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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.

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