The White Buddhist

The White Buddhist

The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott
Stephen Prothero
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 11/29/2010
Format: Paperback 13 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-22276-3
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AAR Best First Book in the History of Religions, 1996

Denounced by the New York Times as an "unmitigated rascal" while simultaneously being lauded as a reincarnation of Gautama Buddha himself, Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907) was friend to Madame Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society, and an indefatigable reformer and culture broker between East and West. Olcott helped bring about a new spiritual creation, Protestant Buddhism, a creative creolization of American Protestantism, traditional Theravada Buddhism, and other influences. Stephen Prothero’s portrait of Olcott is an engaging study of spiritual quest and cross-cultural encounters.

Author Bio

Stephen Prothero is Professor of Religion at Boston University. His books include God is Not One: The Eight Religious Rivals that Run the World; American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon; and the New York Times bestseller Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--and Doesn't, which won a 2007 Quill Book Award. Prothero blogs for CNN's Belief Blog and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Newsweek, Slate, and Salon.


“An engaging portrait of a man denounced by the New York Times as an “unmitigated rascal” while simultaneously being lauded as a reincarnation of Gautama Buddha himself. ”

“An important study of a remarkable 19th-century American.”
 — Choice

“Prothero has succeeded in creating a portrait of Olcott that will shape future scholarship. . . . Engaging and succinct.”
 — Gnosis Magazine

“The first scholarly biographical study of [this] influential figure; its use of “creolization” theory adds to ongoing conversations about how to understand contact, colonialism, and conversion.”
 — Religious Studies Review

“A meticulous story of a very colorful subject. In the process, [Prothero] assists the understanding of religious pluralism in our current age.”
 — Church History

“Prothero’s study should interest not only scholars in the field but students of Asian religions and American religious history generally.”
 — Journal of American History

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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
1. Universal Reformer
2. From Spiritualism to Theosophy
3. An Errand to Asia
4. The Sinhalese Buddhist Revival
5. A United Buddhist World
6. The Indian Renaissance
7. Things Fall Apart
Selected Bibliography

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