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NYC - Lecture Series w/ Heidi Kasevich

After Alexandra David-Néel was decorated with a Knight’s Cross from the Legion of Honor in 1928, The Wide World, the “American magazine for men,” featured a cover story about the extraordinary journey of the French explorer: “To Lhasa in Disguise: A Remarkable Story of Pluck and Pertinacity.” How did a 56-year-old former opera singer manage to enter the Forbidden City in the winter of 1924 without getting caught? According to this and other popular accounts, the adventure heroine, endowed with an indomitable spirit and a superhuman ability to endure pain, possessed a couple of secret weapons: an intimate knowledge of Tibetan language and customs and a lama’s training in the Tantric skill of tumo breathing, which allowed her to warm her body at will through yogic exercises.

An examination of her life in the context of the history of French politics, culture, and society reveals that Alexandra’s rebellion against the prevailing norm of domesticity was rooted not only in her character – she was egotistical, restless and stubborn – but also in a particular constellation of factors that characterized her early years: a commitment to fin-de-siècle anarchism, an association with the feminist newspaper La Fronde, and a yearning for spiritual fulfillment in an increasingly secular society. After a week-long flirtation with traditional marriage in 1904 and a conversion to Buddhism in 1909, she charted a new path for 20th century women by travelling to Asia in 1911 with the explicit goal of producing superior works of scholarship to those of other “stale” males in the field. She did not return home until 1925.

In the wake of her Himalayan tramps, Alexandra crafted a public persona that conflated the image of the modern woman – athletic, independent, intrepid – with that of the more socially acceptable wife and mother: the seemingly frail traveler was known as both the wife of a colonial officer (she remained married to Philippe Néel for 37 years) and the mother of an adopted Sikkimese son. Straddling the worlds of modernity and tradition enabled her to evade criticism about her unconventional behavior, and she became a role model for a new generation of pioneering young women.

In 1964, Alexandra David-Néel was honored again by the French state for a “protracted and exceptional” career with a promotion to the class of Commander of the Legion of Honor: she was revered as an expert in both Buddhism and Oriental affairs (she published 23 books on these topics). Even though authentic freedom proved to be an elusive goal - the yogi remained a “Parisian dilettante, philosopher, and artist” at heart – Alexandra never gave up trying to live without submitting to anyone or anything: “Obedience is death.”


Head of History Department at the Nightingale-Bamford School, Heidi Kasevich has been teaching there since 2005. She led two trips to India, started Time Regained, an award-winning student journal of current affairs, founded two popular electives for upper school students, World Religions and Fragile Goddesses, and developed a leadership training program for the high school. Prior to her tenure at Nightingale, Dr. Kasevich taught at Berkeley Carroll, Dalton, Cooper Union, and NYU. She received her BA from Haverford, studied at the Sorbonne and the Institut d’Études Politiques, and received her doctorate from New York University.


Photos of Alexandra David-Néel are courtesy of Heidi Kasevich
via the Alexandra David-Néel Cultural Center in Digne, France.

Date: 03/03/2014

Time: 6:00pm Reception, 7:00pm Lecture

Location: Club Headquarters, 46 E 70th Street, NY, NY, 10021

Member Ticket Price: Free

Guest Ticket Price: $20

Student Ticket Price:

Free to EC Student Members, $5 w/ a valid Student ID

Reservation Notes:

Reservations are secured on a first come, first served basis.

To make a reservation, please call 212.628.8383
or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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