Modernism and Alternative Spiritualities Symposium

  • Polly Hember (Organiser)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


In ‘A Secular Age’ Charles Taylor argues that instead of characterising Western modernity as a moment that saw a decline in religion, emphasis should instead be placed on the way in which the spiritual climate was reconfigured, particularly in terms of the way belief became a matter of individual choice.

Modern life, he argues, bore witness to a ‘spiritual super-nova, a kind of galloping pluralism on the spiritual plane’. Coterminous with the decline in the authority of the Church in the early 20th century was a turn to alternative spiritual pathways: the teaching of independent gurus such as GI Gurdjieff, PD Ouspensky and Meher Baba of Eastern Religion and appropriated versions in occult systems of thought, including Theosophy, Anthroposophy and magical organisations such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

This was a culture that was playful and explorative, one in which – as spiritual seeker Rom Landau put it in his book ‘God is my Adventure’ – people were ‘only too willing to delve into […] unorthodox schools of thought, yet without feeling compelled to accept this or that method as the only valid one.’

The aim of this symposium is to explore the intersection of this spiritual culture with literary and artistic modernism. Traditionally characterised as a movement infused by secular disillusionment, recent scholarship has emphasised the continuation of the sacred among the moderns, albeit in ways that were often idiosyncratic, outlandish and deviant.
Period10 Jan 2020
Event typeConference
LocationLondonShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • modernism
  • spirituality
  • counterculture
  • witchcraft
  • literature
  • art