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Annie Besant's Quest for Truth: Christianity, Secularism, and New Age Thought

Abstract

This essay examines the intellectual coherence of Annie Besant's life in such a way as to explore the rise of New Age thought in its relation to the Victorian crisis of faith. Scholars typically present Besant's life in terms of a series of commitments to incompatible movements, notably secularism, socialism, and theosophy. They explain her involvement in these movements by reference to her emotional needs, not to beliefs she held for reasons that made sense to her. In contrast, this essay suggests her life was a quest for truth, where the requirements she placed on the truth arose from her early break with Christianity, and where her social situation placed constraints on the sorts of movements through which she might pursue her quest. From this perspective, New Age thought appears as an intelligible response to the same crisis of faith that underlay much Victorian secularism.

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