Monday, December 10, 2012
A Jesuit critique of Traditionalism
Howard's 2011 book, Being Human in Islam: The Impact of the Evolutionary Worldview (Abingdon: Routledge), deals with three Islamic approaches to the challenges raised by the theory of evolution. First come approaches inspired by Henri Bergson, second comes the Traditionalist approach, and third and last come approaches Howard places under the rubric of Islamization of knowledge--Syed Muhammad al-Attas and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). None exactly mainstream in Islam, then, but all interesting. Howard explains his selection of Traditionalism on grounds of its inherent interest, and of the influence Traditionalist views have among non-Traditionalist Muslims, especially in the West.
For Howard, Traditionalism's rejection of evolution follows inevitably from its rejection of modernity--a rejection which he sees as itself problematic. Firstly, the Traditionalist conception of tradition is simply too all-inclusive: "it elides radically different models of revelation" (p. 110). Secondly, to see modernity as "pure negation of the transcendent" (p, 118) is to grant too much to modernity, in effect to accept modernity's own claim to be unique.
Howard himself would prefer to distinguish the major elements that he sees Traditionmalism lumping together as "tradition"--"emanationist metaphysics, initiatory esotericism, a theology of revelation" (p. 117)--and to see modernity as "a complex, multi-layered phenomenon" (p. 118).
An interesting critique, and an interesting book.