Lori Lee Oates

Department: History
Discipline: History

Project Summary

In 2009 I posed a simple question: why does contemporary Western society seem to draw many of its religious teachings from New Age texts, the Oprah Whinfrey Show, and Eckert Tolle web casts? I soon found that the answers were rooted in nineteenth-century occultism and ancient religions. This has been effectively document by Wouter Hanegraaff in New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. However, I also came to the conclusion that the evolution of contemporary religion had been far more than a process of secularization. It has also been influenced by the growth in the market economy, globalization, transportation technology, and imperialism. For my thesis, I conducted an examination of the influence of the nineteenth-century global and imperial context on the growth in and development of occultism. My work not only sheds light on the evolution of contemporary New Age religion. It draw attention to the parallels between nineteenth-century debates about the the democratization of the printing press and contemporary debates about the Internet and concepts such as net neutrality. 

My project draws on primary and secondary sources in Britain and France, with special emphasis on theories of the nineteenth-century market economy and the democratization of the printing press . My central question is 'what can an examination of the global circulation of occult texts in the long nineteenth century tell us about the globalization of the occult and commercialization of religion?' This includes an examination of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Theosophical Society, fringe Masonic Rites, and Le Droit Humain. Key esotericists to be examined include Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Kenneth Mackenzie, Eliphas Levi, Gerard Encausse, Helena Blatavatsky, Annie Besant, Anna Kingsford, MacGregor Mathers, William Crookes, and Lady Caithness. I will pay particular attention to meta-histories created by esotericists and esoteric societies. I will draw on primary and secondary sources at the British Library, Bibliotheque National, the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, the Hertfordshire County Archives, Knebworth House, and Oxford.

Supervisory Team

Regenia Gagnier, main supervisor - http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/english/staff/gagnier

Richard Noakes, second supervisor - http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/history/staff/rnoakes/ 

Joseph Crawford, third supervisors  - https://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/english/staff/crawford/


Wider Research Interests

Western esotericism, secularism, globalization, imperialism, French Revolution, Industrial Revolution, Orientalism, occultism, Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Theosophy, fringe masonry, mesmerism, history of science, history of medicine, historical methodologies, women's history, Neoplatonism, Christianity, and New Age Religion.

Authored Publications/Reports

Lori Lee Oates (2013) Review Wouter Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture, Ex Historia, Vol. 5, 218-221

Lori Lee Oates (2013) Review Pathways in Modern Western Magic, Alternative Spiritualities and Religion Review , Issue 2: Volume 4, 296-298