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The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott (Religion in North Am)

Stephen R Prothero

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ISBN 10: 0253330149 / ISBN 13: 9780253330147
Published by Indiana University Press, 1996
Condition: Good Hardcover
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Title: The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of ...

Publisher: Indiana University Press

Publication Date: 1996

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition: Good

Edition: First Edition - may be Reissue.

About this title


The New York Times denounced him as an "unmitigated rascal". Others described him as a reincarnation of the Buddhist emperor Ashoka or perhaps Gautama Buddha himself. He was Colonel Henry Steel Olcott (1832 - 1907), friend to Madame Blavatsky and president-founder of the Theosophical Society. This book tells the fascinating story of his spiritual odyssey.
Raised a Presbyterian in nineteenth century New York, Olcott embraced spiritualism and then theosophy before becoming the first American of European descent to make a formal conversion to Buddhism. Despite his repudiation of Christianity, Olcott's life was an extension of both the "errand to the wilderness" of his Puritan ancestors and the "errand to the world" of American Protestant missionaries. Olcott viewed himself as a defender of Asian religions against the missionaries, but his actions mirrored theirs. He wrote and distributed tracts and catechisms, promoted the translation of scriptures into vernacular languages, established Sunday schools, founded voluntary associations, and conducted revivals. And he too labored to "uplift" his Asian acquaintances, urging them to embrace social reforms such as temperance and women's rights. However one views his work, his legacy was a lasting one, and today he is revered in Sri Lanka as a leader of the Sinhalese Buddhist Revival and in India as a key contributor to the Indian Renaissance.


Largely forgotten in his own country, the first American convert to Buddhism, Henry Steel Olcott, is still revered as a religious hero in Sri Lanka. Having played a key role in the revival of Buddhism there, he also championed Hinduism, Islam, and Zoroastrianism in India and was co-founder of the influential Theosophical Society. In an insightful portrait of the man and his mission, religion scholar Stephen Prothero proposes the concept of religious "creolization" in regard to Olcott's unconscious merging of Indian spirituality with American Protestant methodology.

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