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The Reception of the Category of the East by Polish Esoteric Environments at the Turn of the 20th Century and its Cultural and Religious Consequences

Project financed by the National Science Centre (Poland) in the programme Preludium 6

Head of the Project: Karolina Maria Hess MA

The project aims to explore the cultural consequences of the collision of Eastern and Western thought in the Polish context, through the prism of sources related to the esoteric environment. The greatest turning point in the reception of elements of Eastern philosophy, as well as Eastern ritual and practice, in modern Western societies took place in the 2nd half of the 19th century and – if one takes into account the historical and cultural context – was mostly mediated by groups related to the Theosophy of Helena P. Blavatsky and Henry S. Olcott. My hypothesis is that Western Esotericism, which became the medium for this reception, contributed importantly to the interpretation of exotic elements. The main goal of the project is to analyse the specific distortions of Eastern philosophy and practice that were brought in by the mediating esoteric discourses and to explicate the extrapolation of meanings produced (by intellectual elites) as a result of those distortions within various areas of Polish culture in the first half of 20th century, including their later consequences, reaching as far as the beginning of the 21st century. To serve this goal, the project includes analyses of previously unpublished documents of the Theosophical Society and other organisations, as well as source material and manifestos of the ideologues of this and related intellectual trends, literary works, paintings and other works inspired by Eastern traditions and by Western esotericism.

The research aims at a systematisation of the source material, not yet studied, as well as an analysis of texts of great significance for the understanding of the reception of Eastern traditions at a time these were little known to a broad audience. At the same time, the research tracks the mechanisms of the development of philosophical-religious syncretisms and their expression; without a doubt, it fills a gap in the still underdeveloped field of Polish scholarship on Western Esotericism.