Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Guénon, Schuon, Massignon and Corbin

Already mentioned as a new book, and now read and recommended: Patrick Laude's Pathways to an Inner Islam: Massignon, Corbin, Guénon, and Schuon (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010).

This book is a comparative study of the thought of the two great Traditionalists and of two non-Traditionalists, the great French scholars Louis Massignon (1883-1962) and Henry Corbin (1903-1978). Neither Massignon nor Corbin were Traditionalists (Massignon described Traditionalism as "very seductive," if  fundamentally wrong) but their thought and topics had enough in common with Guénon's and Schuon's for the comparison to be illuminating. And the book shows how Traditionalism was in some sense part of a broader French trend towards the discovery of esoteric Islam in Sufism (and, in Corbin's case, Shiism).

The book is not easy reading given its topics, and it helps if you know something about Islam. But it is well written, and recasts the familiar in new from, as well as introducing the not-so-familiar. Laude is an insider, but can still be critical, even occasionally of Schuon.

The book is also interesting on the relationship between Traditionalism and Islam. Laude concedes that Guénon’s understanding of Sufism was “virtually independent from a consideration of the essentials of the Islamic faith” (p. 58) and that Schuon’s understanding might be seen as a “reconstruction of the tradition itself” (p. 59). Laude quotes Schuon, who in effect distinguishes an esoteric and exoteric level in the sunna: “What the faqir will retain of this Sunna will be, not so much the ways of acting as the intentions that are inherent in them” (98).

One last quote: “The perennialist perspective may be a precious instrument of interfaith efforts when understood as an intellectual and spiritual framework allowing one to situate differences within an integral context that makes sense of their raison d’être” (p. 132).

$64 from and £57.25 from

Friday, July 23, 2010

The intellectual history of Traditionalism in America

A new and massive (622 pages) book addresses the intellectual history of Traditionalism in America: Setareh Houman, De la philosophia perennis au pérennialisme américain (Milan: Archè, 2010).

The book in some ways retraces my own Against the Modern World but does so with a different focus, on intellectual history. More on the intellectual origins of Traditionalism and perennialism; more on their development, especially in US academia, and especially by Coomaraswamy, Nasr, Huston Smith and James Cutsinger, with reference also to the next generation and to others who were relevant to that development.

Among the books major objectives are to establish
how certain characteristics of Guénonian traditionalism give way to a more inclusive and holistic philosophy [and] ... how, in a doctrine with a methodical aspect in which the ascent to the divine takes the path of art and nature, the danger of counter-initiation and Antitradition disappears in favor of the simultaneously ontological and epistemological reality of the "supernaturally natural" function of the intellect or human powers of discernment that thus serve as pontifex.
The book has four main sections:
  1. Aux sources du pérennialisme américain
  2. Apparition et développement du courant pérennialiste aux États-Unis (seconde moitié du XXe et début du XXIe siècles)
  3. L’implantation du pérennialisme dans le milieu académique aux États-Unis
  4. Les débats et controverses suscitées autour du courant pérennialiste au sein de l’American Academy of Religion (AAR)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Nasr ranked among world's top 50 Muslims

Seyyed Hossein Nasr is among the world's top 50 Muslims, according to The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan, which has published a report on The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World in conjunction with the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University.

In a list headed by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Nasr comes as #47, just after Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb (and of a certain amount of nuclear proliferation). Of course such lists are ridiculous, and probably say more about the perspectives of those who compile them than about reality, but they still mean something. It is interesting that Nasr makes the list, and also interesting that his two main achievements are given as "Reviver of Tradition" and "Islamic Environmentalism." The list's authors consider the environment number 2 of the 12 "issues of the day," and put Nasr as the leading figure under that issue.

Among the full 500, I recogize two other Maryamis, two non-Maryami Traditionalists, and two others for whom Traditionalism was at some point important.

Thanks to I. P. for drawing my attention to the list.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The "validity" of the Maryamiyya

From time to time, the question comes up of how to understand the position of the Maryamiyya in terms of the classifications generally used by Sufis, and of whether the Maryamiyya is a “valid” tariqa in mainstream Sufi terms. Like most tariqas, the Maryamiyya can be placed in three ways:
  1. In organizational terms, it is an independent branch of the Alawiyya, which is itself an independent branch of the Darqawiyya, which is itself an independent branch of the Shadhiliyya. It is independent in the sense that it operates independently of the tariqa from which it derives, and in the sense that its practice, prayers, and teachings differ in certain respects from those of the tariqa from which it derives. The same is true of the Darqawiyya and of most other tariqas in existence today.
  2. In personal terms, Frithjof Schuon is a link in a chain (silsila) passing through Ahmad al-Alawi, Muhammad al-Arabi al-Darqawi, Abu’l-Hasan al-Shadhili, and then through both Ali ibn Abi Talib and Abu Bakr to the Prophet Muhammad, and thence to God. The question of whether or not (or how) Schuon was authorized as a muqaddam by al-Alawi has no bearing or impact on this.
  3. In personal and organizational terms, the foundation of the Maryamiyya as a distinct tariqa seems to result from the authorization said to have been given to Schuon in a vision by the Virgin Mary, just as the foundation of the Alawiyya as a distinct tariqa results from the authorization said to have been given to al-Alawi in a vision by Ali ibn Abi Talib. While such forms of authorization are not universal, they are very common.
In Sufi terms, then, the Maryamiyya is probably “valid” to the extent that Schuon’s vision of the Virgin Mary in 1965 was “valid.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Traditionalism and art in Jordan

An interesting comment on my post on "Traditionalism and art--and perhaps more than art" draws attention to the Institute of Traditional Islamic Art and Architecture in Amman, Jordan, which is evidently the Jordanian equivalent of London's VITA (Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts), now The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. The Chairman of the Board of the Amman institute is Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad (born 1966), who is very involved in the Common Word initiative, as are a number of notable Traditionalists. Jordan definitely seems to be the Arab country where Traditionalism is currently faring best.

Traditionalists achieve Italian government support for halal food and products

An unusual initiative in Italy indicates the growing importance there of the CO.RE.IS (Comunità Religiosa Islamica, Islamic Religious Community) founded by the Traditionalist shaykh Abd al-Wahid Pallavicini and now increasingly run by his son, Imam Yahya Pallavicini.

The CO.RE.IS has put together a certification scheme, HalalItalia, in cooperation with the Milan Chamber of Commerce, that was launched on 30 June 2010 by the Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini–see photos here. The scheme is remarkable, in the current European climate of burka and minaret bans, for bringing about what is in effect the support of a European government for an aspect of sharia, backed by a commitment from leaders of industry.

How was this done? Fruit, presumably, of the Pallavicinis’ efforts over the years to present themselves and the CO.RE.IS as responsible and constructive partners for Italian institutions, as traditional rather than radical Muslims, as Italians rather than transnational. Fruit also of the brilliant idea of presenting the scheme as a way of improving Italian exports to the Muslim world, which no-one can object to, whatever one thinks on the heated issue of “integration” of Muslims in Europe.