Thursday, January 21, 2016
Guénon and gnostic anthropology
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.