Theosophical Ecumenism & the Naarden Declaration

ITC logoIn 1958, F. Pierce Spinks published an appeal to theosophists throughout the world. In a volume entitled, Theosophists: Reunite!, Spinks called for the reunification of worldwide theosophy into a reunified Theosophical Society. He wrote, “In the beginning Theosophists were united. I could not free myself of the thought: it burned itself into my very being. Why could we not enjoy this same unity once more? Why should a Movement having such eminent sponsorship be so sadly divided into groups refusing to cooperate with each other despite similarity of aims?” The reasons the various theosophical organization could not reunite were numerous, tied to individual personalities, long histories of conflict, and significant differences of opinion with regard to what is theosophy, how it should unfold, and who should shepherd its development.

Resentment between groups runs deep. Over the years I have found that differences originating decades and generations ago have been inherited and strengthened in the current generations. As each theosophical organization has matured the possibility of it being subsumed into another organization and under some other leadership becomes less likely. Yet, one of the core principles, established early on in theosophy, was universal brotherhood—unity. Spinks’ call for unity was founded on theosophical teachings.  In addition to Spinks, there have been others who have made repeated calls to unify theosophy in one organization. All have failed.

More recently, a different approach has emerged, one that seems to be more successful. In 2008, building on a decade old tradition of local and regional theosophical conferences, a new organization developed: International Theosophy Conferences (ITC). Since 2008, the ITC has been able to slowly build support from a variety of theosophical organizations and members. As it has continued to demonstrate an ethos of ecumenism, more and more people have begun to support the effort, and more and more organizations have committed support. The most recent conference was hosted in August 2014, at the International Theosophical Centre in Naarden, Netherlands, a theosophical center dedicated to the principles of Universal Brotherhood and Peace. Present were numerous representatives from a variety of theosophical organizations including the Theosophical Society headquartered in Adyar, India, the Theosophical Society formally based in Point Loma, California, and the United Lodge of Theosophists, as well as others from smaller groups, and independent theosophists. The theme of the conference was “Theosophy, Unity and Helping the World ....where do we go from here?”

At the conference, there was an effort to articulate a vision of unity. Unlike Spinks who envisioned a united theosophy as constituting a single organization, the current thinking about unity is directed toward uniting in cooperation under the common foundation of Madam Blavatsky. Like Abraham is the point from which all Abrahamic religions claim origination, Blavatsky is the one theosophical leader all theosophists can accept and rally around. The whole declaration reads as follows:

The International Theosophy Conferences 2014, Naarden Declaration Having respect for the diversity and freedom of the various Theosophical streams, we will endeavor to act as a Beacon of Light for bringing Theosophy in accordance with* the teachings of H. P. Blavatsky and her Masters to the world. In an undogmatic manner and through harmonious cooperation we will strengthen the Theosophical Movement for the benefit of humanity. In the spirit of unity and brotherhood, we endeavour to make Theosophy a living power in the world. We commit ourselves through learning, training and cross-pollination to popularize and keep the teachings alive for future generations.

Spinks ended his appeal for unity stating, “Non-cooperation and disunity mean disintegration and death. Unification and harmony mean growth and vital expansion beyond your fondest dreams.” Perhaps the Naarden Declaration is not what Spinks argued for in practice, but perhaps it begins to approach it in spirit. Moreover, the declaration seems to recognize that the theosophical movement is under pressure; not only by its own internal principles, but also by pressures arising out of its shrinking membership base, the aging of that base, the diminishing resources available to theosophists worldwide, and the reluctance of subsequent generations to join and support the various theosophical organizations. Joining forces and combining resources to maintain a theosophical presence may be the only option going forward for the various organizations.  Nevertheless, the declaration is an important milestone for theosophists. What remains to be seen is “where they go from here.”

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