Wednesday, January 06, 2021

New articles on the World of Islam Festival of 1976

A number of articles have been published recently dealing with the World of Islam Festival of 1976, held in London, financed mostly by the UAE, and presenting a very Traditionalist perspective of Islamic art, given the major roles played by Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

The most comprehensive article is Klas Grinell, "Framing Islam at the World of Islam Festival, London, 1976," Journal of Muslims in Europe 7, no. 1 (2018): 73–93. https://doi.org/10.1163/22117954-12341365. This (open-access) article is also the only article that fully discusses Traditionalist involvement and perspective. It describes the Festival and its organisation in detail, and identifies two problems with its underlying conception. One is that it understood Islamic art as a single essence ("an art form governed by a few esoteric and timeless principles"), rather than following normal academic practice that looks at art (including Islamic art) in terms of periods, styles, and so on. The other is that it excluded contemporary Islamic art; Islamic art was shown as traditional, in opposition to modernity--which is fine in Traditionalist terms--or alternatively as being "incompatible with contemporary British everyday life," which is more problematic in contemporary (Islamophobic) terms.

Grinell argues that the Festival has a continuing impact today. Even if academic scholars of art were never very impressed by the way the Festival was organized, this has had a lasting impact on museum curators. Grinell does not say which museums he is thinking of, but the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar immediately comes to mind. For the adverse reaction of academic scholars of art, Grinell cites an earlier article by Oleg Grabar, "Geometry and Ideology: The Festival of Islam and the Study of Islamic Art," in A Way Prepared, Essays on Islamic Culture in Honor of Richard Bayly Winder, ed. Farhad Kazemi and R. D. McChesney (New York: New York University Press, 1988), pp. 145-52. This has been republished and is also available online, at https://archnet.org/publications/5019.

A similar but less comprehensive article in French is Monia Abdallah, "World of Islam Festival (Londres 1976) : Naissance d’un nouveau paradigme pour les arts de l’Islam," Revue d'art canadienne / Canadian Art Review  39, no. 1, 2014, pp. 1-100. https://doi.org/10.7202/1026192ar. Abdallah broadly agrees with Grinell (or rather, Grinell follows Abdallah), and makes similar arguments.

Another article is Anneka Lenssen, "'Muslims to Take Over Institute for Contemporary Art:' The 1976 World of Islam Festival," Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 42, no. 1/2 (Summer/Winter 2008): 40-47. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23063541. Tis has a good discussion of the exhibition at the the Hayward Gallery.

One further article on the Festival does not engage in these discussions, but tells a good story: Rachel Ainsworth and Sarah Worden, “Jean Jenkins: Music and the 1976 World of Islam Festival,” Journal of Museum Ethnography 28 (2015): 184–197. www.jstor.org/stable/43915897.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Gap plugged in the history of German Traditionalism

The apparent absence of a mid-twentieth-century German Traditionalist movement has always seemed surprising, given the presence of Traditionalists beyond France in Switzerland, England, Italy, the USA, Argentina, Brazil, and even smaller countries like Sweden. Discussions in Jean-Pierre Laurant’s new book, Guénon au combat: Des réseaux en mal d'institutions (see post here) make clear that there was also a major Traditionalist sympathizer in Germany, Leopold Ziegler (1881-1958, seen to the left), who I did not mention in my Against the Modern World

Ziegler was an academic philosopher who spent most of his life as an independent scholar, but whose status was recognized by the German academy on his seventieth birthday, when he received an honorary doctorate in theology from the University of Marburg and an honorary professorship from the University of Freiburg, the institution at which he had once hoped to make a career. 

Ziegler was already a believer in the philsophia perennis when he discovered the work of Guénon in the 1930s, to which he was introduced by André Préau (1893-1976), the translator of Heidegger into French and a key member of the French Traditionalist network. In 1932 Ziegler started a correspondence with René Guénon, on whom he published an article in the respected journal Deutsche Rundschau in 1934.

Ziegler hoped to arrange for Guénon to be translated and published in Germany, but these plans were interrupted by the advent of the Nazi regime, and Guénon’s work did not begin to appear in German until after the Second World War. La Crise du monde moderne was published in 1950 as Die Krisis der Neuzeit (Cologne: Hegner) and Le roi du monde as König der Welt (Munich: Otto Wilhelm Barth) in 1956. These dates are significant, because the 1950s were generally a low period everywhere for the reception of Guénon. Traditionalism’s relative lack of impact in Germany is, then, to some extent a matter of timing.

Ziegler was already an established thinker before he read Guénon (he had won the Goethe Prize in 1929), had already published on Buddhism, and (as has been said) was already convinced of the philsophia perennis. What he took from Guénon was, especially, the concept of tradition, which he translated as Überlieferung. One of his major books was entitled simply Überlieferung (1936), and cites seven of Guénon's books (and was reviewed sympathetically by Herman Hesse--see here). It is unclear to what extent Guénon was responsible for Ziegler's anti-modernism. There are also differences, however, as Matthias Korger points out: Ziegler was determinedly European (and in a certain sense Christian) in a way that Guénon was not, and admired and drew on European philosophers whom Guénon ignored or dismissed.

Further reading: 
  • Jean-Pierre Laurant, Guénon au combat: Des réseaux en mal d'institutions (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2019). 
  • Sophie Latour, "Leopold Ziegler—und die Philosophia perennis," pp. 135-54 in Leopold Ziegler: Weltzerfall und Menschwerdung, ed. Paulus Wall (Würtzburg: Köningshausen & Neumann, 2001).
  • Matthias Korger, "Ziegelrs ’Lehrer’ René Guénon—Die Metaphysik," pp- 169-89 in Leopold Ziegler, ed. Wall.

New book on French Traditionalist networks

The doyen of French Guénonian studies, Jean-Pierre Laurant, has just published a new book, Guénon au combat: Des réseaux en mal d'institutions (Guénon at war: Networks without Institutions; Paris: L’Harmattan, 2019).

The networks in question are mostly French, notably those built around the correspondence and relations between three long-term followers of René Guénon, the bookseller and publisher Pierre Pulby (1910-1993), the physician Pierre Winter (1891-1950), and the Germanist and translator of Heidegger André Préau (1893-1976). Winter established two Traditionalist groups that are not discussed in my Against the Modern World, a Groupe d’études métaphysiques (Metaphysical Studies Group) that was active between 1936 and 1940 and then, after the Second World war, a group of Hindu and Orthodox orientation that Laurant calls the Winter Group, which survived for some years after Winter’s death, until 1957.

The book also discusses the Union intellectuelle pour l'entente entre les peoples (Intellectual union for understanding between peoples), led according to Laurent by Guénon and a Dutch friend, Frans Vreede (1887-1975). In fact, it is not clear that Guénon was really that influential, as the objectives of the Union were defined by others, and most members of its board had no connection with Guénon. It is notable, howeer, that one member of the “advisory committee” was Louis Massignon (1883-1962), now the best-known French scholar of Islam from the period.

Laurant also discusses two networks outside France, that in Italy around Arturo Reghini (1878-1946), recently the subject of a PhD thesis by Christian Giudice (see post here) and that in Germany around Leopold Ziegler (1881-1958) (see post here), whose main contact in France was Préau. 

The book closes with a series of short but useful biographical notes on each of the major figures discussed in the book. 

Guénon au combat is an important addition to our knowledge of the early Traditionalist milieu, especially in France.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

New article on Traditionalism in Bosnia

A comprehensive study of Traditionalism in Bosnia has just been published: Samir Beglerović and Mark Sedgwick, "Islam in Bosnia Between East and West: The Reception and Development of Traditionalism," Journal of Religion in Europe 13, no. 1-2 (December 2020): 145–172, https://doi.org/10.1163/18748929-20201498.

According to the abstract, 

The article looks at the reception and development of Guénonian Traditionalism in Bosnia from the 1970s to the present day. Traditionalism was initially received in Yugoslavia as esotericism, but then its reception became more Islamic, based in Sarajevo’s Islamic Theology Faculty. After the Bosnian War, Islamic Traditionalist works became popular among young Bosnians who wanted to combine Islam with European identities. Some Bosnian ulama taught Traditionalist works to their students, a development unparalleled elsewhere, and wrote their own Traditionalist-influenced works, mostly dealing with interreligious dialogue. The Bosnian reception and development of Traditionalism is unique, and it is argued that this reflects Bosnia’s special position between East and West. 

Samir Beglerović (1973–2020) was an associate professor of aqida (dogmatics), Sufism and Comparative Religion at the Faculty of Islamic Sciences, Sarajevo. He died of COVID-19 on 9 November 2020 as the final touches were being put to this article. An obituary in English can be read at https://www.unsa.ba/en/novosti/prof-dr-samir-beglerovic-passed-away.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Dragoš Kalajić and Traditionalism in Yugoslavia

A new article (in English) explores the role of Dragoš Kalajić (1943-2005, see photograph) in introducing the idea of Julius Evola in Yugoslavia between 1969 and 1989. This is Branislav Jakovljević, “The Ownership of Evil: 1968, 1989, and the Mainstreaming of the New Right,” Primerjalna književnost 43, no.3 (2020): 49-63, DOI: 10.3986/pkn.v43.i3.03.

Kalajić was a painter who trained in Rome, where he met Evola, though details of this are unclear. Evola was not visible in Kalajić’s 1968 book Krševina (Wreckage), but is very visible in his Uporište: rehabilitacija structure integralnog čoveka (The Stronghold: A Rehabilitation of Integral Man’s Structure) and in all his subsequent work, including his articles in the major newspaper Politika, his columns in the magazine Duga, and his editorial work for the publishing house Prosveta. Two notable later books by Kalajić are Mapa (Anti)utopija (A Map of (Anti) Utopias, 1978) and Smak sveta (Doomsday,1979), which is a collection of his magazine articles. Although Evola was Kalajić's main source, René Guénon was also introduced to the Yugoslav public.

Jakovljević suggests that Kalajić got away with publishing ideas that were not exactly compatible with Yugoslavia’s ruling communism because the Yugoslav authorities were at that time more worried about the New Left than the New Right. As Serbian nationalism began to replace communism, his ideas became ever more popular in certain circles.

Since Jakovljević understands Kalajić as a neo-fascist, his article also covers the critique of Nazism and totalitarianism made by Radomir Konstantinović (1928-2011) in Filosofija palanke (The Philosophy of Parochialism, 1969).

Jakovljević clearly shows the importance of Traditionalism for Kalajić. It is less clear what Kalajić’s distinctive contribution to Traditionalist thought was. This may be covered in a later article. The article stops in 1989, and we can only hope for a subsequent article covering the remainder of Kalajić’s career and activities.

(This post has been updated at the suggestion of Branislav Jakovljević to clarify the nature of the critique made by Konstantinović).