Sunday, December 21, 2014

Traditionalism as a Western adaptation of Hinduism that negates claims of Truth?

D.A. has drawn my attention to a review essay prompted by Against the Modern World that raises an interesting question: the review essay's author, Mohamed Ghilan, writes: "Traditionalism is a Western adaptation of Hinduism that negates claims of Truth by any religion through relativizing all of them."

I think Mohamed Ghilan is right in some ways and wrong in others. He is right in the sense that early Traditionalism drew very heavily on Hinduism (as did other religious currents in the West at the time). He is also right in that in general relativizing multiple religions inevitably negates the truth claims of any of them, since if all claims are true in some sense, none can be true literally. And he is right that in the case of Traditionalism, a focus on the esoteric may trivialise the exoteric, not exactly negating the truth claims of a given exoteric religion, but reducing their importance.

Mohamed Ghilan is wrong, though, in the sense that although early Traditionalism drew heavily on Hinduism, Hinduism was not its most important ingredient. I am not now quite sure what the most important ingredient was, but I am beginning to suspect that it was a development of Neoplatonic philosophy. Neoplatonism is of course found in classic Islamic philosophy (and thus also in Sufism) as well as in Western thought. Our understanding of the esoteric, both in Islam and in Western thought, owes much to Neoplatonism.  Mohamed Ghilan may thus actually be joining the ancient dispute about the relationship between philosophy and religion, between the esoteric and the exoteric.

My own feeling is that philosophy and religion, the esoteric and the exoteric, are not necessarily incompatible. One can find a philosophical proposition convincing and still follow a religion, just as one can find a natural-scientific proposition convincing and still follow a religion. But one can also do the opposite, and focus on the esoteric to the full or partial exclusion of the exoteric. It depends on the person and on circumstances.