Thursday, August 25, 2016

Traditionalist Sufism today

A new article by Francesco Piraino, "L’héritage de René Guénon dans le soufisme du XXIe siècle en France et en Italie" (Religiologiques 33, 2016, pp. 155-80), looks at the heritage of René Guénon in 21st century Sufism in France and Italy, as the title suggests.

Piraino is a sociologist, and his conclusions are based on ethnographic fieldwork. He argues that Traditionalist Sufism has changed under the dual impact of migration and the New Age, and to some extent also under the impact of the Far Right, so that there are now four "idealtypes": the classic Guénonian, the immigrant, the New Age, and the Far Right. He takes the Milanese Sufis following Pallavicini as exemplifying the Guénonian idealtype, the Boutchichis as exemplifying the immigrant idealtype, and Italian Evolians for the Far Right idealtype. None of these three would disagree. But he also takes the Schuonians as exemplifying the New Age idealtype, a conclusion that would horrify many of them. Why? Because of Schuon's involvement with Native Americans, because many Schuonians are engaged in a long-term search that takes them through multiple religions, and because for many of them Guénon is just one reference among many, along with others such as Gurdjieff, Carlos Castaneda, Idries Shah, and Henry Corbin. Ethnography, then, supports a conclusion that might not have been reached by other means.

Piraino also argues that what Guénon matters most for today is his perennialism, his function as a guide to the religious landscape, and that his apocalyptic critique of the modern world has become merely "symbolic," as has the contrast he drew between West and Orient. I agree that few Traditionalists today would maintain that the Orient remained traditional, but my own impression is that the critique of modernity remains important. But I do not know Piraino's informants.

Monday, August 15, 2016

New book on Western Sufism

A new book on Western Sufism is due out some time around October 2016: Mark Sedgwick, Western Sufism: From the Abbasids to the New Age (New York: Oxford University Press).

Western Sufism is in some ways the continuation of Against the Modern World, but also goes a long way back in time, as the subtitle suggests. Actual Guénonian Traditionalism is only one topic among many, but perennialism is a topic that comes and goes throughout the book, and Guénonian Traditionalism appears in a new light (as do many other things, from Maimonides to Gurdjieff). Ivan Aguéli is covered in more detail than in Against the Modern World, as Swedish sources have been used.

The table of contents can be seen on the companion website, which also has a gallery which gives a good idea of the book's contents. There is also a companion blog, which will be used for posts that are not relevant to Traditionalism.

It is possible to pre-order the book now: $35.00 from Amazon in the US or from Oxford, or £22.99 from Amazon in the UK.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Guénon and Abd al-Halim Mahmud

One of those who knew Guénon in Cairo was Abd al-Halim Mahmud (1910-78), who from 1973 until his death was Shaykh al-Azhar, the senior position in Egypt's official Islamic hierarchy. Abd al-Halim did a PhD in Paris, spoke French, and became friends with a number of French intellectuals in Cairo.

The nature of the relationship between Guénon and Abd al-Halim has been discussed before, and is discussed again in a new book on Abd al-Halim and the media by Hatsuki Aishima, Public Culture and Islam in Modern Egypt: Media, Intellectuals and Society (London: I. B. Tauris, 2016). Aishima disagrees with the view of Abd al-Halim as the intellectual follower of Guénon, pointing out that Abd al-Halim was a public intellectual with an agenda of his own, and referred to Guénon to support that agenda--the critique of Western modernity, and the promotion of the role that Sufism could play in modern Egypt.

Abd al-Halim's agenda was certainly compatible with Guénon's, as Aishima's book shows, but far from identical.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

New book on Eurasianism

Charles Clover, a former Russia correspondent for the Financial Times, has just published an excellent new book on Eurasianism and Alexander Dugin with Yale University Press.

Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise of Russia's New Nationalism covers much the same ground that Marlène Laruelle did in Russian Eurasianism: An Ideology of Empire (2012), and that I covered rather more briefly in Against the Modern World (expanded for the Russian translation), but with the benefit of new sources and perspectives. As one might expect of a book by an FT journalist Black Wind, White Snow is very nicely written, and as one might expect of a Yale publication, it is solidly sourced and grounded.

Clover recognises the importance of Traditionalism for Dugin's earlier years, and then emphasises Alain de Benoist as well as Lev Gumilev. In one sense, from the perspective of Eurasianism, this is quite right: Guénon never developed views on Russia or geopolitics. But Traditionalism is not irrelevant. The basic framework of tradition and modernity, East and West, gives Dugin's work much of its power.

Reviews have generally welcomed the book, but some have warned against over-estimating the importance of ideology. Vadim Nikitin, writing in The Nation, emphasises the importance of external factors, notably the policies of the United States, in determining Russian policy. The Economist suggests that "Eurasianism is probably best understood as a reaction to trauma." "Russian politicians," warns Geoffrey Hosking in the FT, "usually adopt ideologies not because they believe in them but because they are useful at certain stages of their careers." Put less cynically, it is certainly true that in order to succeed, any ideology needs to address the concerns and circumstances of the time and place. This is something that Dugin's Eurasianism evidently does.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Against the Modern World in Turkish

Against the Modern World is now available in Turkish translation, from Hece in Ankara. Hece is a mainstream Turkish publisher, with an established interest in Traditionalism.

I am glad that the book can now contribute to the Turkish debate, but I'm not entirely sure about the cover, which shows a boot crushing a butterfly. I suppose the boot represents modernity, but what is the butterfly?