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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.

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