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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Geydar Dzhemal (1947-2016)

Geydar Dzhemal (Haydar Jamal, Гейдар Джемаль), one of the earliest Russian Traditionalists and one of Russia's best known Muslims, died on December 5, 2016 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Dzhemal was born in Moscow in 1947. He studied at the Institute of Oriental Languages at Moscow State University, and was one of the members of the "Iuzkinskii Circle" (Южинского клуба) of Soviet dissidents that had been in existence since the 1960s, and included the poet Evgenii Golovin (1938-2010) and the novelist Yuri Mamleev (1931-2015). This group develeoped an interest in Gurdjieff, and then in Traditionalism, and was also joined by Alexander Dugin.

Dzhemal and Dugin became friends, and together joined Pamyat, the first ever independent political organization to come into being in the USSR. After the collapse of the USSR, both Dzhemal and Dugin left Pamyat and proceeded independently, though both they and their respective followers remained generally on good terms. While Dugin became one of the leaders of the National Bolshevik Party, Dzhemal established the Party of the Islamic Renaissance in Astrakhan (in southern Russia), and then returned to Moscow, where he established and led the Islamic Committee of Russia. Neither organization was particularly significant, but Dzhemal himself became well known, both in the mainstream media and through his own books, which criticized modernity, especially in its global liberal form, from a perspective that mixed Traditionalism, politics, radicalism, and Islam. He had a small, informal group of followers.
رحمه الله

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Evola, symbology, and alchemy

A new article by Hans Thomas Hakl, “The Symbology of Hermeticism in the Work of Julius Evola” (in Lux in Tenebris: The Visual and the Symbolic in Western Esotericism, ed. Peter J. Forshaw, Leiden: Brill 2016), discusses Evola’s understanding of symbols, notably in the context of alchemy, and Evola’s La Tradizione Ermetica (The Hermetic Tradition, 1931).

Hakl looks in detail at the meaning of particular symbols, especially the Monas Hieroglyphica, showing in this instance how Evola drew on Cesare della Riviera (d. 1625) and thus, indirectly, on John Dee (1527-1608). He argues that it is important to remember that Evola’s work on the symbology of hermeticism “was written neither as a scholar nor as a practical alchemist… but purely and simply to demonstrate the ‘truth’ of his Traditional worldview.” For Evola, alchemy was a universal system, a point on which René Guénon disagreed.

Lux in Tenebris is published by Brill, and so sells for $202 (or €168). This may seem expensive, but there are also some other chapters that mention Traditionalism in passing: György E. Szönyi on “Myth and Magic: Victorian Enoch and Historical Contexts,” Aaron Cheak on “The Juncture of Transcendence and Concretion: Symbolique in René Schwaller de Lubicz,” and Joscelyn Godwin on “Esoteric Theories of Color.”

Monday, November 28, 2016

New PhD thesis on Arturo Reghini and Italian Traditionalism

Christian Giudice of Gothenburg University has just successfully defended a PhD thesis on "Occultism and Traditionalism: Arturo Reghini and the Antimodern Reaction in Early Twentieth-Century Italy." The thesis is available online here.

Reghini (pictured) is the leading figure in the Italian Traditionalist movement to which Julius Evola at one point belonged, and was in contact with René Guénon during the 1920s, helping Guénon with L'ésotérisme de Dante (The Esoterism of Dante, 1925). He is best known as the author of  "Imperialismo Pagano" (Heathen imperialism), published in 1914 and then republished in 1924, the inspiration for Julius Evola's famous work of the same title. Reghini, however, rejected Guénon's interest in the East and drew instead at the Roman Tradition.

As Giudice shows, the links between Italian Traditionalism and Guénonian Traditionalism go back to 1910, when Guénon was visited in Paris by Reghini's mentor Amedeo Rocco Armentano (1886-1966) and by Giulio Guerrieri (1885-1963), both of the Schola Italica (Italic School), a neo-Pythagorean initiatory order to which Reghini also belonged.

After an introduction, the second chapter of the thesis gives the nineteenth-century background to Italian Traditionalism, including the close association between Italian nationalism and Freemasonry on the one hand and anti-Catholicism on the other hand during the Risorgimento. Chapters three and four cover Reghini's early years, including his encounter with Theosophy and subsequent turn towards the Schola Italica, the Florentine avant-garde, and Freemasonry. Chapter five focuses on Reghini's most important article, "Imperialismo Pagano," a translation of which is provided in an appendix. In this context, "imperialism" refers to a particular understanding of the natural future of the Italian nation: in a sense, imperialismo pagano is really anti-Catholic Italian nationalism. Reghini's article celebrates Dante as well as Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi. It draws on Virgil, Pythagoras, and ancient religion.

Chapters six and seven will be of most interest to readers interested more in Traditionalism in general than in purely Italian Traditionalism. Chapter six covers the early Italian reception of Guénon's work, and especially of his idea of an intellectual elite. It also considers the Guénon-Reghini correspondence (1923-26), including Reghini's contribution to Guénon's L'Éstoerisme de Dante. Chapter seven considers the journal Atanòr, which published Guénon and Evola, and its successor, Ur. It ends with the end of the dream of a Roman imperialism represented by the 1929 Concordat between Mussolini and the Catholic Church. Chapter seven covers the remainder of Reghini's life after this, and chapter eight is  a conclusion.

Giudice's thesis represents an important piece in the jigsaw that is the history of Traditionalism, showing that the Italian Traditionalism that produced Evola was not just a local version of Guénonian Traditionalism, but also had its own very specific origins and characteristics.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Traditionalism in the Trump-era mainstream?

With the unexpected election victory of Donald Trump, Traditionalism is edging slightly more into the American mainstream. Steve Bannon (pictured), formerly of Breitbart, now named as Trump’s chief strategist, referred apparently favourably to Alexander Dugin and Julius Evola in a 2014 speech on the “global tea party movement.”

Bannon argued that many of Vladimir Putin's views were underpinned by Eurasianism, and noted "he’s got an adviser who harkens back to Julius Evola and different writers of the early 20th century who are really the supporters of what’s called the traditionalist movement." This adviser could hardly be anyone but Dugin. "We the Judeo-Christian West," continued Bannon, "really have to look at what he [Putin]’s talking about as far as traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism."

At first sight, this looks like an endorsement of Traditionalism, Evola, and Dugin. But it is not clear that Bannon really knows that much about Traditionalism, which he glosses as "standing up for traditional institutions," which is not quite the point. His source for Dugin may be an article published in Breitbart in 2014, "Putin's Rasputin: The Mad Mystic Who Inspired Russia's Leader," which mentions Evola but says almost nothng about his thought. Otherwise, Evola has only been mentioned occasionally on Breitbart, as in 2016 in "An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to The Alt-Right," where he was named in passing as one of the intellectual origins of the alternative right.

My thanks to Rodrigo Adem for drawing my attention to this speech.

Friday, November 04, 2016

The archives of Louis Charbonneau-Lassay

Gauthier Pierozak, the manager of the invaluable René Guénon archive at www.index-rene-guenon.org, is using crowdfunding to try to gather donations that will help him purchase the archives of Louis Charbonneau-Lassay (1871-1946), the specialist in Christian symbolism, author of The Bestiary of Christ, and friend of Guénon.

Pierozak plans to scan the archives for public access through an internet website, and then offer them to a museum or similar organization for preservation. He has now raised €8,193 and aims at €10,000

Details of the project are available at www.ulule.com/archives-charbonneau-lassay.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

CounterPunch attacks Maryamiyya

An article on the Maryamiyya has just (November 2) been published in CounterPunch, "the fearless voice of the American Left," which "tells the facts and names the names."

The article, "Sufism in the Service of Empire: the Case of the Maryamiyyah" by the Berlin-based Iranian intellectual Wahid Azal, focuses on the Maryamiyya's influence today, after presenting Frithjof Schuon and the Maryamiyya (with an emphasis on the most problematic details in its history) by way of background. The names that Azal names are Prince Charles, Ibrahim Kalin (President Erdoğan's press secretary and associate), Prince Ghazi of Jordan, and Alexander Dugin. He refers to Maryami influence in Morocco, the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia, but without naming names. He then also names names within "the Islamic/Mid East Studies establishment of the Western Ivory Tower" (William Chittick, Terry Moore, Hasan Awan, Reza-Shah Kazemi and Alan Godlas) and in Iran (Gholamreza Avani).

Azal's conclusion is that while Sufism has historically often opposed colonialism and empire, "Western... Sufism has increasingly gone in another direction, allying itself more and more with the agendas of Western establishments and the core interests of Empire in the Muslim world." This, in Azal's view, is true of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi Order as well as to the Maryamiyya, and is "as big a betrayal of the ‘Tradition’ as Islamism itself is."

Azal is right about the alliance between much of Western Sufism and Western establishments, though I am not sure about the "core interests of Empire," as I am not sure that "Empire" is a the right way to describe the West today, and as I am also not sure that the West really knows what its core interests in the Muslim world are, which may actually be part of the problem.

I think what really explains the alliance between much of Western Sufism and Western establishments today is the familiar logic that makes a friend of my enemy's enemy. Western Sufis are invariably hostile to Islamism, Salafism and so on, which is generally hostile to them. The so-called Islamic State, for example, has also denounced the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi Order, for its theology and for being "quick to ally with any tāghūt [idolators] who will allow them to spread their message," the main idolators being the Americans (Dabiq 14, Rajab 1437 [April 2016], p. 15).

Shared hostility to Islamism and Salafism places much of Western Sufism and Western establishments on the same side. To what extent this is "a betrayal of the ‘Tradition’" by Western Sufis depends on whether one sees Western establishments as traditional, modern, or positively counter-initiatic.

Azal also refers in passing to my Against the Modern World and quotes the allegation of Mark Koslow that, as a result of threats of legal action against Oxford University Press, I "backed down and published a rather weak assessment of Schuon’s polygamous activities, criminal actions, visions of nude Virgins and delusions of grandeur." It is true that I went through the manuscript of Against the Modern World with a lawyer to make sure that everything in the text that was finally published would stand up in court if necessary, and that this necessitated some changes. In the end, however, I still managed to say everything important that I thought needed to be said.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Sufi Awareness Foundation

A new Traditionalist Sufi organization has been established in France, the Fondation Conscience Soufie or Sufi Awareness Foundation.

The Foundation's objective is to "offer to the world the universal wisdom of Sufism, the interior way of Islam." It has been established by four French Sufi Traditionalists: Éric Geoffroy, Slimane Rezki, Néfissa Roty-Geoffroy, and Idrîs de Vos. The two Geoffroys and Vos come from families associated with the classic Paris Alawiyya of Michel Vâlsan (1907-74), and Rezki is the author of René Guénon : l’homme, le sens de la vérité (2016), recently launched in Cairo.

The objectives of the Foundation are education, mediation, research, arts and travel. Education covers both Sufism and the Arabic language, as both Néfissa Roty-Geoffroy and Idrîs de Vos are professional Arabic teachers. Mediation includes training, for example of prison guards in connection with counter-radicalization efforts. Research includes translation, and presumably also Éric Geoffroy's work at the University of Strasbourg, where he teaches. Arts includes cultural evenings with concerts and performances. Travel, finally, includes pilgrimages to Islamic and Sufi sites, and retreats in the desert and other inspiring places.

At present, the Foundation is most active in the fields of education and travel. A series of seminars in Paris and Geneva, mostly directed by Éric Geoffroy and Slimane Rezki, have been announced, and the Foundation's website sells books, mostly by Éric Geoffroy. There is also a retreat in the Moroccan desert scheduled for February 2017, led by Éric Geoffroy and facilitated by a Moroccan tour company, with a program including meditation or prayer at dawn, and dhikr in the evenings. The first seminar, on October 14, is in Paris, and is on "Sufism and Sharia: Relations between exoterism and esoterism in Islam," a classic issue, from both Sufi and Traditionalist perspectives.

These activities--seminars, publications, and pilgrimages--are not new. What is new is that they have now been publicly brought together under a single umbrella. According to the Foundation's website, this has been endorsed by Bariza Khiari (a female senator for the socialist party, and a prominent advocate of Sufism), by Abdel Wahed Yahia Guénon (the grandson of René Guénon), by Faouzi Skali (discussed in my Against the Modern World), by Seyyed Hossein Nasr of the Maryamiyya, and by a number of French intellectuals, mostly Muslim.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Guénon at French Institute in Egypt

Slimane Rezki is launching his new book on Guénon, René Guénon : l’homme, le sens de la vérité (René Guénon: The man, the sense of truth; Paris: Al Bouraq, 2016) at the French Institute in Mounira on Wednesday, October 5, at 18:00, under the auspices of the French Embassy in Egypt. The event is co-sponsored with the Azhar (section of Francophone Islamic Studies) and the Fondation René Guénon (René Guénon Foundation) of Abdel Wahed Yahya Guénon, and is notable because Guénon has recently been relatively neglected in Egypt, the country that he made his home.

Rezki himself is also notable, as a French Guénonian of the younger generation, who is active not only in writing but also in giving courses and conferences, especially for the Fondation Conscience Soufie (Sufi Conscience Foundation) of Éric Geoffroy. This organisation is a major hub for Sufi Traditionalism in France.

My thanks to Hatsuki Aishima for bringing this event to my attention.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Guénon text archive

Online since 2012, and an invaluable resource: a searchable archive of the books, articles, and correspondence of René Guénon. At http://www.index-rene-guenon.org/

The Sufi albums of Franco Battiato

Franco Battiato was more of a Universal Sufi than a Traditionalist, but some of his songs also referred to Guénon. See my new post on him at westernsufism.blogspot.com.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Traditionalist Masonry: Appeal for information

Does anybody know anything about Giovanni Ponte/Franco Musso? He was a Traditionalist from Turin who wrote in the 1960s in Le Symbolisme, a masonic journal that was founded by Oswald Wirth in 1912, and survived until 1972.

A French researcher would like to hear from anyone who can provide any biographical information. If you can help, please leave details in a comment to this post, which will be published, or if you prefer, please just leave contact details, which will not be published.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

John Michell and Anglo-American Radical Traditionalism

A recent article deals knowledgable and informatively with the Traditionalism of the British author John Michell (1933-2009). This is Amy Hale, "John Michell, Radical Traditionalism, and the Emerging Politics of the Pagan New Right," The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies 13, no. 1 (2011), pp. 77–97.

Michell is best known for his 1960s Neopaganism, and for his glamorous connections, as his Daily Telegraph obituary illustrates. But he published Confessions of a Radical Traditionalist in 2005, and Hale argues convincingly both for his Traditionalism and that "the ascendance of Radical Traditionalism and the concerted efforts to promote it within very specific Pagan and political contexts since 2000 that are now bringing the writings of John Michell to a whole new audience." Among these contexts is Ultra and Tyr, the heavy-weight American Traditionalist journal that has been mentioned occasionally in this blog, last in connection with its most recent issue.

American White Pride Group founds the Traditionalist Worker Party

A small American group has just founded a "Traditionalist Worker Party" with a website at tradworker.org.

The group is primarily White Pride, with an anti-establishment, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, and sometimes neo-Nazi message (it uses such slogans as "tomorrow belongs to us" and "Hail victory"). It seems to have adopted something of Traditionalism from the European identitarian movement, and perhaps from Golden Dawn, which its leader Matthew Heimbach admires and claims connections with.

The four main points listed on its website are "ethnic consciousness," "Traditionalism," "localism," and "ethnopluralism." Ethnic consciousness and localism are self-explanatory. Ethnopluralism is “multiculturalism in the sense of multiple cultures or ethnicities existing in a country, but separated in their own enclaves, to safeguard those differences.” “Tradition,” the site explains, “is more than the healthy habits of one's forefathers. It's an entirely different approach to life, one centered on the transcendent, perennial, and organic.” But the detailed discussion that follows has little of the transcendent or the perennial to it.

The Traditionalist Worker Party, then, does not seem very Traditionalist. It is not clear how many workers belong to it, but probably not many. Its party machinery is surely not extensive. But the name is somewhat catchy.

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?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Western Mysticism, Esotericism, and Traditionalism

Cambridge University Press has just published The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, edited by Glenn Alexander Magee. This allows an interesting view of Traditionalism in its widest possible context. The Handbook is unusual for putting mysticism and esotericism together but, as Magee argues, "the roots of esotericism almost always lead back to mystical traditions, while the work of mystics was bound up with esoteric or occult preoccupations."

The Handbook is organized chronologically, starting with Antiquity, moving through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and Early Modernity, and ending in the Nineteenth Century and Beyond. Traditionalism (Mark Sedgwick, “René Guénon and Traditionalism) is one of ten chapters in this last section, along with Blavatsky and Gurdjieff and C. G. Jung. Then there is a final section on seven "Common Threads," which include alchemy and gnosis, but not perennialism. I suppose there had to be some limit to the number of common threads.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dugin, Evola and Heidegger

René Guénon and Julius Evola played important roles in the early intellectual development of Russia's Alexander Dugin, and Dugin still refers approvingly to the Traditionalist critique of modernity. In recent years, however, Martin Heidegger has become increasingly important to him. Dugin gave Heidegger in 2009 as "the most profound-ontological-foundation" for his "Fourth Political Theory," and published an entire book on Heidegger, Мартин Хайдеггер: философия другого начала (Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning) in 2010. This book is now available in English translation (Radix, $28), with a preface by the American Paleoconservative Paul E. Gottfried.

The question of the relationship between Heidegger and Traditionalism has been raised before in this blog, in response to an article on the topic by John J. Reilly. An anonymous comment pointed out that Heidegger was anti-metaphysical, and so fundamentally at odds with Traditionalism. Much this point was accepted by Thomas Vašek in a recent article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in the context of a discussion of the implications of Vašek's discovery that Heidegger had copied into his notebooks a long passage from the 1935 German translation of Evola's Revolt Against the Modern World. Vašek points out that Evola and Heidegger both understood and condemned modernity as the "reign of quantity." He accepts that Heidegger had no interest in what he calls "mythical high culture" (i.e. Tradition), but thinks that for Evola "mythical high culture... served only as a place-holder for the lost relation to transcendence, to true Being (Sein)." I am not convinced: I think mythical high culture was a lot more than a place-holder for Evola. What is not clear to me is how important "mythical high culture" now is for Dugin.

My thanks to J.W. for bringing Dugin's new book to my attention.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

World of Islam Festival anniversary evening

It is now 40 years since the World of Islam Festival opened in London in 1976. This was a major event, inspired and in many cases arranged by Maryamis, and succeeded in introducing the British public to Islam in terms of major achievements in culture and art. Unfortunately, stronger and very different impressions were then created by the Iranian Revolution.

To mark this  anniversary, a small exhibition and some lectures have been arranged jointly by the "Everyday Muslim" Project and the British Library, which was heavily involved in the original festival. It starts at 17:30 on Monday 25th April at the Brunei Theatre, SOAS, in London.

Speakers include Ahmed Paul Keeler, who was the Festival's director, Dr. Mohammed Isa Waley, Professor Salim Al-Hassani, Dr. Karim Lahham and Professor Oliver Watson. There will be Quran recitation by Ali Keeler. Tickets can be booked online, and further information is available from info@khizrafoundation.org.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Australian Traditionalism and Poetry


As noted in an earlier post, Traditionalism flourished and then withered in Melbourne, Australia, between 1952 and 1963, and perhaps lay behind Australia’s most famous literary hoax. 

All this is covered in Buddha in a Bookshop (North Fitzroy, Victoria: privately published, 2007) by Peter Kelly, himself a former Australian Traditionalist. The book tells the story of the  group that met in the Norman Robb Bookshop in Melbourne to listen to impromptu translations of articles from Etudes traditionnelles and to discuss the questions that they raised.

The group was led by Harold Stewart, a poet who had taken a job in the bookstore after becoming nationally famous in 1944. He and another poet, James McAuley, had decided to protest the direction taken by Australian modernism by tricking the leading modernist journal of the time, Angry Penguins, into publishing some spoof poems by a fictional "Ern Malley." As Stewart and McAuley were both readers of Guénon and Coomeraswamy, it is possible that Traditionalism lay behind their attack on modernism. It is also possible that anti-modernism led them to Traditionalism, or that the one reinforced the other.

According to Kelly, Stewart’s trick, as does sometimes happen with tricks, had unexpected consequences. Rather than making a point to Australia’s literary world, as seems to have been the intention, it provided the press with good material to make fun of the pretentions of intellectuals in general. In a further unexpected twist, the publisher of Angry Penguins was found guilty of publishing obscene works. Stewart left Sydney for relative obscurity in Melbourne, and never made the poetic career he seems once to have hoped for. And then finally, after some years, the spoof poems became famous again—for their poetic qualities. As Kelly says, they may have been intended as spoofs but they were still composed by two talented young poets who were well versed in the modernism that they were condemning.

The Australian Traditionalists never took to “the London group,” as they called the Maryamiyya. They disliked it as “authoritarian and reactionary” (p. 71), and were anyhow generally more interested in Buddhism than in Sufism. Stewart and some other Australian Traditionalists visited Japan in 1963, but then quarreled, for unknown reasons. The meetings in Melbourne stopped, the group fragmented, and Stewart moved permanently to Kyoto, where he lived modestly off his earnings as an English teacher. He died, a Buddhist, in 1995. The Ern Malley poems have since been frequently republished and have attracted much comment, including two plays and a novel, but Stewart himself is largely forgotten, and his Traditionalism generally unknown. McAuley, in contrast, became a Roman Catholic and a professor of English at the University of Tasmania, as well as a sometimes controversial right-wing commentator.

The first half of Buddha in a Bookshop covers the events summarized above. The other half deals with Stewart’s poetry and later life, and provides some comments on Traditionalism by Kelly.  The book is partly autobiographical, and gives a good flavor of 1950s and 1960s Australia. It is fun to read, though it would have benefited from slightly more thorough editing to remove the occasional repetition, and the second half is a little miscellaneous.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Aguéli anniversary

October 1, 2017 will mark the centenary of the death of Ivan Aguéli, the Swedish painter who introduced René Guénon to Sufism, was himself one of the very earliest Western Sufis, and also an early and influential writer on Sufism in French.

There are plans to mark this anniversary with a multidisciplinary scholarly publication and/or a conference on Aguéli and his influence. Anyone who might be interested in contributing to either of these is invited to email me at mjrs@cas.au.dk with a preliminary proposal before March 15. The email should include a title and brief abstract (100 to 150 words) plus a CV.

Please feel free to forward this invitation to anyone you know who might be interested.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Guénon and gnostic anthropology

They say that after they retire, scholars sometimes write the books they always wanted to write. Joel S. Kahn, a distinguished anthropologist at the University of Melbourne who worked mostly on Southeast Asia, is now a professor emeritus and seems to have done just that.

The result is Asia, Modernity and the Pursuit of the Sacred: Gnostics, Scholars, Mystics and Reformers (Basingstoke: PalgraveMacmillan, 2015). In this book, Kahn tries to go beyond what he sees as the sterile secular/religious dichotomy by finding resources in Western culture that might allow us to take Asian religion seriously. For this purpose, he looks at what he calls (following Jeffrey Kripal) the "Gnostic current" between the two world wars, the basis of so much that has happened since. And from this current he takes four key writers: René Guénon, Alexandra David-Néel (the feminist, anarchist explorer), Erwin Schrödinger (the Austrian physicist), and Hermann Hesse (the German poet and novelist). The book has eight chapters. Two are introductory, then each writer gets one chapter, and then two conclude.

This looks like an absolutely fascinating book. First, for those interested in Traditionalism, Guénon is put in company that he is not usually found in, but company that immediately makes intuitive sense. Second, for those interested in anthropology, a leading anthropologist is attempting something new, rather radical, and perhaps important. And third, Traditionalist thought is being taken in an unusual but productive way: not as pure truth, and not as purely marginal, but as an important stream of modern thought.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Aguéli exhibition in Sweden

An exhibition entitled "Klee/Aguéli" has just opened at Moderna Museet, Stockholm's modern art museum. 86 paintings are on display until April 24, 2016.

It was, of course, Ivan Aguéli who "initiated" René Guénon into Sufism, and was one of the first Western Sufis to write about Ibn Arabi. But he is still most famous in his native Sweden for his painting, even though it is known that he was a Sufi, and had a colorful life. "A painter, anarchist, Sufi and traveller," writes curator, Fredrik Liew on the museum website, "Aguéli’s life story is a novel in itself."

The exhibition is accompanied by an app and a publication, which I look forward to reading.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Course on Traditionalism at UC Davis

A graduate course on Traditionalism is being taught this Spring semester in the Study of Religion graduate program at the University of California, Davis by Allison Coudert with assistance from Aaron J. French. Major assigned texts are my own Against the Modern World, The Crisis of the Modern World by René Guénon, Revolt Against the Modern World by Julius Evola, and René Guénon and the Future of the West by Robin Waterfield. Then there are further readings by Frithjof Schuon, Richard Smoley, Patrick Laude, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Anton Shekhovtsov, Andreas Umland and John Cody Mosbey. Looks good!

Mosbey has not been mentioned before on this blog. The article of his that is assigned, “Russia, Dugin, and Traditionalism in Politics: Political and Theological Placement of The Fourth Political Theory,” is available online.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Traditionalism in Argentina

A new book just published in Buenos Aires discusses Traditionalism in Argentina. The book is Gnosis y tradiciones sagradas : Ensayos y epistolario en torno de la obra de Francisco García Bazán, edited by Bernardo Nante and Leandro Pinkler (El Hilo de Ariadna, 2015). It is a Festschrift for Francisco García Bazán (pictured), a distinguished Argentinian academic and Argentina's most prolific and respected Traditionalist.

García Bazán represents the third generation of Argentinian Traditionalism, according to the short article "Tres generaciones de tradicionalistas argentinos" (Three Generations of Argentine Traditionalists), written by myself (Mark Sedgwick). The English text of this short article can be downloaded from academia.edu. It argues that Argentinian Traditionalism has always been Catholic, and that it was more influential in its first two generations, notably in the political arena, than it is today. Even though Traditionalism is not especially influential in Argentina today, however, it is taken seriously in academic and intellectual circles. In this Argentina matches Russia, and differs from the USA and most of Europe.

Three other articles deal with the influence of Traditionalism and of Eastern thought on García Bazán. One, "La recepción guenoniana en la obra de García Bazán" by the Spanish philosopher José Antonio Antón Pacheco argues, in effect, that García Bazán was what I would call a "soft" Traditionalist, if only because he attached more importance to Neoplatonism than Guénon did. Pacheco teaches at the University of Seville, and his contribution, which demonstrates a fine grasp of the work of both Guénon and García Bazán, shows that there are some European academics who take Guénon seriously at an intellectual level.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Seyyed Hossein Nasr as shaykh

Traditionalism, René Guénon and the contemporary Maryamiyya are discussed in a new book, Living Sufism in North America: Between Tradition and Transformation by William Rory Dickson (State University of New York Press, 2015). The first part of the book provides an excellent concise history of Sufism, in the Muslim world and then in the West, which is where Guénon is discussed, and contextualized. Then, in the second part, Dickson discusses the responses of ten leading contemporary American Sufi shaykhs, including Seyyed Hossein Nasr of the Maryamiyya, to five topical issues impacting all American Sufis: authority, culture, gender, the relationship between Sufism and Islam, and the participation of non-Muslims.

As Dickson notes, it is clear that Nasr emphasizes Islam more than Frithjof Schuon did, and does not prioritize the esoteric in the same way as Schuon. Commenting on what he calls "California Sufis," those who want to have Sufism without Islam, Nasr notes that they want to have the fruit without the tree, and so have a limited future: the tree is necessary, and non-Islamic Sufism lacks rooting in a divine message. Nasr also emphasizes that traditional forms and practices have value in themselves. This sets him apart from most of the other Sufis interviewed by Dickson, who are much happier to sacrifice forms and practices to adapt to American realities.

Even Nasr, however, makes some concession to realities where gender is concerned. While (unsurprisingly) rejecting feminism in principle, Nasr distinguishes between "instructive" and "administrative" functions within Sufism, and reserves only administrative functions (which others might call positions of power) for men. There are, according to Nasr, ever more "highly qualified women who are interested in the spiritual life... and who also, intellectually, are able to deal with the gnostic, intellectual aspects of Sufism." He explains this partly in sociological terms, as women go to college and experience and act just as men do, but firstly in metaphysical terms, as "compensation for the downfall of men spiritually."

Living Sufism in North America is interesting because it puts into dialogue with each other the views of different Sufi shaykhs on issues that they all encounter but rarely discuss openly or comment on publicly. One exception to this is that another shaykh interviewed by Dickson, Yannis Toussulis, does make one explicit comment on Traditionalist positions. He criticizes the Traditionalist quest for what he calls "hyper-coherence," a quest that he feels leads the Traditionalists to ignore the diversity that has always existed within Islam and Sufism.

My thanks to Neon Knight for drawing my attention to this book as one of the few places in which Nasr publicly discusses his work as Maryami shaykh.