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Monday, March 27, 2017

Traditionalism and the Aga Khan?

An interesting article in Religions 9 (2016), the journal of the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialog, has been brought to my attention. This is “Integral Pluralism as the Basis for Harmony: The Approach of His Highness the Aga Khan” (pp. 147- 62) by Ali Lakhani, a shortened and edited version of an article originally published in the Traditionalist journal Sacred Web in 2014, “Living the Ethics of One’s Faith: The Aga Khan’s Integral Vision” (no. 34, pp. 33-62). The article is interesting because the Aga Khan’s “integral pluralism” and “integral vision” appear as remarkably Traditionalist. Whether this has a basis in reality or is wishful thinking on the part of Lakhani is not known.

The Aga Khan (pictured) is, of course, the 49th imam (leader) of the Nizari Ismailis, a minority branch of Shi’i Islam that now has some five to ten million followers worldwide. The Nizari imams are descended from the Fatimid Caliphs, and thus from the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law and grandchildren. Lakhani, the founder and editor of Sacred Web, is a one of the most prominent Traditionalists of the generation following Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Born in England in 1955, he is now a successful lawyer in Canada. He is also an Ismaili, and active within the Ismaili community. He was the first chair of the Ismaili Conciliation and Arbitration Board.

In the 2016 Religions article, Lakhani describes the Aga Khan’s “integral pluralism” as a combination of pluralism and being “true to universal and perennial principles.” This, according to Lakhani, “lies at the heart of the Aga Khan’s interpretation of Islam.” The 2014 Sacred Web article does not use the phrase “integral pluralism” or talk of the perennial, but it does ascribe to the Aga Khan a belief in “a unifying spiritual vision” and explains that he “does not seek a consensus based on outward forms, but on underlying principles that are universal, yet expressed within the Muslim tradition.”

From one perspective, this is uncontroversial, like being true to universal principles. From another perspective, this is precisely the Traditionalist view of the relationship between the exoteric and the esoteric. But is it also the Aga Khan’s view? Lakhani also ascribes to the Aga Khan, whom he sees as “a defender of cohesive traditional Muslim values,” “a trenchant critique of modernism” that sees “rampant materialism” as “a loss of verticality.” These, too, are characteristically Traditionalist conceptions. The 2016 article backtracks slightly, stressing that “The Aga Khan’s attitude to modernity is to embrace the modern world (for Islam is a faith for all time) while being critical of the modernist ethos which rejects the spiritual basis of life.”

Sacred Web is an overtly Traditionalist journal, but Religions is not. It is, however, edited by Patrick Laude, co-author of Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings (SUNY Press, 2004), and the majority of the original International Advisory Board, which includes Seyyed Hossein Nasr, are Traditionalists or Maryamis.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sami Yusuf now a Traditionalist

Guest post by Neon Knight

English Muslim singer Sami Yusuf is now a Traditionalist, and almost certainly a disciple of Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

Yusuf, a million-selling artist who regularly fills football stadiums in the Middle East, performed a benefit concert for Nasr's Foundation for Traditional Studies and has collaborated with him on "Songs of the Way," a musical tribute to Nasr which features the latter reading his poetry on six of its twelve tracks. In an interesting interview, Yusuf discusses his Traditionalism. On his website, he describes "Songs of the Way" as follows:
The inspiration that animates this work, its life and soul, is the poetry of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, for it expresses timeless Truth and a life devoted to attaining it. The dimensions of this personal yet universal message evoke a diversity of responses, of spiritual states and perspectives, expressed in the Songs of the Way. The yearning lament of the kamanche and the ney, the interiorizing fervor of flamenco guitar, and the nobility of the classical Middle Eastern Sufi style all express human responses to a Divinity that transcends us. They call us to remember the Sacred within us, and ultimately, like everything beautiful, manifest aspects of Divinity Itself. And amid these tones there is the voice, the sound closest to our heart, which soars to evoke the cadence that we heard before the world was born.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

More on Bannon and Evola

There has recently been a lot of linking of the names of Julius Evola and Steve Bannon, encouraged by an article in the New York Times on February 10, 2017 by Jason Horowitz, "Steve Bannon Cited Italian Thinker Who Inspired Fascists." In this aticle, Horowitz was careful not to identify Bannon as an Evolian, despite his referfence to Evola, but other journalists have been less careful.

One of the most interesting articles since Horowitz's piece has been Alastair Crooke's "Letting Russia Be Russia," published on March 17, 2017 on Consortiumnews. Crooke discusses Dugin, Evola and Bannon, and lists ways in which Bannon's 2010 film Generation Zero reflects Traditionalist views. "I do not know whether Bannon or Trump have read Evola," concludes Crooke, "but his sprit, and that of other Radical Traditionalists, has certainly permeated the thinking of the Alt-Right circles in which both men have been moving." That, I think, is a fair assessment.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Philosophy of Wine

A new book by the Hungarian essayist Béla Hamvas (1897-1968) is now available in English translation. The Philosophy of Wine, written in 1945, has been published by Media Kiadó in Budapest, finely printed and bound.

Hamvas was primarily a literary figure, but was also a Traditionalist, introducing Guénon and Evola to certain Hungarian circles during the interwar period. His Scientia Sacra (1943-44) is his most Traditionalist work.

The Philosophy of Wine is the only work by a Traditionalist I have yet read that has made me laugh aloud. Traditionalists tend to treat serious topics seriously, but Hamvas uses humor, and uses it well. Wine, he explains in the book's introduction, actually stands for the divine, and philosophy for metaphysics, but a book about the metaphysics of the divine would not go down well, so he has written about wine instead. And the book is indeed about wine, and the pull-out map of wine regions in Hungary is very useful. But the book is not only about wine. It is also about modernity and esotericism and the One, and it is an attack on modernity's representatives--atheists and scientists--and also on pietists and puritans. A puritan, Hamvas explains, is "a pietist turned terrorist," a phrase that must have carried special meaning as Communist puritans tightened their grip over Hungary, forcing Hamvas out of literary life into a job as a warehouseman.

The strength of The Philosophy of Wine is its humor and its elegance. It is an extended essay with short chapters. It also advances an interesting idea at a theoretical level, however: that "the golden age is not a historical period but a condition."

The Philosophy of Wine is available from Bookline for 2,550 HUF ($9) plus postage.

My thanks to JM for providing me with a copy of the translation and of related material.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Albert Gleizes and Traditionalism

My attention has been drawn to an interesting new article on the relationship with Traditionalism of the French Cubist painter Albert Gleizes (1881-1953). Witten by the painter and scholar Peter Brooke, it is entitled "Albert Gleizes, Coomaraswamy and 'Tradition,'" and is available here.

Brooke starts with a general discussion of Gleizes and Traditionalism, including the split in Gleizes' following between pro- and anti-Traditionalist factions that resulted in two rival artistic journals, L'Atelier de la rose (Traditionalist) and Zodiaque (Catholic). He then asks (a) what Guénon saw in Gleizes, (b) what Coomaraswamy saw in Gleizes, and (c) what Gleizes saw in Guénon and Coomaraswamy.

My thanks to SJ for drawing my attention to this article.