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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Date of death of Marie Huot

Marie Huot, the anarchist, vegetarian, and animal rights activist who was indirectly responsible for introducing Ivan Aguéli to Sufism, died in 1930, and was cremated at the Père-Lachaise cemetry.

In Against the Modern World I was able to give only her date of birth, 1846.

My thanks to Jean-Yves for supplying this information.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

T. J. Winter on Valentine de St.-Point

Thanks to Mohsin R of Lahore for drawing attention in a comment to this blog to a 2009 lecture by T. J. Winter on “The Prophet (PBUH) and his wives.” This 57-minute lecture is of interest partly because almost half of it deals with Valentine de St.-Point (see also later post), Guénon's friend and associate in Cairo, providing three answers to the question asked by a comment on this blog: why would a woman like her convert to Islam? It is also of interest because Winter is a leading non-Guénonian (small-t) traditionalist, and shows here what an excellent lecturer he is.

So, why did  St.-Point become Muslim? Winter suggests three answers. One is that she saw Islam as an “authenticity that industrial man has finally lost.” Another is that Islam provides an alternative to the “fragmentation of the human persona imposed by Christianity.” And the third answer is that St.-Point was far from being the only European artist who looked to the Muslim world and Islam for answers to questions raised by the problems of European civilization.

I think Winter is  probably right, though I am not sure that “the take on gender” follows as directly from views of sexuality as he seems to think.

The lecture is in six parts.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

New book on Toshihiko Izutsu

Just published: Japanese Contribution to Islamic Studies: The Legacy of Toshihiko Izutsu Interpreted, ed. Anis Malik Thoha (Kuala Lumpur: IIUM Press, 2010). ISBN: 978-967-5272-63-9.

I have never quite understood the relationship between Toshihiko Izutsu and Traditionalism, and this new collection may hold some of the answers to that question. It is the proceedings of a 2008 conference held in Kuala Lumpur, with 19 articles, including:

  • "The Place of Mulla Sadra's Kitāb Al-Mashāʻir in Izutsu's Philosophy" (Shigeru Kamada)
    "Reconsidering Izutsu in a Post-Postmodern Framework" (Janan Izadi and Ahad Faramarz Gharamaleki)
  • "God and Man in the Works of Toshihiko Izutsu" (Ibrahim Abu Bakar)
  • "Communicating Pure Consciousness Events: Using Izutsu to Address a Problem in the Philosophy of Mysticism" (Sajjad H. Rizvi)
  • "The Significance of Izutsu’s Legacy for Comparative Religion" (Kojiro Nakamura)
  • "The Legacy of Toshihiko Izutsu in Turkey: Application of Semantics in Contemporary Qur’anic Studies" (Necmettin Gökkir)

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The remoter origins of the perennial philosophy

For those interested in the remoter origins of the perennial philosophy, I will be presenting a paper on "Orientalists and Sufis: The European Reception of Sufism and Its Consequences" at the Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association in San Diego, California, November 18-21, 2010. The earliest date mentioned is 1577, but we don't really get down to business until 1671. Isaac Newton makes a guest appearance. The most recent name to be mentioned is Inayat Khan. Traditionalism will not be mentioned explicitly, but those who know it will spot something familiar.

Panel #2330, "Middle Eastern-European Intellectual Encounters," Saturday November 20, 8:30-10:30 am.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Producing Islamic Knowledge in Western Europe

Just published: Producing Islamic Knowledge: Transmission and Dissemination in Western Europe, ed. Martin van Bruinessen and Stefano Allievi (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010).

This book covers a variety of ways in which "Islamic knowledge" is being produced and spread in Europe, and has one article (by me) on the role of Traditionalism, "Guénonian Traditionalism and European Islam" (pp. 169-87). This article is remarkable mostly for the length of time it took to get into print: it was originally a paper given in 2003, before the publication of Against the Modern World, much of which it summarizes. It does, however, give some new details, and it places Traditionalism in a wider European Islamic context.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Diary note

For those who have not noticed: Friday, January 7, 2011 will be the 60th anniversary of the death of René Guénon.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eliade and William W. Quinn

Thanks to LP for drawing my attention to William W. Quinn, Jr., "Mircea Eliade and the Sacred Tradition (A Personal Account)," Nova Religio 3, no. 1 (1999), pp. 147-153.

As mentioned in Against the Modern World, Quinn (who was Eliade's PhD student) remembers Eliade as a Traditionalist. This article gives more details of the relationship, generally confirming what is already written.

One interesting detail: Quinn reports that Eliade "instructed [him] to minimize [his] use of the principal figures and literature of modern theosophy during my tenure as a student." Rather as Eliade himself minimized his public use of Traditionalist litterature? For Quinn, this cautious approach was "more like a sublimation than a repudiation ... and [his] ultimate success at the university ... was the proof of its wisdom."

A short history of traditionalism in Poland

Marek Rostkowski, editor of the Polish magazine Reakcjonista, has kindly provided the following “short history of traditionalism in Poland.”

Integral Traditionalism is not, and has never been, a strong movement in Poland. One could even say that it has not been a movement at all, since there are or used to be very few people involved in its promulgation.

Although it was as early as in 1933 that the first Polish translation of a Traditional author appeared (of one chapter from René Guénon’s La crise du monde moderne), the origins of today's Traditionalism in Poland go back to the early 1990s when the Euroaryan Cultural Circle “Airyanem Vaeyo” was established. This was a study group which researched various aspects of Tradition, mainly those concerning European culture and history. A publishing house, Parzival, was founded, which published a magazine called Szary Wilk (only one issue in 1993 appeared), two small books by Evola (Etyka Aryjska/Aryan Ethic, Chorzów 1993 and Orientacje/Orientations, Chorzów 1993), and Kolebka Ariów (The Cradle of the Aryans) by Bogdan Herbut Kozieł who, among other things, translated the above-mentioned books as well as many other of Evola’s writings into Polish. He was the main person responsible for all those achievements of traditional thinking in Poland at that period. Unfortunately, after some time he withdraw from activity. One can also mention that some other magazines like Fronda and Szczerbie that published Evola’s articles. This was the first wave of Traditionalism, if one may so call it.

The second wave came in the late 1990s. An interest in Evolian writings arose among people who identified themselves with the heathen or pagan movement and the New Right as well. It was in Odala magazine that most Polish translations of Evola’s texts were then published. However, occasionally other magazines like Odmrocze or Pro Fide, Rege et Lege also published articles by or about Evola. At that time one could observe an increasing interest in Traditionalism among scholars at various universities. One of the most important turning points in acquainting Polish readers with Evola’s heritage was a monograph dealing with the life and thought of Evola, Mity tradycjonalizmu integralnego (The Myths of Integral Traditionalism, Warsaw 1998) by Zbigniew Mikołejko. One can also mention Adam Wielomski, a scholar who not only contributed to a better knowledge of Evolian thought in Poland but also aroused an interest in Evolian Traditionalism among members of the Polish conservative movement.

In 2004 another wave, stronger than all previous ones, appeared. This time two undertakings of a strictly traditional scope sprang up. Those were the juliusevola.tk website – created by KS – and my own Reakcjonista magazine. At first they were almost completely Evolian in orientation – and the website has not been changed in this respect – but later other traditional authors were also included. For example in Reakcjonista’s pages there have been published writings by R. Guénon, A. and R. Coomaraswamy, F. Schuon, T. Burckhardt, M. Lings, A. Dugin, A. László, M. A. Schwarz and others. Some articles by and about Evola also appeared from time to time in a few other magazines as well--for example Templum Novum, Ulvhel, and Młodzież Imperium. There are also being published strictly scientific studies discussing the Evolian and Guénonian worldview.

At present, Reakcjonista continues (no. XI has been published recently) and juliusevola.tk has been incorporated in a bigger website, tradycjonalizm.net, where there are not only Evola’s writings but also R. Guénon’s and A. K. Coomaraswamy’s, and where in the future there will be texts of many other traditional authors.

So far, there have not been published any major books by J. Evola, not to mention works of other traditionalists.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Forthcoming book on Russia and neo-Eurasianism

A forthcoming book of interest: Edith W. Clowes, Russia on the Edge: Imagined Geographies and Post-Soviet Identity (Cornell University Press, March 2011). For more information or to order copies, please contact Robin Coleman in Cornell University Press’s sales department.

In this study of post-Soviet writing culture Clowes demonstrates a major shift in the dominant metaphors of Russian identity, from the temporal to the spatial. She argues moreover that newly refurbished geographical metaphors, or imagined geographies, give a useful standpoint for examining the debate between aggressive ultranationalists and committed universalists about being Russian. Is any citizen of the Russian Federation a Russian, with the full complement of rights accruing to that status? Or are only ethnic Russians really “Russian”? Where is the “real” Russia? Clowes lays out several sides of the debate. She takes as a backdrop to the debate the strong criticism of Soviet Moscow and its self-image as uncontested global hub by major late-20th-century writers, among them, Tatyana Tolstaya and Viktor Pelevin.
The most vocal, visible, and colorful rightist ideologue, Aleksandr Dugin, the founder of neo-Eurasianism, has articulated positions debated by such writers and thinkers as Mikhail Ryklin, Liudmila Ulitskaia and Anna Politkovskaia, who wish to see the birth of a new civility in Russia. Dugin’s views and their many responses—in fiction, film, philosophy, documentary journalism—form the body of this book.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Traditionalist Representations of Buddhism

A 2008 article I have just found: Richard K. Payne, "Traditionalist Representations of Buddhism," Pacific World, Third Series, no. 10 (Fall 2008), pp. 177-223.

In this article, Payne introduces Tradiitonalism for those who do now know it, and then looks at representations of Buddhism by Frithjof Schuon, Julius Evola, Marco Pallis, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Mircea Eliade, and Huston Smith. He argues that their representations are inevitably dated--given that scholarship has moved on since they wrote--but that that their work should not be dismissed, because of "the depth of influence of the Traditionalist understandings of religion and of Buddhism" (p. 208). He understands Traditionalism as "a dogmatic core belief that provides a systematic hermeneutic" (p. 203), and concludes:
There are two important aspects of Buddhist doctrine that the Traditionalist interpretations overcode, recreating Buddhism in the model of Traditionalist presumptions regarding the nature of human existence, the world, and the path/goal. One is the interpretation of Buddhist ontology within a Neoplatonic framework as simply another instance of a hierarchy of truths. The other is the interpretation of awakening within a Perennialist framework as simply another instance of a single and universal category of mystical experience. Because both Neoplatonism and Perennialism function almost pre-reflectively in American popular religious culture these two acts of overcoding Buddhist doctrines are usually invisible (pp. 208-09).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Schuon and Anthroposophy

Schuon's father was an Anthroposophist, that is a follower of the Anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, and as a young man Schuon participated in spritist séances.

Interesting background, told by Schuon to Hugo Bergmann (who was himself interested in Steiner) in 1957, according to a letter of Bergman's reprinted in an article by Paul Fenton.

Hugo Bergmann and Frithjof Schuon

In a recent article, Paul Fenton tells the story of the relations between Samuel Hugo Bergmann and Frithjof Schuon.

Bergmann was a Jewish philosopher who was born in Prague, a friend of Kafka and Max Brod. He moved to Israel in 1920 and taught philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, of which he was rector from 1935 to 1938. He became friends with Gershom Scholem and, especially, Martin Buber, with whom he founded Brit Shalom (covenant of peace), a small but important Zionist organization that pursued the forlorn hope of a bi-national state in which Jews and Arabs would live together in peace.

Bergmann worked on symbolic logic, which he attempted to reconcile with transcendental logic (Kant etc). He was also interested in the work of Rudolf Steiner, and by 1954 was interested in the work of Schuon, to which he had been introduced by Agi Lamm, a Jewish follower of Schuon from Argentina.

In 1957, on a trip to Europe, Bergmann met Schuon twice, meetings which he described as the high point of his trip. These meetings were a success on an intellectual level, but not on a personal level: Bergmann described the first encounter as “painful,” as Schuon seemed to him “stilted” and “affected,” dressed “as a prophet.” Despite this, the two men continued corresponding until 1970.

On his return to Israel, Bergmann wrote an article on Guénon for the Festschrift for Scholem which may be the most important piece on Traditionalism to have appeared in Hebrew.

Jews in the Maryamiyya

On August 15 I described Rabbi Yéhouda Léon Askénazi as "almost the only significant Jewish figure to have taken a deep interest in Traditionalism." And then on August 18, I read a new(-ish) article by Paul B. Fenton, "Les judéos-soufis de Lausanne: Un point de rencontre dans la mouvance guénonienne" (in Réceptions de la cabale, ed. Pierre Gisel and Lucie Kaennel; Tel Aviv: L'éclat, 2007, pp. 283-313) in which one argument (made in a book published in Israel, by the way)  is that there were a disproportionate number of Jews among the followers of Frithjof Schuon in Lausanne.

Fenton does not pursue this argument, which is made in passing. And I am not sure that he is right. He certainly draws attention to another very significant Jewish figure with a real interest in Traditionalism (see separate post), and he is right that there were a number of Jews among Schuon's followers in Lausanne, some of whom became Maryami Muslims and some of whom did not. He points to a continuing interest in the kabbalah among these, which Schuon did not share--strangely, he held that there was no inititation in Judaism.

But a disproportionate number? Disproportionate to what? To the overall Jewish element in the population of Switzerland, perhaps--but I am not sure that is a relevant measure. In general, what was the rate of Jewish participation in the intellectual avant-garde of the time?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Two new Marymai biographies of Schuon

World Wisdom Books, the Maryami publisher, has just published two new biographies of Frithjof Schuon: Michael Oren Fitzgerald's Frithjof Schuon: Messenger of the Perennial Philosophy and Harry Oldmeadow's Frithjof Schuon and the Perennial Philosophy. Both books have forewords by William Stoddart.

A review by M. Ali Lakhani from Sacred Web is available online, and goes into some detail regarding Schuon's alleged syncretism.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Soft Traditionalist Rabbi on Christianity and Islam

A new article on Rabbi Yéhouda Léon Askénazi (“Manitou,” 1922-96), almost the only significant Jewish figure to have taken a deep interest in Traditionalism (this is my first even blog post to use the index "Judaism").

Born in Algeria, Manitou was deeply read in French thought, as well as in Orthodox Judaism and the kabbalah. He agreed with Guénon that what mattered was the original philosophia perennis, in esoteric as well as exoteric form, but disagreed with Guénon about what this was. For Manitou, the original revelation was, simply, Judaism–and the esoterism that mattered was the kabbalah.

In “From Monologues to Possible Dialogue: Judaism’s Attitude towards Christianity According to the Philosophy of R. Yéhouda Léon Askénazi (Manitou)” (In Interaction Between Judaism and Christianity in History, Religion, Art, and Literature, Marcel Poorthuis, Joshua Schwartz, and Joseph Turner, eds., Leiden: Brill, 2009, pp. 319-336), Yossef Charvit examines Manitou’s views on Christianity and Islam, the background to a participation in inter-faith dialogue which included writing a special prayer for the opening of what Charvit calls the “Temple de l’Universel,” presumably the Sanctuaire de l’Universel, a Parisian multi-faith venture of the very un-Traditionalist Sufi Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan.

Christianity, Manitou thought, “purported to be the New Israel,” (p. 332) and in beginning to abandon this claim by recognizing that Israel was actually Israel, was approaching the day when all humanity might realize its “Abrahamic features.” Islam, in contrast, had never claimed to be the New Israel. When it came to Christianity, “Our theologies are highly polarized, but there are points of interface regarding ethics.” However, “The opposite is true of Islam, with which we possess theological interfaces but stand in diametric opposition regarding ethics” (p. 325). Unfortunately, Yossef Charvit does not examine Manitou’s views on Islam in much detail in this article; perhaps he will do so in another.

Friday, August 06, 2010

WE 175, "Introduction to Traditionalism"

January 2011 will be the first time that an academic course on Traditionalism is offered: WE 175, "Introduction to Traditionalism." It is recommended that this course be taken with WE 101, "Introduction to Western Esotericism." WE 101 is available in Athens in Greek or online in English; WE 175 is available only online (in English).

These courses are being offered by the Phoenix Rising Academy, a recently founded private organization that specializes in esoteric studies and create arts, run by Sasha Chaitow, an assistant professor in Religious Studies at the Athens campus of the University of Indianapolis. Chaitow graduated from the Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism at the University of Exeter in England, as did George Sieg, who will be teaching "Introduction to Traditionalism" and whose PhD thesis was on "Occult War: The Legacy of Iranian Dualism and Its Continuing Influence upon the Modern Occult Revival."

So far as I can see, this should be a serious and interesting course. Not accredited, though the Phoenix Rising Academy says it is planning to apply for various accreditations once it is better established. And Sieg is assigning my Against the Modern World, which must be a good sign (?).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Guénon, Schuon, Massignon and Corbin

Already mentioned as a new book, and now read and recommended: Patrick Laude's Pathways to an Inner Islam: Massignon, Corbin, Guénon, and Schuon (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010).

This book is a comparative study of the thought of the two great Traditionalists and of two non-Traditionalists, the great French scholars Louis Massignon (1883-1962) and Henry Corbin (1903-1978). Neither Massignon nor Corbin were Traditionalists (Massignon described Traditionalism as "very seductive," if  fundamentally wrong) but their thought and topics had enough in common with Guénon's and Schuon's for the comparison to be illuminating. And the book shows how Traditionalism was in some sense part of a broader French trend towards the discovery of esoteric Islam in Sufism (and, in Corbin's case, Shiism).

The book is not easy reading given its topics, and it helps if you know something about Islam. But it is well written, and recasts the familiar in new from, as well as introducing the not-so-familiar. Laude is an insider, but can still be critical, even occasionally of Schuon.

The book is also interesting on the relationship between Traditionalism and Islam. Laude concedes that Guénon’s understanding of Sufism was “virtually independent from a consideration of the essentials of the Islamic faith” (p. 58) and that Schuon’s understanding might be seen as a “reconstruction of the tradition itself” (p. 59). Laude quotes Schuon, who in effect distinguishes an esoteric and exoteric level in the sunna: “What the faqir will retain of this Sunna will be, not so much the ways of acting as the intentions that are inherent in them” (98).

One last quote: “The perennialist perspective may be a precious instrument of interfaith efforts when understood as an intellectual and spiritual framework allowing one to situate differences within an integral context that makes sense of their raison d’être” (p. 132).

$64 from Amazon.com and £57.25 from Amazon.co.uk.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The intellectual history of Traditionalism in America

A new and massive (622 pages) book addresses the intellectual history of Traditionalism in America: Setareh Houman, De la philosophia perennis au pérennialisme américain (Milan: Archè, 2010).

The book in some ways retraces my own Against the Modern World but does so with a different focus, on intellectual history. More on the intellectual origins of Traditionalism and perennialism; more on their development, especially in US academia, and especially by Coomaraswamy, Nasr, Huston Smith and James Cutsinger, with reference also to the next generation and to others who were relevant to that development.

Among the books major objectives are to establish
how certain characteristics of Guénonian traditionalism give way to a more inclusive and holistic philosophy [and] ... how, in a doctrine with a methodical aspect in which the ascent to the divine takes the path of art and nature, the danger of counter-initiation and Antitradition disappears in favor of the simultaneously ontological and epistemological reality of the "supernaturally natural" function of the intellect or human powers of discernment that thus serve as pontifex.
The book has four main sections:
  1. Aux sources du pérennialisme américain
  2. Apparition et développement du courant pérennialiste aux États-Unis (seconde moitié du XXe et début du XXIe siècles)
  3. L’implantation du pérennialisme dans le milieu académique aux États-Unis
  4. Les débats et controverses suscitées autour du courant pérennialiste au sein de l’American Academy of Religion (AAR)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Nasr ranked among world's top 50 Muslims

Seyyed Hossein Nasr is among the world's top 50 Muslims, according to The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan, which has published a report on The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World in conjunction with the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University.

In a list headed by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Nasr comes as #47, just after Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb (and of a certain amount of nuclear proliferation). Of course such lists are ridiculous, and probably say more about the perspectives of those who compile them than about reality, but they still mean something. It is interesting that Nasr makes the list, and also interesting that his two main achievements are given as "Reviver of Tradition" and "Islamic Environmentalism." The list's authors consider the environment number 2 of the 12 "issues of the day," and put Nasr as the leading figure under that issue.

Among the full 500, I recogize two other Maryamis, two non-Maryami Traditionalists, and two others for whom Traditionalism was at some point important.

Thanks to I. P. for drawing my attention to the list.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The "validity" of the Maryamiyya

From time to time, the question comes up of how to understand the position of the Maryamiyya in terms of the classifications generally used by Sufis, and of whether the Maryamiyya is a “valid” tariqa in mainstream Sufi terms. Like most tariqas, the Maryamiyya can be placed in three ways:
  1. In organizational terms, it is an independent branch of the Alawiyya, which is itself an independent branch of the Darqawiyya, which is itself an independent branch of the Shadhiliyya. It is independent in the sense that it operates independently of the tariqa from which it derives, and in the sense that its practice, prayers, and teachings differ in certain respects from those of the tariqa from which it derives. The same is true of the Darqawiyya and of most other tariqas in existence today.
  2. In personal terms, Frithjof Schuon is a link in a chain (silsila) passing through Ahmad al-Alawi, Muhammad al-Arabi al-Darqawi, Abu’l-Hasan al-Shadhili, and then through both Ali ibn Abi Talib and Abu Bakr to the Prophet Muhammad, and thence to God. The question of whether or not (or how) Schuon was authorized as a muqaddam by al-Alawi has no bearing or impact on this.
  3. In personal and organizational terms, the foundation of the Maryamiyya as a distinct tariqa seems to result from the authorization said to have been given to Schuon in a vision by the Virgin Mary, just as the foundation of the Alawiyya as a distinct tariqa results from the authorization said to have been given to al-Alawi in a vision by Ali ibn Abi Talib. While such forms of authorization are not universal, they are very common.
In Sufi terms, then, the Maryamiyya is probably “valid” to the extent that Schuon’s vision of the Virgin Mary in 1965 was “valid.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Traditionalism and art in Jordan

An interesting comment on my post on "Traditionalism and art--and perhaps more than art" draws attention to the Institute of Traditional Islamic Art and Architecture in Amman, Jordan, which is evidently the Jordanian equivalent of London's VITA (Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts), now The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. The Chairman of the Board of the Amman institute is Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad (born 1966), who is very involved in the Common Word initiative, as are a number of notable Traditionalists. Jordan definitely seems to be the Arab country where Traditionalism is currently faring best.

Traditionalists achieve Italian government support for halal food and products

An unusual initiative in Italy indicates the growing importance there of the CO.RE.IS (Comunità Religiosa Islamica, Islamic Religious Community) founded by the Traditionalist shaykh Abd al-Wahid Pallavicini and now increasingly run by his son, Imam Yahya Pallavicini.

The CO.RE.IS has put together a certification scheme, HalalItalia, in cooperation with the Milan Chamber of Commerce, that was launched on 30 June 2010 by the Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini–see photos here. The scheme is remarkable, in the current European climate of burka and minaret bans, for bringing about what is in effect the support of a European government for an aspect of sharia, backed by a commitment from leaders of industry.

How was this done? Fruit, presumably, of the Pallavicinis’ efforts over the years to present themselves and the CO.RE.IS as responsible and constructive partners for Italian institutions, as traditional rather than radical Muslims, as Italians rather than transnational. Fruit also of the brilliant idea of presenting the scheme as a way of improving Italian exports to the Muslim world, which no-one can object to, whatever one thinks on the heated issue of “integration” of Muslims in Europe.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Images from Fes Festival

Hussein Rashid, who attended this year's Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, has uploaded photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/islamoyankee/ and videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/islamoyankee.

He wrote: "YouTube does not yet make it easy to embed a Creative Commons license, but I am releasing the videos under the same license as the photos found on the Flickr page. I am an amateur, who got a new camera just before the trip, so please forgive some of the quality. I am still going through my material and will continue to upload as I go through it. I will also, hopefully, edit some of the video over the course of the summer."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Traditionalism and art--and perhaps more than art

An important new dissertation has just been defended at the University of Geneva: Patrick Ringgenberg, “Les théories de l'art dans la pensée traditionnelle. René Guénon - Ananda K. Coomaraswamy - Frithjof Schuon - Titus Burckhardt.” It is to be hoped that this dissertation, which is a major contribution to the study of Traditionalism in recent years, will soon be published as a book.

The dissertation deals, as its title promises, with the theories on art of the three major figures in the Traditionalist movement, as well as with those of Titus Burckhardt–important for theories on art, if not so much for Traditionalism as a whole–and of Luc Benoist, also important for theories on art, whose views are dealt with more briefly (and so not mentioned in the dissertation’s title).

The dissertation is an impressively detailed and comprehensive study of Traditionalist views on art. Guénon himself was not much interested in art as such, but he was interested in the initiatic function of the métier, and in symbolism, and these interests formed the basis of the Traditionalist theories of art developed by Benoist, Coomaraswamy, and others. Art was important to Coomaraswamy and Benoist because it was their professions–both were art historians.

It is with Schuon that art became really important to Traditionalism as a whole. This was partly because Schuon came from an artistic milieu and had an artistic "temperament," and partly because one major difference between him and Guénon, as Ringgenberg convincingly argues, was that he was interested in areas that Guénon had ignored– the “human content of spiritual phenomena,” areas of life such as emotion and love, and the living phenomenology of religion. This was one reason he was able to transform Traditionalism from a theory into a reality in the form of the Maryamiyya. And it was also one reason why art became so important.

Art was, in Schuon’s view, important for creating a milieu in which other things became possible. Spiritual influences, he wrote, "need a formal ambience which corresponds to them analogically, without which they do not spread, even if they still remain present." For Schuon, following Plato, earthly beauty was a (poor) reflection of a non-earthly reality, and thus a divine emanation. It was central to his spirituality, and so to that of the Maryamiyya. Ringgenberg does not go so far as to suggest that the Maryamiyya was, in a sense, a work of art, but the argument might be made.

Ringgenberg convincingly argues that Schuon's own painting owes rather more to Gauguin than to Traditionalist theory. The problem was that, though claiming to despise and ignore the modern, Schuon’s painting could not overcome the modern, and was itself therefore modern, without acknowledging this and without, as a result, being able to address it.

This may be a problem for Traditionalism as a whole. As Ringgenberg writes, “these authors forget that universalism cannot be expressed as such, that it is always individualized by its expression, and that it is an abstract ideal filtered by human consciousness and by a cultural and historical moment."

One of the central questions that Ringgenberg asks is why all this theorizing on art led, in the end, to nothing. Despite much interest, no artistic movement resulted. The only painters to attempt to implement Traditionalist conceptions of art in painting (as opposed to in art history) were Albert Gleizes, who soon abandoned the attempt, and Schuon, whose paintings were hardly "traditional." Ringgenberg suggests a number of answers to this question, which may (again) be relevant to assessing the record of Traditionalism as a whole, not just in relation to theories on art. One of his answers is that Traditionalist theories were over-theoretical, taking too little account of variety and reality, emphasizing what a symbol should mean so much that there was no space for consideration of what it actually did mean to those who created it. Another answer is that great art has to have some sort of dialectical relationship with the society in which it is produced, which Traditionalist art could not, since Traditionalism condemned and then tried to ignore contemporary society. Traditionalism also did not provide enough room for development, he believes: “founded on the axiom of a universalist metaphysics, by definition unchangeable and beyond time, this intellectual perspective did not permit fundamental questioning, and contented itself with repeating, in different terms, ... the opinions and options articulated by its founders.”

Ringgenberg’s conclusion on Coomaraswamy is crushing, and not without basis, and deserves to be quoted in full:

Lui qui insistait sur l’impersonnalité des artisans, des sages et des philosophes « traditionnels », qui se refusait à toute donnée autobiographique au nom d’une vérité qui dépasse les individus ; lui qui entendait faire parler les textes pour dissimuler sa subjectivité et déployer des trésors d’érudition pour cacher sa démarche herméneutique, qui défendait un universalisme pour échapper à tout particularisme religieux et toute subjectivité confessionnelle, il n’a pas eu conscience que cette volonté d’effacement et cette aspiration au « supra-individuel » révélait, en creux, comme chez Guénon, une personnalité qui a élaboré son image de l’universalisme et dressé son propre miroir (p. 370).
With regard to sources for other researchers, Ringgenberg draws attention to the usefulness of Schuon’s poems as autobiographical sources, especially for the period not covered by Erinnerungen und Betrachtungen. He also recommends two books above all for Traditionalist theories of art: Luc Benoist, Art du monde. La spiritualité du métier (Paris: Gallimard, 1941) and Titus Burckhardt, Principes et méthodes de l’art sacré (1958; Paris, Dervy-Livres, 1976).

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Faouzi Skali and Tariq Ramadan

For Francophones who happen to be in Paris on June 17, 2010:

Faouzi Skali et Tariq Ramadan débattront sur le thème
"Regards sur l’islam et la société"
le 17 juin à 18H30
à L’institut du Monde Arabe
1, rue des Fossés-Saint-Bernard
Place Mohammed-V
75005 Paris

Plus que jamais, l’islam est l’objet d’une interpellation et d’une interprétation globalisée.
Entre ceux qui le considèrent à travers le prisme réducteur des signes extérieurs de religiosité (minarets, mosquées, voile et burqa), et ceux qui tentent de le renouveler sur la base d’une réforme radicale ou d’un ressourcement spirituel, il y a un khulf, un différend qui n’est pas prêt d’être dépassé. En tout cas si les tenants des thèses éradicatrices et orientalisantes s’attachent à bricoler un islam à la taille et à la mesure de l’Occident, ceux qui prônent le renouveau et le ressourcement spirituel réactivent les méthodes de l’ijtihâd (lecture critique) qui autorise l’imbrication dans un même geste éthique et liberté, croyance et citoyenneté. Cette rencontre est l’occasion d’engager un échange entre deux penseurs musulmans qui oeuvrent activement, chacun à sa manière, pour l’avènement d’un islam du vivre ensemble, en phase avec sa société et son époque.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Traditionalists in the AK

Omar commented: "Just wanted to remind you that Erdogans chief advisor is Ibrahim Kalin who is also a disciple of Seyyed Hossein Nasr. That means traditionalism is now at the core of a modern political movement, the AK Party."

Dr Ibrahim Kalin is Chief Foreign Policy Adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and so certainly close to the AK leadership.

Dr Kalin of Turkish origin and is an assistant professor at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, where he works on post-Avicennan Islamic philosophy, notably Mullah Sadra; he has just published a book on Mullah Sadra's concept of "transcendent wisdom," Knowledge in Later Islamic Philosophy: Mulla Sadra on Existence, Intellect and Intuition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). Dr Kalin is also active in the Common Word initiative, which has been pursuing real dialog with Western churches since 2006.

I have often been told of interest in Traditionalism among the AK leadership, which would not be a great surprise, given the popularity in Turkey of the work of Dr Nasr. Dr Kalin seems very much to follow the model of Dr Nasr. Both men are of Muslim origin, both teach in DC and are authorities on "traditional" Islamic mystical philosophy, and both are active in the Common Word initiative.

My thanks to Omar for this information.

Call: Concepts of Tradition in Phenomenology

The 2011 issue of Studia Phaenomenologica is dedicated to the topic: Concepts of Tradition in Phenomenology.

As it is commonly known, Husserl’s phenomenology demanded at its first breakthrough a total refutation of all uncertified knowledge, theory or meaning inherited from the past. However, the development of phenomenological inquiry gradually resulted in a more ambiguous attitude towards history and tradition. On the one hand, history and tradition are necessary but still unfortunate distortions, which hinder phenomenological research in its strive for original self-givenness; on the other hand, they become themselves universal phenomena that must be explored as such.


As recent publications of late Husserlian manuscripts have revealed, Husserl himself became more and more aware of these topics in his last decade, as he was finally inclined to interpret the Life-world itself in its full concreteness as a “generative tradition”. Tradition in this sense pertains to all meaning sprung from earlier acquisition. Therefore, the concept obviously exceeds its ordinary meaning, exclusively related to inter-subjective historical inheritance, by gaining a fundamental importance for all areas of phenomenological analysis, as they all have the characteristic of “traditionalizing”. Thus, there is “tradition” at work in all action or bodily movement, in every instance of a given situation and in any relation to another thing or being.


Understood in this broad sense, the term does not address only the genetic fact of sedimentation, but also a specific, “habitual” quality that things allow to see through themselves, as bearers of a past. Hence, the theme marks an intersection of various problematic strata in Husserlian phenomenology, starting from the correlation of genetic and static phenomenology, following through different aspects of phenomenological methodology, and up to several ground-themes of phenomenological research, such as historicity, memory, language, bodily existence, inter-subjectivity, life-world and others.


The same twofold relation to tradition – of growing thematic interest, on the one hand, and utter criticism, on the other – shows in the post-Husserlian phenomenology as well. Heidegger, for instance, is from his early beginnings convinced that history should be the true guideline for phenomenological research, while at the same time pleading for a systematic destruction of the philosophical tradition. A similarly ambiguous position defines his later project of transcending metaphysics, and certainly other examples can be found as well.


The aim of our 2011 issue is therefore to explore the two fundamental poles that define the phenomenological approach of tradition: the task of understanding the problem of tradition thematically, on one hand, and the necessity of confronting it methodically as a residual distortion, on the other hand.

For further information, see the full Call for Papers at http://studia-phaenomenologica.com/?page=advertise.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rousselot de Surgy

Only distantly related to Traditionalism, but here is an appeal for help: does anyone know anything about Jacques Philibert Rousselot de Surgy (b. 1737), author of Mélanges intéressans et curieux, ou abrégé d’histoire naturelle, morale, civile, et politique de l’Asie, l’Afrique, l’Amérique, et des Terres polaires, “dont la date de décès est inconnue des usuels et qui aurait été censeur royal” (BNF)? He wrote an entry on Sufism in his mélanges that is so unusual that I would love to know more about him.

Mark Sedgwick

Saturday, April 10, 2010

New book on Massignon, Corbin, Guenon, and Schuon

An interesting new book by Patrick LaudePathways to an Inner Islam: Massignon, Corbin, Guenon, and Schuon (Albany: SUNY Press, 2010; $80; 219 pp; ISBN13: 978-1-4384-2955-7).

Laude, who writes as both a scholar (GWU) and as an insider, deals with the views of the two great scholars and the two great Traditionalists (who in some ways resembled the scholars and in other ways very much differed from them) on "Sufism, Shi‘ism, and the Definition of Inner Islam," "The Qur’an," "The Prophet," "The Feminine," "The Universal Horizon of Islam," and "The Question of War" (these being the titles of his main chapters).

One of Laude's initital premises is that "outsiders" such as the four he bases his book on are actually better situated to understand Islam than are most Muslims, because of what he calls the "ideologization" of Islam in the modern world. Be this as it may, the book promsies a careful and well-researched study of the theology of Massignon, Corbin, Guenon, and Schuon, if not necessarily of Islam.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Article on Martin Lings (and photos)

A new survey article on Martin Lings by Amira Kotb, in French, but with some rare photographs even if you don't read French. Closer to hagiography than academic norms, but informative.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

New article on Dugin

Anton Shekhovtsov, "Aleksandr Dugin’s Neo-Eurasianism: The New Right à la Russe," Religion Compass 3/4 (2009): 697–716

Abstract:
Russian political thinker and, by his own words, geopolitician, Aleksandr Dugin, represents a comparatively new trend in the radical Russian nationalist thought. In the course of the 1990s, he introduced his own doctrine that was called Neo-Eurasianism. Despite the supposed reference to the interwar political movement of Eurasianists, Dugin’s Neo-Eurasian nationalism was rooted in the political and cultural philosophy of the European New Right. Neo-Eurasianism is based on a quasi-geopolitical theory that juxtaposes the ‘Atlanticist New World Order’ (principally the US and the UK) against the Russia-oriented ‘New Eurasian Order’. According to Dugin, the ‘Atlanticist Order’ is a homogenizing force that dilutes national and cultural diversity that is a core value for Eurasia. Taken for granted, Eurasia is perceived to suffer from a ‘severe ethnic, biological and spiritual’ crisis and is to undergo an ‘organic cultural-ethnic process’ under the leadership of Russia that will secure the preservation of Eurasian nations and their cultural traditions. Neo-Eurasianism, sacralized by Dugin and his followers in the form of a political religion, provides a clear break from narrow nationalism toward the New Right ethopluralist model. Many Neo-Eurasian themes find a broad response among Russian high-ranking politicians, philosophers, scores of university students, as well as numerous avant-garde artists and musicians. Already by the end of the 1990s, Neo-Eurasianism took on a respectable, academic guise and was drawn in to ‘scientifically’ support some anti-American and anti-British rhetoric of the Russian government.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Schuon's "connection with Islam" not "absolutely essential"?

A correspondent has drawn my attention to an interesting article, and asked an interesting question.

The article is Renaud Fabbri, "The Milk of the Virgin: The Prophet, the Saint and the Sage," which appeared in Sacred Web 20 (Winter 2007). It is available directly from the Bloomington "World Wisdom" website. Given this, it certainly does not contradict the current consensus of the Bloomington community.
 
The central argument of the article is that Schuon should be "understood neither as the founder of a new religion (a prophet in the classical sense of the word) nor as a Muslim saint, but as a universal sage." The article disagrees with my analysis (in Against the Modern World) that Schuon progressively moved away from a starting point in Sufi Islam as "typically modernist and psychological" in its assumption that Schuon's positions evolved. In fact, argues Fabbri, there was "a progressive unveiling" of what had always been there. "The growing emphasis of the late Schuon on primordiality and universality did not represent a deviation but corresponded to a final, yet perfectly natural crystallization revealing that, to some degree, Schuon's connection with Islam was not absolutely essential." In fact, the "undeniable connection of Schuon with Islam did not mean however that his message was intrinsically Islamic."

The difference between Fabbri and myself is partly about timing and partly about method. Fabbri and I seem to agree on how Schuon was seen and saw himself at the end. The question is whether this position evolved, or was always there. The method of the historian assumes that nothing is pre-ordained, and everything develops, to some extent by chance. Fabbri's method assumes the contrary.

Now to the question:
As a Muslim (but by no means an 'aalim/scholar), I am surprised that, in spite of works like yours and other recent ones which shed more light on Schuon's beliefs and practices, there has than been so little response from traditional Islamic spiritual authorities as to the standing of Schuon as a Shadhili "Shaykh" and the Maryamiyyah as a Shadhili "tariqah". It now seems there is little doubt as to how Schuon viewed his function and message; articles such as Rennaud Fabbri's "The Milk of the Virgin: the Prophet, the Sage, and the Sage" emphasise that, due to Schuon's "supra-confessional" starting point and standing, it would be a mistake to confine the Schuonian message and function within Islam and subject to the Islamic criteria for judging orthodox Shaikhs and Tariqahs. To me the Perennialists' writings that have appeared after Schuon's death effectively place Schuon's "religio perennis/pure esoterism" beyond the criteria and authority of Islam/traditional sufism and basically ask us to accept whatever Schuon said ultimately on the basis of his own authority (or, for the Perennialists, the authority of the "Intellect"). Such being the case, where is the response of traditional Islam/Sufism? Is it because Schuon's/Pernnialist writings have not been translated into Islamic languages and therefore generally not known? Or is it that Pernnialism is/was not taken that seriously in such circles and thought not worth responding to?
I think the answer to this may come in two parts. One part is that "traditional" Muslims, in contrast to Salafi Muslims, are very cautious indeed when it comes to takfir, to charges of heresy that potentially have the effect of excommunication. This is partly because of numerous hadith warning against this, partly because of adab, partly because of reluctance to cause fitna--and partly precisely because of Salafi enthusiasm for takfir.

The second part of the answer is that one has to make a distinction between the Bloomington community and the Maryamiyya as a whole. In Schuon's lifetime, Bloomington was more universalist than the worldwide Maryamiyya, which was more Sufi and Islamic, but the authority of the figure of Schuon kept these two trends from producing a split, rather as the authority of the figure of Tito kept Yugoslavia together. Since Schuon's death there seems to have been a clear split--I say "seems" because I have not researched this properly. What are best known today are not the universalist Bloomington positions but the Islamic positions. The universalist Bloomington positions are so universalist that they need not concern Muslims, any more than the positions of--say--the Mormons need concern Muslims. And, given the split, the Islamic positions can be--and are--taken separately.

Whether this is as it should be is another question, and one that is not really the business of this blog.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dugin's influence in France

A good survey of Dugin's influence in France: Stéphane François, "Alexandre Douguine et la droite radicale française," Fragments sur les Temps Présents, 9 avril 2009.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is Hanifi Traditionalism Traditionalist?

Now we have the results of some research announced in 2007, a new thesis on someone who may be one of the most colorful Traditionalists ever, Khozh-Akhmed Noukhaev, the founder of so-called "Hanifi Traditionalism." For those who know their Islam, "Hanifi" refers here not to the Hanifi madhhab but to the conception of the hanif, those such as Abraham who came before Islam but practiced a perfect monotheism.

Noukhaev is a Chechen, famous in Russia as a former mafia boss who played a leading role in the Chechen wars and in all manner of other murky events. He is of interest to this blog because his Hanifi Traditionalism was promoted in Russia by Alexander Dugin, and at first sight looked pretty Traditionalist.

Eduard ten Houten, the author of the new thesis, started off seeing Noukhaev as a Traditionalist, but his research led him to a different conclusion. Ten Houten’s thesis, “Blood, Power, Islam: The Life and Opinions of the Exemplary Chechen Khozh-Akhmed Noukhaev,” (University of Amsterdam, 2009) is a beautifully written and exhaustively researched biography of Noukhaev that shows the origins, uses, and fate of his doctrine of Hanifi Traditionalism, developed in cooperation with Mansur-Machiej Jachimczyk, a Polish convert to Islam.

Wondering whether Noukhaev might be what I call a “soft” Traditionalist, ten Houten asks whether Hanifi Traditionalism could have come into being without Guénonian Traditionalism. This is a good question, and a good additional test of what is and is not Traditionalist.

And in ten Houten’s view, Hanifi Traditionalism fails the test. Noukhaev hardly needed metaphysics to tell him that something was wrong with the modern world: the appalling bloodshed and destruction in Chechnya certainly indicated a problem. Engels is a possible source for Noukhaev’s replacement of the standard two-part division into tradition and modernity with a three-part division into barbarism, tradition and modernity. Note that for both Engels and Noukhaev, barbarism is a positive, not a negative, concept. While Traditionalists commonly find their tradition in books and apply it in fairly abstract ways, Noukhaev found his barbarism in his own experience and applied it to a very concrete end: finding a basis for a possible settlement between the Russian state and the Chechen people that could be equally acceptable to both sides.

I am not so sure. Kazakh Eurasianism, in contrast to Hanifi Traditionalism, fits well enough with Dugin's ideas for an alliance, but without any Traditionalist elements. So there is no need to add the Traditionalist themes of decline, anti-modernism and religion to Eurasianism to get Dugin's support.

First finding something wrong with the modern world on a basis other than metaphysics does not stop someone being a Traditionalist. For nearly all Traditionalists, it is not Traditionalism that draws attention to the fact that there is a problem with the modern world, but Traditionalism that makes sense of that problem. Using other sources in a synthesis is also quite common: consider Dugin's use of Eurasianism, Schuon's use of Native American religion, and Evola's use of Nietzsche. And as for concrete ends, consider Evola, and Dugin himself.

If ten Houten is right and Noukhaev developed independently a doctrine which just happened to fit extremely neatly into Dugin’s Traditionalist conceptions, then we would need to rethink Traditionalism. Instead of a more or less unique philosophy developed by Guénon, Traditionalism would be one instance of something pretty widespread.

Even though I have just been challenging ten Houten's conclusions, I am still a fan of the thesis. Almost every available piece of the jigsaw seems to be there. It will, I hope, soon be published.

Kazakh Eurasianism not Traditionalist

A new thesis on Eurasianism in Kazakhstan: Nataliya Ludanova, "Kasachische Mission: Das eurasische Konzept in der Konstruktion der nationalen Idee in Nursultan Nazarbaevs Kasachstan" (University of Mainz, 2009/10).

Ludanova argues that under Nursultan Nazarbayev (pictured, president of Kazakhstan since independence and First Secretary of the Kazakh Communist Party before independence) Eurasianism has in effect become the official Kazakh state ideology. She shows the close links between Kazakh Eurasianism and Dugin, and explains why Eurasianism is attractive for the Kazakh regime.

What is most interesting is that what Kazach Eurasianism takes from Dugin's Eurasianism is really just the geopolitics. Though Ludanova does not say this explicitly, it seems that the esoteric and properly Traditionalist elements in Dugin's Eurasianism find no real echo in Kazakhstan. Neo-Eurasianism, it seems, has Traditionalist origins and underpinnings, but can function without them.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr and...

Question: Who, apart from Seyyed Hossein Nasr, has really used the intellectual tools of Western modernity to attempt to defend classic conceptions of Islam against Western modernity?

Many people have, of course, used the intellectual tools of Western modernity to try to bridge the gap between it and Islam, from Sayed Ahmed Khan and Muhammad Abduh to Mohammed Arkoun and Abdullahi An-Na'im. This is the so-called “modernist” stream of Islam, and what emerges from it is rather different from classic conceptions of Islam. Many people have simply refused or attacked Western modernity and then moved on to (or back to) something else, but who apart from Nasr has produced an intellectually sophisticated justification for this?

Answer: All sugegstions welcome.

My thanks to TK for the conversation during which this point emerged.

New articles on Dugin

Several new articles (if you read Russian) in Форум новейшей восточноевропейской истории и культуры vol. 6, no. 2 (2009), published by the Eichstaett Institute for Central and East European Studies in Upper Bavaria, Germany. These include:
  • Marlene Laruelle (Institute for Development and Security Policy, Stockholm), "Aleksandr Dugin, ideologicheskii posrednik: sliianie razlichnykh doktrin pravoradikal'nogo politicheskogo spektra," p. 63
  • Leonid Luks, "'Tretii put'' ili nazad v 'Tretii reikh'? O 'neoevraziiskoi' gruppe 'Elementy'," p. 88
  • Anton Shekhovtsov (National Technical University of Sevastopol), "Palingeneticheskii proekt neoevraziistva: idei vozrozhdeniia v mirovozzrenii Aleksandra Dugina," p. 105
  • Andreas Umland (The Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt), "Patologicheskie tendentsii v russkom 'neoevraziistve': o znachenii vzleta Aleksandra Dugina dlia interpretatsii obshchestvennoi zhizni sovremennoi Rossii," p. 127

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Islamist Right in France and Russia

The Islamist Right is an unfamiliar concept in Western Europe, but one we may hear more of. How else to describe "LLP," a French video-blogger who rails against Freemasonry--which he seems to associate with the Jews--and republican laïcité (secularism) while mentioning that everyone now knows that 9/11 was a "false flag attack" and that no Muslim may ever, ever become a Freemason? And quotes Guénon explicitly on laïcité and implictly on Freemasonry?

I am told that LLP "is having quite a terrific success on internet." His "Maçonnerie et Laïcisation de l'Islam" had only attracted 1,460 views over six months when I viewed it, so I'm not sure, but it is certainly an interesting example of a particular genre.

And then there's voxnr.com, "le site des résistants au nouvel ordre mondial" (the site for those resisting the new world order), still going strong after seven years (it started in 2002), with its companion journal, Résistance. This site is New Right rather than Islamist, but reports news of Dugin and friends, and is certainly positive towards some varieities of Islam and Islamism. Interviews posted towards the end of 2009 dealt with Mircea Eliade and Guénon as well as the good relations between the Arabs and Fascism. And then there was also an interview with Edward Limonov of Russia's National Bolshevik Party, entitled "Every Day I feel closer to Islam."

Limonov reports that he first learned about Islam from Gaydar Jamal, and admired it more after what he saw in jail in 2002-03 (where he had a Chechen cellmate, the rebel Aslanbek Alkhazurov). Asked why some Russian rightists were converting to Islam, he replied:
I think that National Bolsheviks who convert to Islam are looking for both protest and discipline in Islam. Islam clearly states how to behave in everyday life, something which is not taught in other religions . . . In Islam, an individual finds precise rules.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Guénon and Agarttha

Just published: Marco Baistrocchi, "Agarttha: A Guénonian Manipulation?" Theosophical History, Occasional Papers, vol. 12. This is a translation by Joscelyn Godwin of three articles originally published in Italian in Politica Romana in the 1990s, by an Italian diplomat. An "engaged" author rather than a scholarly one, but still worth reading.

The whole question of Agarttha and Guénon's Le roi du monde (The King of the World, 1927) is puzzling. In Le roi du monde, Guénon endorsed views about the existence of "Agarttha," a hidden subterranean initiatic kingdom, that were highly imaginative. Guénon did not always check his sources as painstakingly as is required in academia, but on no other occasion did he devote so much energy to something quite so unlikely. Why?

Baistrocchi provides a useful introduction to, and summary of, the problem. He also more or less excludes one possible answer to the question. Guénon can hardly have actually believed the imaginative accounts he endorsed in Le roi du monde. He knew, as Baistrocchi shows (p. 22 and passim), one of the main sources for the imaginative account of Agarttha, Louis Jacolliot's Les Fils de Dieu (1873). But...  Jacolliot was writing not about Agarttha, but about Asgard, the abode of the Norse gods!

So what was Guénon up to? Baistrocchi's suggestion, that Guénon was joining in a conspiracy to combat the interest in Asiatic religion awakened by the Theosophical Society for the sake of maintaining public interest in Catholicism and Islam, seems to me unlikely.

The puzzle, then, still awaits solution. But at least one possibility now seems to have been excluded.