were built out of colonial texts, they also referenced each other in relation to the same colonial texts. The validity of the entire industry depended upon footnotes. Quotation of local experts, which was necessary for producing knowledge, was verified by textual citation, a procedure, as the historian Carlo Ginzburg has observed, designed “to communicate an effect of authenticity.”87 As imperial theorists provided footnotes, they opened their work to public review, to collegial confirmation or disputation, to a collective enterprise of verification or falsification in the production of knowledge about religion and religions. At the same time, they deployed footnotes as a kind of spiritual capital in an intellectual economy, using citations as a means not only for accumulating raw materials but also for certifying their provenance. Acknowledging their debt to local experts, imperial theorists (p.286) transformed that debt into credit in a global exchange and credibility in a global study of religion. The footnote was the warrant for both credit and credibility. Transcending time and space, the footnote was just like being there in verifying the precise point of production, but better than being there by invoking the absent spirits of the empire of religion.


    (1) . Timothy H. Parsons, Race, Resistance, and the Boy Scout Movement in British Colonial Africa (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004), 51–52; John Springhall, Youth, Empire, and Society: British Youth Movements, 1883–1942 (London: Croom Helm, 1977), 57.

    (2) . Robert Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship, ed. Elleke Boehmer (1908; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 40.

    (3) . Robert Baden-Powell, Lessons from the ‘Varsity of Life (London: C. Arthur Pearson, 1933), See Jeff Guy, “Imperial Appropriations: Baden-Powell, the Wood Badge, and the Zulu Iziqu,” in Zulu Identities: Being Zulu, Past and Present, ed. Benedict Carton, John Laband, and Jabulani Sithole (Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu–Natal Press, 2008), 193–213. (p.354)

    (4) . Jeff Guy, The Maphumulo Uprising: War, Law, and Ritual in the Zulu Rebellion (Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu–Natal Press, 2005), 5–6, 221.

    (5) . Charles Lindholm, Culture and Authenticity (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008).

    (6) . “Dr. Besant Receives ‘The Silver Wolf,’” Theosophist 54, no. 3 (December 1932): 295–99.

    (7) . Ashis Nandy and Shiv Visvanathan, “Modern Medicine and Its Non-Modern Critics: A Study of Discourse,” in Dominating Knowledge: Development, Culture, and Resistance, ed. Frédérique Appfel Marglin and Stephen A. Marglin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 162.

    (8) . Besant, “Theosophy and Imperialism,” 197.

    (9) . Ibid., 176.

    (10) . Annie Besant, Britain’s Place in the Great Plan: Four Lectures Delivered in London, June and July 1921 (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1921), 53. See Gauri Viswanathan, Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 177–207.

    (11) . Annie Besant, The Ancient Wisdom: An Outline of Theosophical Teachings (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1897), 2–3.

    (12) . Ibid., 231.

    (13) . Ibid., 310.

    (14) . E. Denison Ross, introduction to Religions of the Empire: A Conference on Some Living Religions within the Empire, ed. William Loftus Hare (London: Camelot Press; New York: Macmillan, 1925), 3.

    (15) . Richard Hughes Seager, ed., The Dawn of Religious Pluralism: Voices from the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893 (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1993); Seager, The World’s Parliament of Religions: The East/West Encounter, Chicago, 1893 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995); Eric J. Ziolkowski, ed., A Museum of Faiths: Histories and Legacies of the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993).

    (16) . Mustafa Khan, “The Spirit of Islam,” in Hare, Religions of the Empire, 86.

    (17) . William Loftus Hare, “A Sketch of Modern Religious Congresses,” in Hare, Religions of the Empire, 8–14.

    (18) . Khan, “Spirit of Islam,” 86; G. P. Malalasekera, “Influence of Buddhism on Education in Ceylon,” in Hare, Religions of the Empire, 175.

    (19) . N. C. Sen, “Brâhma Samâj,” 284; The Bahâ’i Assembly, “The Bahâ’i Cause,” 304, both in Hare, Religions of the Empire.

    (20) . Tyssul Davis, “Summing Up,” in Hare, Religions of the Empire, 516.

    (21) . Pandit Shyam Shankar, “Orthodox Hinduism or Sanâtana Dharma,” 32; Rai Bahadur Jagmander Lal Jaini, “Jainism,” 230, both in Hare, Religions of the Empire.

    (22) . Francis Younghusband, South Africa of Today (London: Macmillan, 1898). See Patrick French, Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer (London: HarperCollins, 1995); George Seaver, Francis Younghusband: Explorer and Mystic (London: John Murray, 1952).

    (23) . Francis Younghusband, The Heart of Nature; or, the Quest for Natural Beauty (London: John Murray, 1921), 168.

    (24) . Ibid., 149.

    (25) . Francis Younghusband, “Opening Address,” in Hare, Religions of the Empire, 15, 25, 17.

    (26) . Francis Younghusband, “Man and Nature,” in Hare, Religions of the Empire, 410.

    (27) . Victor Branford, “Primitive Occupations: Their Ideals and Temptations,” 424; J. Arthur Thomson, “The Naturalist’s Approach to Religion,” 417, both in Hare, Religions of the Empire.

    (28) . The Venerable Archdeacon Williams, “Some Account of the Maori Beliefs,” 332–46; Richard St. Barbe Baker, “Beliefs of Some East African Tribes,” 347–55; L. W. G. Malcolm, “Some Aspects of the Religion of the West African Negro,” 368–400, all in Hare, Religions of the Empire.

    (29) . Alice Werner, “An Introductory Note on Primitive Religion,” in Hare, Religions of the Empire, 330. (p.355)

    (30) . Mweli T. D. Skota, ed., The African Yearly Register: Being an Illustrated National Biographical Dictionary (Who’s Who) of the Black Folks in Africa (Johannesburg: R. L. Esson, 1930), 334. A sighting of Albert Thoka at the conference was reported by a participant, who noted, “Several dusky Africans flitted in and out including Mr. Albert Thoka.” William Loftus Hare, “A Parliament of Living Religions,” Open Court 38, no. 12 (1924): 713.

    (31) . Albert Thoka, “The Bantu Religious Ideas,” in Hare, Religions of the Empire, 358.

    (32) . Ibid., 356–59, 357. J. P. Dameron, Spiritism: The Origin of All Religions (San Francisco: Dameron, 1885), 65: “‘Therefore,’ says Agassiz, ‘to understand God we must study His works in nature, and the more we learn of it the more we will know of Him.’”

    (33) . Younghusband, “Man and Nature,” 405, 404.

    (34) . Thoka, “Bantu Religious Ideas,” 360, 364, 366, 367.

    (35) . J. Tengo Jabavu, “The Native Races of South Africa,” in Papers on Inter-Racial Problems Communicated to the First Universal Races Congress Held at the University of London July 26–29, 1911, ed. Gustav Spiller (London: P. S. King, 1911), 337.

    (36) . Marcus Braybrooke, “Francis Younghusband: Founder of the World Congress of Faiths,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 41, nos. 3–4 (2004): 456–62.

    (37) . Francis Younghusband, ed., A Venture of Faith: Being a Description of the World Congress of Faiths Held in London, 1936 (London: Michael Joseph, 1936; New York: Dutton, 1937); James B. Pratt, review of A Venture of Faith, Journal of Religion 18, no. 1 (1938): 126.

    (38) . C. J. Bleeker, “Epilegomena,” in Historia Religionem II: Religions of the Present, ed. C. J. Bleeker and Geo Widengren (Leiden: Brill, 1971), 649.

    (39) . Peter van der Veer, Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 65; Wouter J. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 443. On Theosophy, see Bruce F. Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived: A History of the Theosophical Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980); Joy Dixon, Divine Feminine: Theosophy and Feminism in England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001); Peter Washington, Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon: Theosophy and the Emergence of the Western Guru (London: Martin Secker & Warburg, 1993).

    (40) . H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy (London: Theosophical Publishing Company, 1888), 1:xxiii, xli; F. Max Müller, Introduction to the Science of Religion: Four Lectures Delivered at the Royal Institution with Two Essays on False Analogies, and the Philosophy of Mythology (London: Longmans, Green, 1873), 23, 257. See J. Jeffrey Franklin, The Lotus and the Lion: Buddhism and the British Empire (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008), 74–77.

    (41) . “Professor Max Müller,” Supplement to the Theosophist (January 1889): xxxv–xxxvi.

    (42) . F. Max Müller, “Esoteric Buddhism,” Nineteenth Century 33 (1893): 775. Max Müller’s exchange with A. P. Sinnett was reprinted in Max Müller, Last Essays, Second Series: Essays on the Science of Religion (London: Longmans, Green, 1901), 79–170. See Donald S. Lopez Jr., “The Science of Buddhism,” in Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed, by Lopez (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 153–96; Alex Owen, The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 30–34; Peter Pels, “Occult Truths: Race, Conjecture, and Theosophy in Victorian Anthropology,” in Excluded Ancestors, Inventible Traditions: Essays toward a More Inclusive History of Anthropology, ed. Richard Handler (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), 11–41.

    (43) . F. Max Müller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion (London: Longmans, Green, 1893), xvi.

    (44) . Edward Clodd, “Presidential Address,” Folklore 7, no. 1 (1896): 39.

    (45) . “On the Watch-Tower,” Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine 12, no. 69 (May 15, 1893): 182–83.

    (46) . Mark Bevir, “Theosophy and the Origins of the Indian National Congress,” International (p.356) Journal of Hindu Studies 7, nos. 1–3 (2003): 99–115. See W. Travis Hanes III, “On the Origins of the Indian National Congress: A Case Study of Cross-Cultural Synthesis,” Journal of World History 4, no. 1 (1993): 69–98.

    (47) . Patrick Bowen, “The Ancient Wisdom in Africa,” Theosophist 48, no. 11 (August 1927): 549–50.

    (48) . Ibid., 553, 555.

    (49) . Ibid., 555.

    (50) . P. G. Bowen, The Occult Way (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1933), 31–32.

    (51) . Bowen, “Ancient Wisdom in Africa,” 557.

    (52) . P. G. B. Bowen, “Africa’s White Race,” Theosophical Path 42, no. 2 (October 1932): 183.

    (53) . Bowen, “Ancient Wisdom in Africa,” 557–58.

    (54) . H. T. Edge, “H. P. Blavatsky on the Mission of Theosophy,” Theosophical Path 6, no. 3 (March 1914): 147; Annie Besant, “The Sphinx of Theosophy,” Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine 6 (August 1890): 453. See H. P. Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy (London: Theosophical Publishing Company, 1889), 175; Annie Besant, The Seven Principles of Man (London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1904).

    (55) . P. G. Bowen, “The New Age,” Theosophical Path 43, no. 2 (1933): 178.

    (56) . Bowen, “Ancient Wisdom in Africa,” 559.

    (57) . Annie Besant, The Riddle of Life and How Theosophy Answers It (London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1911), 35.

    (58) . Bowen, “Africa’s White Race, 179.

    (59) . Robert Bowen, “The ‘Secret Doctrine’ and Its Study,” in An Invitation to the Secret Doctrine, ed. Grace F. Knoche (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1988), 1–6.

    (60) . P. G. Bowen, “Amazwi Wo Mamdala: The Sayings of the Ancient One,” Theosophical Path 42, no. 2 (October 1932): 185–90; Bowen, The Sayings of the Ancient One (London: Rider, n.d. [1935]).

    (61) . Bhagavan Das, The Essential Unity of All Religions, 2nd ed. (1932; Benares: Kashi, 1939), 193–97.

    (62) . Eleanor Stakesby-Lewis, “The Mystery Tradition of Africa,” Theosophist 72, nos. 5–6 (1951): 322–27, 420–25.

    (63) . Patrick Bowen, “The Ancient Wisdom in Africa,” Studies in Comparative Religion 3, no. 2 (1969): 96–102. Bowen’s African theosophy has been cited as factual by Joseph Head and S. L. Cranston, Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery (New York: Julian Press, 1977), 191; Robert Kastenbaum, Is There Life after Death? The Latest Evidence Analysed (London: Prion, 1997), 190; and Mathole Motshekga, founder of the Kara Heritage Institute in South Africa. See David Chidester, Wild Religion: Tracking the Sacred in South Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 152–75.

    (64) . Steven Wasserstrom, Religion after Religion: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999); Thomas Hakl, Eranos: An Alternative Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century, trans. Christopher McIntosh (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2012).

    (65) . W. Richard Comstock, “Religion, Literature, and Religious Studies: A Sketch of Their Modal Connections,” Notre Dame English Journal 14, no. 1 (1981): 15. See Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 321.

    (66) . Bruce Lincoln, Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 50–51, 211. See Howard Gaskill, ed., The Reception of Ossian in Europe (London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004).

    (67) . Henry Callaway, The Religious System of the Amazulu (1868–70; reprint, Cape Town: Struik, 1970), 94.

    (68) . John William Colenso, Ten Weeks in Natal: A Journal of a First Tour of Visitation among the Colonists and Zulu Kafirs of Natal (Cambridge: Macmillan, 1855), 57–59. See William H. Worger, (p.357) “Parsing God: Conversations about the Meaning of Words and Metaphors in Nineteenth-Century Southern Africa,” Journal of African History 42, no. 3 (2001): 435–36.

    (69) . Henry Callaway, Religious Sentiment amongst the Tribes of South Africa (Kokstad, South Africa: Callaway, 1874), 12.

    (70) . Max Müller, Introduction to the Science of Religion, 185.

    (71) . E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, 2 vols. (London: John Murray, 1871), 1:88–89.

    (72) . Ibid., 1:399–400.

    (73) . Andrew Lang, The Making of Religion (London: Longmans, Green, 1898), 178.

    (74) . Andrew Lang, Custom and Myth (London: Longmans, Green, 1884), 237.

    (75) . Andrew Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion, 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green, 1901), 1:109–10.

    (76) . James Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, 12 vols., 3rd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1911–15), 6:184–85; Callaway, Religious System, 145.

    (77) . Frazer, Golden Bough, 3rd ed., 6:200.

    (78) . Russell T. McCutcheon, ed., The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion: A Reader (London: Cassell, 1999).

    (79) . Jeppe Sinding Jensen, “Revisiting the Insider-Outsider Debate: Dismantling a Pseudo-Problem in the Study of Religion,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 23, no. 1 (2011): 31.

    (80) . Paul Christopher Johnson, Secrets, Gossip, and Gods: The Transformation of Brazilian Candomblé (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 9.

    (81) . Gauri Viswanathan, “The Ordinary Business of Occultism,” Critical Inquiry 27, no. 1 (2000): 1–20.

    (82) . E. B. Tylor, “On the Limits of Savage Religion,” Journal of the Anthropological Institute 21 (1892): 283, 298.

    (83) . James G. Frazer, “The Scope and Method of Mental Anthropology (1920),” in Garnered Sheaves: Essays, Addresses, and Reviews, by Frazer (London: Macmillan, 1931), 246.

    (84) . Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion, 2:358–59.

    (85) . Frazer, “Scope and Method of Mental Anthropology,” 244.

    (86) . Phil Macnaghten and John Urry, Contested Natures (London: Sage, 1998), 104–29.

    (87) . Carlo Ginzburg, Threads and Traces: True False Fictive, trans. Anne C. Tedeschi and John Tedeschi (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 21.