The spiritual partnership of Russian émigré painter Nicholas Roerich (1874–1947) and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace (1888–1965), which lasted from 1929 to 1934, provides rich material for a student of social and spiritual utopias. This paper is focused on the most intriguing aspect of their activities: the pursuit of a spiritual and geopolitical utopia that Roerich labeled as the Sacred Union of the East. Sponsored by Henry Wallace, in 1934-1935, Roerich embarked on a botanical expedition to north-eastern China and Inner Mongolia, simultaneously having another agenda: launching in Inner Asia a theocracy based on Buddhist and Theosophical ideas. Supported by the United States, this state was envisioned as both a counterbalance to Japan and a blueprint of ideal social and spiritual living with cooperatives in its economic foundation and with an ideology that was to represent a blend of Theosophy and Buddhism. The paper explores the Roerich-Wallace utopian plan in the context of the interwar history, which was heavily infested with totalitarian projects that advocated ultimate solutions to world’s problems. Looked from such a viewpoint, the botanical expedition with a geopolitical and occult twist does not look as bizarre as it has appeared to other authors.
History, Anthropology, & Philosophy
- Event date
2 March 2014
- Date submitted
18 July 2022
- Additional information
Andrei Znamenski, Professor of History, Department of History, University of Memphis. His major fields of interests include Shamanism, Western esotericism, and Russian history. Among his major publications is The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination (Oxford UP, 2007), Shamanism in Siberia (Kluwer/Springer, 2003), and most recently Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia (Quest Books, 2011).