World Congress of the Theosophical Society (Adyar)

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From time to time, the Theosophical Society based in Adyar holds a World Congress, and not more than once in a span of seven years.

Annie Besant opening the First World Congress

First World Congress, Paris

The First World Congress was held in Paris, France, in 1921. Clara Codd wrote of Annie Besant's lecture: "When she spoke to the Sorbonne at the First World Congress we held in Paris, we all gave up our seats to accommodate the thronging French crowds, for Mrs. Besant spoke in French."[1]" B. P. Wadia spoke on "Will the Soul of Europe Return?" The Rapp Square headquarters building of the French Section was dedicated during this congress. Professor Jean Émile Marcault "was one of the outstanding features of the World Congress" in his excellent translations of speeches from French to English and English to French.[2] At least 1400 delegates from thirty-four nations were in attendance, including Americans A. P. Warrington, Max Wardall, Marie Poutz, Elizabeth Bartlett, and A. F. Knudsen.[3] A major topic of the congress was best method of educating youth.

Second World Congress, Adyar

The Second World Congress was held in Adyar, Chennai, India, in 1925, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Theosophical Society.

Special department in The Theosophical Messenger. Drawing by Robert M. Bernardeau.
Poster for Third World Congress

Third World Congress, Chicago

The Third World Congress was held at the Hotel Stevens in Chicago, United States, August 24-29, 1929. Speakers included Annie Besant, George S. Arundale, Rukmini Devi Arundale, C. Jinarājadāsa, Geoffrey Hodson, Dorothy Jinarājadāsa, Clara Codd, A. P. Warrington, L. W. Rogers, and Mrs. C. W. Dykgraaf.

The meetings of the World Congress were held in the Ball Room of the Stevens Hotel. It was combined with the Convention of the American Section....

Mr. Hodson was the star speaker after Dr. Besant, and the Congress and Convention closed as was the custom with the American Section in those days, with a huge banquet, at which everyone had to tell a story.[4]

A magazine story relates:

The three outstanding characteristics of the Congress were the discussions of the relationship between the Society and The Liberal Catholic Church, the removal to India of the Official magazine, The Theosophist, and a change of dues to the Society.

Dr. Besant was present and spoke frequently upon many subjects in both open and closed meetings. Public lectures were given also by Dr. James Cousins, and Mr. Geoffrey Hodgson, of England. Bishop Arundale of The Liberal Catholic Church of Australia was one of the principal speakers throughout the convention, together with the officials of The American Society. There were delegates present from the following countries: England, India, Australia, Sweden, New Zealand, Ireland, Mexico, Canada, Iceland, Wales, Uruguay, Poland, Central America, Porto Rico and Czecho-Slovakia.

The Congress closed with a banquet at which more than a thousand people were present.[5]

Margueret E. Cousins, a musician and teacher, reported that:

On Aug. 29, the closing day of The Theosophical Society's World Congress in Chicago, a group of artists and art-lovers present at the Congress met for an informal discussion of ways and means by which the arts might be given greater prominence in theosophical activities.[6]

She went on to list ten resolutions about integrating the arts into events and practices of the Theosophical Society, and to say that an Art Committee had formed, with herself as liaison in Adyar and Mrs. C. Shillard Smith as correspondent in the United States.

Many of the speakers stayed after the congress to assist with the Summer School held in the new Wheaton headquarters. The published Proceedings of the school included transcribed lectures by Annie Besant, Max Wardall, Geoffrey Hodson, L. W. Rogers, and George Arundale.

Fourth World Congress, Geneva

The Fourth World Congress was held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1936. Clara Codd described that event:

This time we met in the Hall of the League of Nations, generously lent to us for the occasion. We each sat at a large table. Underneath it a disc cold be turned and ear phones were attached. There were eight points to which one could turn the disc, and at each one heard through the ear phones a current translation of the speech being delivered, in any one of eight languages. This was done by an interpreter sitting in a little booth under the stage, and speaking the translation into a telephone simultaneously with the speaker...

At Geneva I saw again some for my American friends. The American General Secretary, Mr. Sidney A. Cook, had brought over such a lovely blue and silver car that it attracted Swiss crowds wherever it was parked.[7]

Delegates gathering around N. Sri Ram at Kongresshaus, Salzburg

Fifth World Congress, Salzburg

The Fifth World Congress was held at Kongresshaus in Salzburg, Austria, in 1966, attended by 1200 members from 47 countries.[8] The theme was "A World in Transition." John B. S. Coats was the principal organizer of this congress.[9] Other participants were International President N. Sri Ram, Bhagirathi Sri Ram, James S. Perkins, Kathrine Perkins, Clara Codd, Felix Layton, Eunice Layton, Geoffrey Hodson, and Sandra Hodson. Geoffrey Barborka was present, as a stop in his world tour.[10]

  • Radha Burnier spoke on "Liberating Beauty."[11]
  • Mrs. Gool Minwalla, Mrs. Stakesby-Lewis, and Miss Ruth Beringer made a presentation about "The Role of the TS in Present Conditions."[12]
  • Mr. Ross, Mr. Hjalmarsson, and Felix Layton discussed "The Place of Religion in a World of Science and Technology."[13]
  • Geoffrey Hodson delivered a talk on "Through War Caused by Ignorance to Peace Founded upon Knowledge."[14]
Dalai Lama and John Coats in 1975, Adyar

Sixth World Congress, several locations

The Sixth World Congress, or Centennial World Congress, was held in New York City, United States, in 1975, with the theme, "In the Footsteps of the Founders." About 800 members from around the world attended sessions in the Grand Ballroom of the Statler Hilton Hotel. Participates included people from many branches of the broader Theosophical Movement, making it the first major effort toward fraternization since the H. P. Blavatsky Centennial Conference held in 1931 in London.

This congress commemorated the centenary of the founding of the Theosophical Society, and was followed by major celebrations in London, Bombay, and Adyar. Early in 1976 the celebrations continued in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and in Australia. The only person known to have attended all six events was Joy Mills, the Vice President of the international Theosophical Society.[15]

According to one observer of the New York event, the lecture by Boris de Zirkoff called "The Dream that Never Dies," was "truly a high point of that week-long gathering."[16] That and many other centennial lectures were recorded and are available at the Henry S. Olcott Memorial Library.

Seventh World Congress, Nairobi

The Seventh World Congress was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1982. The theme was "Live to Benefit Mankind." Some of the people seated in the front row of this group photograph includ Joy Mills, Radha Burnier, Ianthe H. Hoskins, and Emily Sellon.

World Congress Nairobi 1982.jpg

Eighth World Congress, Brasilia

The Eighth World Congress was held in Brasilia, Brazil, in 1993. The theme was "Towards a Wise Mind and a Noble Society."

Emblem of the Ninth World Congress in Sydney

Ninth World Congress, Sydney

The Ninth World Congress was held in Sydney, Australia, January 13-19, 2001. The theme was "In Tune With the Universe."

Tenth World Congress, Rome

The Tenth World Congress was held in Rome, Italy, in 2010. The theme was "Universal Brotherhood without Distinctions: a Road to Awareness."

Eleventh World Congress, Singapore

The Eleventh World Congress was held August 4-9, 2018, in Singapore.

Emblem of the Twelfth World Congress in Vancouver

Twelfth World Congress, Vancouver

The Twelfth World Congress is scheduled to be held at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada from July 23-27, 2025, celebrating the sesquicentennial of the Theosophical Society and centennial of the Theosophical Society in Canada. The theme is "Toward Insight and Wholeness: Our Role in Shaping the Future."


  1. Clara Codd, So Rich a Life (Pretoria: Institute for Theosophical Publicity, 1956), 139.
  2. D. Graham Pole, "The T.S. in England and Wales" The General Report of the T. S 1921 (Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1922), 43.
  3. "World Congress of Theosophists" Salt Lake Telegram (July 26, 1921): 9. An Associated Press article.
  4. Clara Codd, So Rich a Life (Pretoria: Institute for Theosophical Publicity, 1956), 329-330.
  5. Rachel Mack Wilson, "World Congress of Theosophists" Occult Life 2.7 Oct-Nov 1929. See PDF here.
  6. Margaret E. Cousins, "Art in Theosophical Activities" The Theosophical Messenger 17.10 (October 1929), 211.
  7. Clara Codd, So Rich a Life (Pretoria: Institute for Theosophical Publicity, 1956), 264-265.
  8. Notation on slide # HM50 by Harry McAllister. Digital slide collection. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  9. "John B. S. Coats: Biographical Sketch,"President's Inauguration, 1973 Reports of Speeches. Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973.
  10. Mentioned in announcements during Henry Smith lecture, "Esoteric Approach to Philosophy and Ethics" presented on October 22, 1966 at Akbar Lodge in Chicago.
  11. Notation on slide # HM31 by Harry McAllister. Digital slide collection. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  12. Notation on slide # HM65 by Harry McAllister. Digital slide collection. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  13. Notation on slide # HM56 by Harry McAllister. Digital slide collection. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  14. Notation on slide # HM23 by Harry McAllister. Digital slide collection. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
  15. Joy Mills, 100 Years of Theosophy: A History of The Theosophical Society in America (Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 180.
  16. Letter from Elwood and Alicia Schenck. Theosophia Tribute Issue 37.4 (Summer 1981), 9.

Additional resources