After decades of quasi-hibernation, the Theosophical Society (TS) in Denmark has started growing again.
The number of its members quadrupled over the past twenty years, from 300 to nearly 1,200, writes René Dybdal Pedersen (University of Aarhus, Denmark) in the latest issue of Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism (9(2), 2009). Many TS branches in other countries have not been able to reach the number of members that they had in the early decades of the 20th century.
The case of the Danish section presents some notable features, since it suspended relations with the international TS (headquartered at Adyar, India) in 1989, following disagreements on leadership and policy. Pedersen describes it as a being “late modern,” in contrast with the Adyar TS: the Danish TS has renounced hierarchical organizational model and has adopted a flat leadership structure, with emphasis on local autonomy and doctrinal autonomy as well, allowing for cooperation with a variety of religious groups.
The Danish TS has adjusted to trends toward individualization.
Moreover, while the TS historically has played a crucial role in spreading ideas that would inspire the New Age, it has not necessarily followed through on this shift to experiential religion. In contrast, the Danish TS has managed to become “an adequate harbor for those involved in the widespread New Age or holistic milieu,” Pedersen observes.
His respondents in the Danish TS suggest that it has shifted from being an elite group to a group welcoming spiritual seekers looking for something more substantial. But other factors were also involved in this change: an economic recovery of the section, the fact that the group was already organized, and national leaders able to create bonds with other people.
(Aries, c/o Hilda Nobach, Faculty of Humanities, Dept. Art, Religion and Cultural Studies, Oude Turfmarkt 147, NL-1012 GC Amsterdam)