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Research Project on the Work of Phiroz Mehta

By Doctor Karen O’Brien-Kop, lecturer in Asian Religions and Ethics at the University of Roehampton, London

In 2020 I was granted a generous research fund by the Southlands Methodist Trust at the University of Roehampton to research the works of Phiroz Mehta, including his impact on notions of spirituality in the UK.

I am now wrapping up the project, which has focused on interviews with people who attended Phiroz’s talks during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as archival research in his personal library and research papers.

The project has proved to be an interesting and important investigation into a scholarly life that spanned most of the 20th century.

The story of Phiroz Mehta is one that traverses early Theosophy in India and Sri Lanka, health and fitness developments around ‘physical culture’ in the UK during the 1920s–1930s, the perennial philosophy of Jiddu Krishnamurti, the human potential movement of the 1970s and transnational concepts of Indian spirituality and their dissemination and growth in the UK through practices of yoga and meditation.

But, despite this long and varied history over the 20th century, at the heart of this project is a local history of South London, capturing the oral recollections of a community who attended talks at Dilkusha, Mehta’s Victorian family home in Forest Hill, throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The project aims to preserve the memories and reflections of those interviewed about their time with Mehta, and the impact of his ideas, talks and publications on their worldviews.

A talk about the project was given at at Southlands College, University of Roehampton, on June 9th 2022.

I will be publishing an academic article on my findings in a peer-reviewed journal later on this year, and an accessible visual timeline with annotations will be launched online in autumn 2022, designed for public engagement.

I will also be giving a talk to the Methodist London Learning Network as part of a study event for local preachers and worship leaders in London and recording a podcast for the New Books Network.

I would like to issue my sincere thanks to all of the persons associated with the Phiroz Mehta Trust, who took part in this project or supported it in various ways.

A link to a video of Dr. Karen O’Brien-Kop’s talk will be posted here when it is available.

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