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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Traditionalism in Brazil

Now available online (if your library has access): Mark Sedgwick, "Traditionalism in Brazil: Sufism, Ta’i Chi, and Olavo de Carvalho," in Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism

The abstract is:

The Traditionalist movement that derives from the French esoteric philosopher René Guénon is known to have been influential in Europe and North America, especially through the activities of religious groups, usually of Sufi origin, and also through the growing impact of the political version of Traditionalism first developed by the Italian esoteric philosopher Julius Evola. This article looks at Traditionalism beyond Europe and North America, taking the important case of Brazil during the 1980s and 1990s, where one of the main Traditionalist Sufi groups, the US-based Maryamiyya, became established, and where two local groups developed, one of which focused exclusively on doctrine, and one of which turned not to Sufism but to T’ai chi and Brazilian indigenous religion. The article also considers a new and important political philosopher, Olavo de Carvalho, who emerged from the Brazilian Traditionalist milieu. Carvalho applied Guénon to political issues rather as Evola had, but unlike Evola combined Traditionalism with Roman Catholicism, a development also found in Argentina during the early twentieth century. During the 2010s, Carvalho’s radical rightist philosophy became widely known in Brazil, where his admirers included the president, Jair Bolsonaro.

This is under Advance Articles; the article will be in the print version of Aries in 2021. It will also be published in Portuguese as an epilogue to the forthcoming Portuguese translation of Against the Modern World.


Monday, October 12, 2020

New website and new videos about Schuon

A new website, https://accuratenews.net, deals with "News Accounts of the Frithjof Schuon 1991 Legal Ordeal." The events of 1991 are discussed in outline in my Against the Modern World, so I will not go over them again here. The website contains press cuttings and a short video of an old interview with Schuon himself (7 minutes), also available on YouTube, in which Schuon makes some counter-changes against Mark Koslow, his principal accuser in 1991.

The website, as is presumably its purpose, makes the case on the Schuon side. It contains no new information, but the video of Schuon is worth watching, for the overall effect, and also for the quotation from Dante and Schuon's claim (towards the end) that all he does is write books and answer questions.

There is no explanation of why this website has been launched now, but it may have something to do with the blog on the other side, Frithjof Schuon: A last minute lesson in discernment, run by Maude Murray, a former wife of Schuon and now (at 81) a vocal critic. The blog's current entry comments negatively on accuratenews.net. 

The blog also contains a rather longer video (31 minutes), also available on YouTube, in which Murray talks not only of what led to the 1991 charges, but also of Schuon's own view of himself as an Aryan quasi-prophet, referring in this connection to Gregory A. Lipton's Rethinking Ibn ‘Arabi (see earlier blog post). The website and video announce Murray's forthcoming book, Third Wife of the Muslim Shaykh Frithjof Schuon: My Lifelong Search for Truth, which can be pre-ordered here.

Most of what Murray says is confirmed by other sources, and nothing that she says is contradicted by any source known to me. It is interesting that while she charges Martin Lings and Seyyed Hossein Nasr with doctrinal errors taken from Schuon, she broadly excuses them--and especially Lings--from any guilt relating to the events leading up to 1991.

Thanks tho those who have recently drawn accuratenews.net and the Schuon video to my attention.


Sunday, October 04, 2020

New PhD dissertation on Dugin

John Cody Mosbey has just defended a PhD dissertation on Alexander Dugin at the Irish School of Ecumenics, part of Trinity College, Dublin: "Alexander Dugin: Geopolitics at the Confluence of Theology, Tradition, and Eurasia," available online

The dissertation first looks at Dugin's background, his "political theology," his Neo-Tradititonalism. his Neo-Eurasianism, his critique of liberalism, the hermeneutics of the Forth Political Theory, his "esoteric mindset," his Christianity, and his eschatology. It then interprets all of these, and looks briefly at the reception of Dugin in and beyond Russia. It argues that Dugin's Traditionalism is both "Neo" and applied, like his Eurasianism, and insists on the importance of theology for his politics, and indeed for politics in general. The importance of this aspect of Dugin's thought, the dissertation argues, is often underestimated. 

This dissertation is objetive and thorough, though it might perhaps have used even more of Dugin's own writings, and could serve as a good introduction to Dugin's thought.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

More on Hakim Bey

In a recent post, I described Peter Lamborn Wilson (Hakim Bey) as a “former Maryami,” and wondered how he had moved from the Maryamiyya to the Temporary Autonomous Zone. I have since had two suggested explanations.

One, provided by someone who knew Wilson in Tehran, is that although Wilson was definitely “in the circle of Nasr,” he was not actually a Maryami. He considered himself a Muslim, and admired Frithjof Schuon—he thought his Transcendent Unity of Religions was the most important book of the twentieth century—but he did not follow any one ṭarīqa exclusively. As well as being in the circle of Nasr, he spent a lot of time with the Ni'matullāhīs (Javad Nurbakhsh had a large following at that time, including foreigners) and was always interested in other, less mainstream forms of Islam.

Christian Greer has meanwhile drawn my attention to the discussion between Arthur Versluis and Wilson (see earlier post) where Versluis asks Wilson about his relationship with Traditionalism, and Wilson responds that he never stopped being a Traditionalist, and just rejected “the party line,” “the rigid exclusivist neo-Traditionalism of the sort that leads to murky politics and interpersonal, interhuman relations.” “Murky politics” might refer to Nasr’s political relations with the Shah’s regime, and “murky… interhuman relations” might refer to difficulties in Bloomington. As the earlier post discusses, Wilson goes on to propose an alternative “even more traditional Traditionalism.”

Further reading: Zaheer Kazmi, “Automatic Islam: Divine Anarchy and the Machines of God,” Modern Intellectual History 12, 1 (2015): 33–64, which looks at Hakim Bey and two other “Muslim anarchists,” and Wilson’s own Scandal: Essays in Islamic Heresy (New York: Autonomedia, 1987) and his Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam (San Francisco: City Lights, 1993).

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

American Jews and Sufism

Quite a lot of Traditionalists have been Jewish, perhaps disproportionately, just as quitea lof of American Sufis have been Jewish, and quite a lot of American Buddhists, too. A new book, Emily Sigalow's American JewBu: Jews, Buddhists, and Religious Change (Princeton University Press, 2019), asks why. her book and its implications for Sufism are discussed in a post on the sister of this blog, at "American Jews, Buddhism, and Sufism."

Monday, July 06, 2020

A new framing of Hakim Bey

A new PhD thesis places the anarchism of the former Maryami Peter Lamborn Wilson (also known as Hakim Bey) in a new context. This is J. Christian Greer, “Angel-Headed Hipsters: Psychedelic Militancy in Nineteen-Eighties North America” (University of Amsterdam, 2020), especially pp. 231-65.

Hakim Bey has already been discussed in two posts on this blog, the longest of which, “Anarchist Traditionalism,” draws largely on Arthur Versluis, “A Conversation with Peter Lamborn Wilson.” The other, “The Origins of Hakim Bey's Anarchism,” draws on a 2013 article by Greer.

Greer’s dissertation starts with the earliest US psychedelic militancy—Timothy Leary in the 1960s—and follows through to the “second wave” psychedelic militancy of the Church of SubGenius, one of the sources (along with the spread of the Xerox machine) of the later “Zine scene” to which Wilson contributed. As Greer argues, Wilson ties the two waves together, since his 1964 Moorish Orthodox Church of America (which was psychedelic) allied with Leary’s League for Spiritual Discovery in 1967. From this perspective, Wilson’s engagement with Traditionalism and the Maryamiyya appears as a sort of detour: the path from the Moorish Orthodox Church of America to the Temporary Autonomous Zone for which Wilson became famous runs relatively straight; it is Tehran and the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy that make less sense. All three phases, however, can certainly be seen as part of a grand “quest to find a spiritual alternative to the alienation of modern civilization” (p. 2), as Greer says.

And yet, the mystery remains. The Maryamiyya replaces the Moorish Orthodox Church of America for Wilson, as Sufi Islam replaced the Universal Gnostic Church for René Guénon, in a transition from "pseudo-initiation" to "initiation"—putting it in Traditionalist terms. The Wilson of the Moorish Orthodox Church of America grew interested in what he called “Sufism of various unorthodox varieties”—which is one view of Sufism, once fairly prevalent, though one images that Seyyed Hossein Nasr would have disabused Wilson of it fairly quickly one Wilson reached Tehran. This makes sense. But how did the Temporary Autonomous Zone then replace initiation? Somewhere, something got lost.

The thesis is also interesting for a new take on the vexed topic of Wilson’s commitment to “man-boy love,” which Greer argues should be seen as a reaction to the normalization of gay sexuality by the mainstream Gay Rights movement, which in the process abandoned the earlier aim of total sexual liberation. Greer also points out that the two crucial special issues of Semiotext(e) that Wilson edited, on Loving Boys and Polysexuality, attracted contributions from Michel Foucault, William Burroughs, and Jacques Lacan—that is, some sort of liberation mainstream.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Guénon, Voegelin, and Brexit

Thomas F. Bertonneau has published an interesting article comparing René Guénon's Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power (1929) with the thought of Eric Voegelin (1901-85), "René Guénon and Eric Voegelin on the Degeneration of Right Order," Voegelin View September 18, 2017.

The German-American philosopher Voegelin is hard to categorize. On the one hand, he was a powerful critic of Nazism, from which he had to flee to the US in 1938. On the other hand, his criticism of “gnostic” political religions such as Nazism was so thorough that it included liberalism, which he saw as a step on the road to Marxism.

Bertonneau argues that Guénon’s understanding of the revolt of the Kshatriyas, which destroys the “right order,” fits neatly with Voegelin’s understanding of the ecumene, the conquered empire that is “not a subject of order but an object of conquest and organization... a graveyard of societies, including those of the conquerors, rather than a society in its own right” (Voegelin, Ecumenic Age). One consequence of this destruction, for Voegelin, is spiritual disorder.

Bertonneau then applies what he sees as the Guénon-Voegelin view to contemporary issues in a way that I doubt either Guénon or Voegelin would have recognized, but which does provide an instructive example of the thought of the contemporary radical right, and also of how Guénon can contribute to such thought. Bertonneau sees the European Union as the counterpart of the US Federal Government, remote and technocratic, engaged in “a larger, Twentieth-Century Revolt of Kshatriyas” and working to “progressively obliterate the concrete societies that come under their imperial-entrepreneurial sway.” This is the basis for a long final section to the article, discussing Brexit.

Bertonneau also argues that
Guénon grasps that symbols and myths – while they might be, as Voegelin would later call them, compact – articulate reality more fully and more truly than the clichés of modern reductive thinking and that therefore one best wrests intoxicated minds from the drug of those clichés by jerking them around (rhetorically, of course) so as to get them to face and contemplate the symbols themselves in their numinous fullness.
This may indeed be how Guénon’s use of symbol and myth works on some or even many readers, even if I do not think that Guénon intended to use symbol and myth quite as instrumentally as Bertonneau seems to think.

My thanks to Georg Wink for drawing my attention to this article.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Eliade and the radical right

Mark Weitzman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center has just published an (open-access) article, "'One Knows the Tree by the Fruit That It Bears:' Mircea Eliade’s Influence on Current Far-Right Ideology," Religions 2020, 11, 250.

In this, he revisits Eliade's Romanian years and his relationship with Julius Evola, and shows how he has been cited by Alain de Benoist, Guillaume Faye, Alexander Dugin, Claudio Mutti, and Paul Gottfried, and is present on Arktos and Counter-Currents. He concludes that "almost thirty-five years after his death, Mircea Eliade is unquestionably a figure of some influence in extremist intellectual circles today, perhaps even more so than in respectable academic circles."

It is clearly true that Eliade is a figure of some influence for thinkers of the radical right. What Weitzman spends less time on is the (perhaps more interesting) question of exactly what it is in Eliade's work that all these thinkers are using. Weitzman suggests that Eliade's project of (in Eliade's own words) "recovering and reestablishing meanings that have been forgotten, discredited, or abolished" may fit with the project of "those who want to restore an archaic world that embraces traditional forms of human inequality and who reject modernity and its associated vices and failings." This is probably true. But is this all there is to it?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Dugin, Evola, 4chan, Arktos (and this blog)

A new collection, Far-Right Revisionism and the End of History: Alt/Histories, edited by Louie Dean Valencia-García (New York: Routledge, 2020) has four chapters of special relevance for those who are interested in Traditionalism.

Chapter 7, “The Extremist Construction of Identity in the Historical Narratives of Alexander Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory” by Charles Robert Sullivan and Amy Fisher-Smith, deals with Dugin and his The Fourth Political Theory (2009), as the title suggests. The chapter argues that The Fourth Political Theory “unfurls three levels of historical narrative.” The first is the Traditionalism of Guénon and Evola, the second is the militancy of Carl Schmitt, and the third is the “other beginning” (andere Anfang) of Heidegger, which is combined with neo-Eurasianism and Orthodox eschatology to produce “a Manichean clash of civilisations, and through the ‘Doppler effect’ of intensifying urgency, a proclamation of the value of war and a program of relegitimated violence.” The chapter is interesting especially for its analysis of Dugin’s use of Schmitt and Heidegger.

Chapter 8, “The Problem of Alt-Right Medievalist White Supremacy, and Its Black Medievalist Answer” by Cord J. Whitaker, deals with the view of the Middle Ages taken by White Supremacists, which is contrasted with the alternative view advanced by writers of the Harlem Renaissance. The view of the Middle Ages of White Supremacists is traced in part to Mussolini and thence to Evola. Whitaker is surely right that “the importance of the Middle Ages in the Alt-Right’s narrative of spiritual knighthood is not lost on the modern movement’s rank and file adherent,” and the myth of medieval chivalry is a powerful one. This perhaps goes close to the heart of the importance of the past for the contemporary right, including perhaps parts of the mainstream right. I fear, however, that Whitaker may be overstating the influence of Evola on Mussolini, who had already romanticized the past for his own purposes before he ever read Evola.

Chapter 15, “Esoteric Fascism Online: 4chan and the Kali Yuga” by Marc Tuters and the Open Intelligence Lab, is one of the most interesting chapters in the book. The Open Intelligence Lab is “an Amsterdam-based collective of interdisciplinary scholars scrutinising online political subcultures” and the chapter uses data produced by a Digital Methods Summer School in Amsterdam, specifically the analysis of 7,000 posts on 4chan/pol/ dating from 2013 to 2019 looking at the use of the key Traditionalist phrase “Kali Yuga.” This produces a diagram of word collocations in which “Evola” occupies a central place as a term that is almost as prominent as “cycle” and “Jews,” the two most prominent terms in the collocation. “Cycle” connects most to “ancient” and “golden,” which is no great surprise, and “Jews” connects to “race,” “Aryan,” and “white,” again no great surprise on 4chan/pol/. What is surprising is the connection between “Kali Yuga” and “Jews” and thus “Aryan,” as for Guénon the Kali Yuga had nothing to do with the Jews.

For Evola, though, there was a connection, and there was an even stronger connection for Miguel Serrano, the Chilean exponent of “esoteric Nazism” who drew on (and on certain points disagreed with) Evola. Tuters is therefore right to point to Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s work on what Tuters calls “esoteric fascism” (Goodrick-Clarke used Serrano’s term). He is right to see “chan culture” as “giving a contemporary ‘vernacular’ form” to this, and he is probably mostly right that “for the anonymous Evolites in discussion on /pol/, the Kali Yuga does not signify a decline for all humanity, but rather a failure of ‘The West’ to preserve its own roots and identitarian history.” And, as we know from other studies, “chan culture” spreads into general online culture, and hence general culture.

Tuters’s chapter demonstrates the impact of Evola, via esoteric fascism and chan culture, on the general culture. This is in itself fascinating. It is also fascinating, methodologically, to see how he did this. Perhaps we all need to attend Digital Methods Summer Schools.

Three other gems from this chapter: (1) the general impression of the importance of chan culture for Brenton Tarrant overstates this influence; (2) the posts analyzed by Tuters at one point showed equal enthusiasm for Hitler and Donald Trump; and (3) “taking the red pill” “refers [to] an esoteric experience of awakening.”

Finally, chapter 16, “The Rise and Fall of the Far Right in the Digital Age” by Louie Dean Valencia-García deals with Arktos Media, the publishers who have done so much to distribute the works of Evola. Arktos is, as Valencia-García argues, “one the largest dealers of alt-histories in the world today,” and is also “a nexus between Russian Nationalism, the European New Right and the American Alt-Right.” By “Russian Nationalism” Valencia-García really means Dugin. Arktos is also important for Generation Identity. The chapter deals primarily with the activities and connections of people currently or formerly involved with Arktos, not with Evola as such, though it does look at the extent to which Evola and the other currents promoted by Arktos may be considered “fascist.”

The chapter also deals with this blog, which is described as “a sort of node connecting scholars of traditionalism and traditionalist activists.” This may indeed be one of the many things that this blog does, but it is far from being its primary purpose. In this context, Valencia-García says in a footnote “As presented on the blog, the relationship between Sedgwick [the manager of this blog] and the far-right is ambiguous at best.” Valencia-García was kind enough to explain to me [Sedgwick] in an email that he was not referring to any actual relationship with the far right, about which he knew nothing, but to the way in which I sometimes respond to comments posted on the blog by known far-right activists, which he thought “might be considered by some as a friendly back and forth.” “Rather than describing that dialogue as friendly,” continued Valencia-García, “I thought a more fair descriptor would be ‘ambiguous.’” For the sake of clarification—and to avoid all ambiguity—I should note that my intention in responding to comments is always to be polite, not friendly, and that I hope I am polite to all who post comments on this blog, the vast majority of whom are not connected in any way to the far right.

Finally, the chapter also discusses Jacob Senholt, who was one of the two co-founders of Integral Tradition Publishing, the company that grew into Arktos. Senholt is a Dane who did his BA, MA, and PhD at Aarhus University, where I teach, and I co-supervised his PhD dissertation, as Valencia-García points out. Again, some clarification is in order. When I agreed to be one of Senholt’s supervisors, I did not know of his involvement with Integral Tradition Publishing, but it did not come as a total surprise to me to read of it in Valencia-García’s chapter, as I had heard rumors about what Senholt’s political views (once?) were. In fact, I already had some idea of what his views might be when I agreed to be one of his supervisors, and therefore had to decide whether or not I should agree to supervise him. My view was that as an employee of a public university it was not appropriate for me to discriminate between students, including PhD students, on any basis—not their religious beliefs, gender identify, sexual orientation, and not their political convictions either. I never discussed Senholt’s political convictions with him, only his academic work, and I believe that was the proper course of action to take.

In all, a good book, especially chapter 15.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Forthcoming book on Aguéli

Forthcoming from Bloomsbury in late 2020 or early 2021: Anarchist, Artist, Sufi: The Politics, Painting, and Esotericism of Ivan Aguéli, edited by Mark Sedgwick.

Contents as follows:

1. Ivan Aguéli: politics, painting, and esotericism—MARK SEDGWICK

PART I: Ivan Aguéli the Artist 
2. Ivan Aguéli’s life and work—VIVECA WESSEL
3. Exploring the territories of the avant-garde: Ivan Aguéli and the institutions of his time—ANNIKA ÖHRNER
4. Ivan Aguéli the esotericist, in reality and fiction—PER FAXNELD
5. Ivan Aguéli’s monotheistic landscapes: From perspectival to solar logics—SIMON SORGENFREI
6. Painting the sacred as an initiatic path: Art and cubism in the eyes of Ivan Aguéli—THIERRY ZARCONE

PART II: Ivan Aguéli’s Politics 
7. Kill the Audience: Ivan Aguéli’s universal utopia of anarchism and Islam—ANTHONY T. FISCELLA
8. Sufi Teachings for pro-Islamic Politics: Ivan Aguéli and Il Convito—ALESSANDRA MARCHI
9. Feminism and the Divine Feminine: An exploration of female elements in Ivan Aguéli and subsequent Traditionalist thought—MARCIA HERMANSEN

PART III: Ivan Aguéli’s Sufism 
10. Ivan Aguéli's second period in Egypt, 1902–09: The intellectual spheres around Il Convito/Al-Nadi—PAUL-ANDRÉ CLAUDEL
11. Ivan Aguéli and the Islamic Legacy of Emir ʿAbd al-Qadir—IHEB GUERMAZI
12. Ivan Aguéli’s Humanist vision: Islam, Sufism, and Universalism—MEIR HATINA

PART IV: Ivan Aguéli and Traditionalism 
13. The Significance of Ivan Aguéli for the Traditionalist Movement—MARK SEDGWICK
14. What is esotericism in art? Ivan Aguéli’s art versus the Traditionalists’ “traditional Art”—PATRICK RINGGENBERG

PART V: Writings by Ivan Aguéli 
15. Letter from Paris—IVAN AGUÉLI
16. Letter from Ceylon—IVAN AGUÉLI
17. The Enemies of Islam—ABDUL-HADI EL MAGHRABI [IVAN AGUÉLI]
18. Pure Art—ABDUL-HÂDI [IVAN AGUÉLI]
19. Universality in Islam—ABDUL-HÂDI [IVAN AGUÉLI]

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Bannon, Traditionalism, Dugin, and Olavo

Benjamin Teitelbaum has just published a major new book on contemporary Traditionalism, War for Eternity: Inside Bannon's Far-Right Circle of Global Power Brokers (New York: Harper Collins, cover to left) or, in the UK, War for Eternity: The Return of Traditionalism and the Rise of the Populist Right (London: Allen Lane, 2020, cover below).

Teitelbaum is an American scholar who has previously published Lions of the North: Sounds of the New Nordic Radical Nationalism (Oxford University Press, 2017), an excellent ethnographic study of radical nationalists and the related music scene in Sweden, and although War for Eternity is written in light, journalistic style, it is based on thorough research, principally long interviews with its main subject, Steve Bannon.

The book’s US cover and title focus on Bannon, but the UK cover and title are closer to the contents, as the book also covers several other Traditionalists, notably Alexander Dugin (Russia) and Olavo de Carvalho (Brazil), and then Gábor Vona of Jobbik (Hungary) and John Morgan of Integral Tradition Publishing and Arktos (online).

Some of what is in War for Eternity will come as no surprise to those who know their Traditionalism and/or have read my Against the Modern World, but much of it is new and interesting. Most of all, Teitelbaum’s long discussions with Bannon reveal Bannon’s own, modified, version of Traditionalism, and resolve a number of mysteries.
  • Firstly, what Bannon now takes from Traditionalism is, in his own words, “the rejection of modernity, the rejection of the Enlightenment, the rejection of materialism,” and the understanding that “culture, true culture, is based upon immanence and transcendence.”
  • Secondly, Bannon reconciled Traditionalism with populism by identifying the American working class with tradition, and America’s globalized elites with modernity. In Guénon’s terms, in the hierarchy of values “proceeding from the body, to money, to earthly creeds, to Spirituality,” it is the elites who are slaves to money, and the working class that may perhaps access spirituality. In Evola’s terms, it is the working class who are the warriors: “The aristos don’t fight! They strictly don’t fight.” All in all, it is the working class that is “out of time, insulated from the corrupting influences of modernity; vessels for eternal ideals and carriers of a spirit that unites a society internally and separates it from others elsewhere.”
  • Thirdly, Bannon agrees with the Traditionalists that the end of the temporal cycle means that destruction inevitably proceeds a new cycle. Trump is the great destroyer, though Bannon more often calls him “the disrupter.” The early moves of the Trump administration, in which Bannon’s ideas were still influential, were aimed at the destruction of the forces of modernity in the form of the “administrative state,” in this instance the federal government. Unfortunately from Bannon’s perspective (though he does not put it quite like this), Trump then also went on to destroy his own administration, and thus also the possibility of it actually achieving anything very much. That was not the original idea (though perhaps it was fortunate, at least for those who see the federal government as performing necessary functions).
  • Fourthly, Trump’s enmity towards China fits with Bannon’s Traditionalist views. For Bannon, “The globalists are totally tied to the mercantilist totalitarian system of the Chinese. China is the economic engine that drives it all. Without China, it doesn’t work; that’s what’s driven the system.” Bannon tried to convince Dugin of this during a long meeting between the two in Rome, arguing that the Chinese are trying to create precisely the unipolar world that Dugin has spent much of his career arguing against. Bannon very much liked Dugin’s Forth Political Theory. It seems that Dugin was less convinced by Bannon.
Also of interest is what Teitelbaum learned of Traditionalism in Hungary, where it combined nicely with Turanism, the 19th-century nationalist view that joined Hungarians with Turks, Central Asians, Japanese, and Koreans. Just as Eurasianism proved a good basis for Dugin to construct a vision of Russia as part of a traditional alternative to Western modernity, so Turanism helped Vona construct a vision of Hunagary as part of another traditional alternative to Western modernity. Vona opened the King Attila Academy to explore and promote such views, and then closed it in 2015 when it became a political liability.

Somewhat less interesting is the section towards the end of the book on the relationship between Jason Jorjani, an American activist of Iranian origin who is influenced by Traditionalist, and Michael Bagley, a con-artist who ended up in jail.

One criticism: the book perhaps relies too much on interviews, and more attention could usefully have been paid to what Dugin and Carvalho have written.

All in all, however, required reading.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Obituaries

Four of this blog's eight posts for 2020 so far have been obituaries. Although this feels like the passing of a generation, the four deaths were in fact of people from three different generations: Michel Chodkiewicz (1929-2020) was from the generation that grew up immediately after the Second World War, Eduard Limonov (1943-2020) was of the generation that made the 1960s, and James Cutsinger (1953-2020) and Yahya Bonnaud (1957-2019) were of the following generation.

What is striking, however, is that three of these four were interesting primarily in religion, while today's leading Traditionalists often seem to be interested primary in politics, not religion. So something is indeed changing.

Michel Chodkiewicz (1929-2020)

Michel Chodkiewicz died on 31 March 2020, at the age of 90.

Chodkiewicz was a leading French scholar of Ibn al-Arabi, a Muslim, and by origin a Traditionalist, once a follower of Michel Vâlsan, the Rumanian Traditionalist who broke with Frithjof Schuon and led  an important tariqa in Paris for many years.

As I wrote in Against the Modern World,
Among other early followers of Vâlsan were a penniless marquis of the pre-Napoleonic nobility and a young French student named Michel Chodkiewicz. The son of a magistrate, Chodkiewicz read Guénon's Crise du monde moderne at 18 while doing his military service at Tours airbase, and then the rest of Guénon's work, and became Muslim in 1950 after being introduced to Vâlsan by the nephew of the penniless marquis. Chodkiewicz was the first French Traditionalist to begin what may be called the revenge of Traditionalism against the Sorbonne. His initial project of a Ph.D. thesis on Ibn al-Arabi had to be abandoned in the face of resistance from Louis Massignon, who dominated French Islamic studies in the 1950s and who had no sympathy for Ibn al-Arabi, and also in the face of the need to support a young family. Chodkiewicz followed his shaykh in many things, but not in his spartan lifestyle. He got a job with the major French publisher Editions du Seuil and remained there until his retirement in 1989, by then du Seuil's president. Despite this career, he continued work on Ibn al-Arabi, publishing various high-quality translations of and studies on his work, and also on his later follower, the Amir Abd al-Qadir (in whose Damascus circle Aguéli's shaykh Illaysh had once been). Chodkiewicz's work received the academic recognition it deserved, and beginning in 1982 he taught as an adjunct professor at the Sorbonne while also running du Seuil. After his retirement from du Seuil he was appointed to a full professorship, from which he retired in 1994, generally accepted as one of the leading figures in the French study of Islam (pp. 134-35).
 His most important works were:

  • An ocean without shore: Ibn ʻArabî, the Book, and the Law (originally Un Océan sans rivage. Ibn 'Arabî, le Livre et la Loi, 1992). 
  • The spiritual writings of Amir ʻAbd al-Kader (originally Émir Abd el-Kader, Écrits spirituels, présentation, traduction et notes 1982). 
  • Seal of the saints: prophethood and sainthood in the doctrine of Ibn ʻArabī (origianlly Le Sceau des Saints, Prophétie et Sainteté dans la doctrine d'Ibn 'Arabî, 1986).

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Eduard Limonov (1943-2020)

Eduard Limonov died of cancer on March 17, 2020. Limonov was not himself a Traditionalist, but between 1993 and 1998 he worked with Russia's leading Traditionalist Alexander Dugin (seen here in an early photograph with Limonov, R) in the National Bolshevik Party (NBP). Limonov was also editor of Limonka (Grenade), the NBP newspaper, in which Dugin wrote.

Alexander Chernykh noted in the Russian newspaper Kommersant that an obituary was meant to tell the story of the life of the deceased, but in the case of Limonov, every Russian already knew that life anyhow. For those outside Russia who do not know the story, Limonov was a dissident poet and writer who went into exile from the USSR in New York, a period of his life that formed the basis of his best-known novel, It's me, Eddie (Это я — Эдичка), written in 1976, published in Paris in 1979, and then in Russia in 1991. It's me, Eddie, with its foul language and highly-colored sex scenes, both shocked and entertained the Russian public. It is available in English translation.

After returning to Russia following the collapse of the USSR, Limonov combined writing with political action that was quite as shocking and, for some, quite as entertaining as his writing. He started the NBP with Dugin and the musician Yegor Letov in 1993, and another musician, Sergey Kuryokhin (1954-96), soon also joined the NBP leadership. Dugin, however, broke with Limonov and left the NBP in 1998.

The NBP carried out a number of dramatic provocations, and Limonov was arrested in 2001 under terrorism charges. The terrorism charges were dismissed, but Limonov was still convicted for illegal possession of weapons, and jailed until 2003. On his release, he continued to write and lead the NBP, which was banned as an extremist organization in 2007 and then refounded as Other Russia (Другая Россия), which still exists.

In an interview after Limonov's death, Dugin described him as "a man of his time, of a world that no longer exists," and as an eternal teenager. "He remained true to himself," said Dugin, and "died at the age of 14."

Although it is the NBP that matters for the history of Russian Traditionalism, Limonov will be remembered primarily for his writing.


Thursday, March 12, 2020

Traditionalists and Neo-Tradtionalists

A new edited book has two chapters on Neo-Traditionalists, one of which also deals with a Traditionalist, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad in Jordan, and with the reading of Julius Evola by a Neo-Traditionlaist, Abdal Hakim Murad in England. The book as a whole deals with modernity in the Muslim world.

The book is Muslim Subjectivities in Global Modernity: Islamic Traditions and the Construction of Modern Muslim Identities, ed. Dietrich Jung and Kirstine Sinclair (Leiden: Brill, 2020).

The first chapter is Mark Sedgwick, "The Modernity of Neo-Traditionalist Islam," pp. 121–146, available https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004425576_008.
Abstract: The chapter discusses certain exponents of “traditional Islam” who are organized in an informal network spanning both the Arab world and the West and who are referred to as “Neo-traditionalists,” since the chapter argues that their traditionalism is, in fact, modern. The key figures are Muhammad Saʿid Ramadan al-Buti in Syria, ʿAli Gomaa in Egypt, ʿUmar bin Hafiz in Yemen, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad and Nuh Keller in Jordan, Abdal Hakim Murad in England, and Hamza Yusuf Hanson in the USA. It is argued that Neo-Traditionalism is a product of what Peter Wagner would call a “crisis of modernity,” the reaction against one stage of modernity that gives rise to a new stage of modernity. 
And the second chapter is Kirstine Sinclair, "An Islamic University in the West and the Question of Modern Authenticity," pp. 147–165, available https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004425576_009.
Abstract: The aim of this chapter is to discuss how Islamic universities in the West facilitate and condition the formation of modern Muslim subjectivities in minority contexts with emphasis on the institutions as providers of guidelines for good, Muslim minority life. This is done through a case study of Cambridge Muslim College in the UK, its values and aims, as well as through interviews with the founder and dean [Abdal Hakim Murad], faculty members and students and participatory observation. Cambridge Muslim College sees itself as mediator between Islamic traditions and modern Muslims in the West, and as having a responsibility in engaging in the development of both Muslim minorities and the wider society within which it operates. 
For those who are interested in modernity, the blurb of the book as a whole is:
With critical reference to Eisenstadt's theory of "multiple modernities," Muslim Subjectivities in Global Modernity discusses the role of religion in the modern world. The case studies all provide examples illustrating the ambition to understand how Islamic traditions have contributed to the construction of practices and expressions of modern Muslim selfhoods. In doing so, they underpin Eisenstadt's argument that religious traditions can play a pivotal role in the construction of historically different interpretations of modernity. At the same time, however, they point to a void in Eisenstadt's approach that does not problematize the multiplicity of forms in which this role of religious traditions plays out historically. Consequently, the authors of the present volume focus on the multiple modernities within Islam, which Eisenstadt's theory hardly takes into account.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Heidegger, Traditionalism, and Iranian theories of art

A new chapter in a collection on Heidegger in the Islamicate World (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) discusses the impact of Heidegger and on post-revolutionary Iranian art theory, and on the art theory of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the Traditionalist successor of Frithjof Schuon in the United States. It is “Heidegger’s Role in the Formation of Art Theory in Contemporary Iran” by Amir Nasri, an Iranian scholar (pp. 55-67).

Nasri’s starting point is the Hawza-i andishe ve hunari islami (School of Islamic Thought and Art), known for short as the Hawza-i hunari (School of Art), the Tehran-based organization that in Nasri's view was “the most important artistic school of the first decade after the revolution.” The Hawza-i hunari’s art theory was, according to Nasri, impacted especially by three pre-revolutionary intellectuals: Ahmad Fardid (1910-94), Seyyed Hossein Nasr (b. 1933), and Daryush Shayegan (1935-2018). All three were in turn impacted by the great French Iranologist, Henry Corbin (1903-78), who was himself a follower of Heidegger.

Fardid, who was a professor of philosophy and Heidegger’s great advocate in Iran, is not now widely known, but it was he, according to Nasri, who was the inventor of the seminal term gharbzadegi (Westoxification or Occidentosis) that was famously popularized by the novelist Jalal Al-e Ahmad. After the revolution, Fardid became an influential theorist in the Islamic Republic; Nasr and Shayegan went into exile, Nasr permanently, but even so were read at the Hawza-i hunari. Nasr, as noted, became a leading Traditionalist; Shayegan moved away from Traditionalism, questioning whether “the tradition” had ever actually existed.

Nasri traces the influence of Heidegger in Corbin’s concept of the “ideal space,” born of Heidegger’s emphasis on the importance of the Origin (Ursprung) in art combined with Suhrawardi’s understanding of the ideal world. For Corbin, the “ideal space” was key to understanding Persian miniature painting. In this he was followed by Nasr and Shayegan, who also cited Heidegger directly while arguing that the art of the East and of the West do not share a common language. Both Nasr and Shayegan thus looked for the revival of Iranian art through the rediscovery of tradition, as did Fardid.

Nasr then combined Corbin's partly Heidegger-derived concept with Guénon's important pair of quality and quantity. The two-dimensional ideal space is, for Nasr, qualitative rather than quantitative: the quantitative leads to naturalism. Nasr's mature argument is not just Traditionalist, then, but also Heideggerian.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

New article on Traditionalism in Sweden

Olav Hammer has just published an excellent article on "Traditionalism in Sweden" in the International Journal for the Study of New Religions 10.1 (2019): 5–24.

After a general introductory discussion of Traditionalism, Hammer looks especially at three Swedish figures: Ivan Aguéli, Kurt Almqvist (1912–2001), and Tage Lindbom (1909–2001). The most interesting of these sections are those dealing with Almqvist and Lindbom, given that Aguéli has been discussed before.

It it not known how Almqvist first encountered Traditionalism, but he traveled to Switzerland to meet Frithjof Schuon in 1941, becoming Muslim and joining the Maryamiyya. After the war he became Sweden's leading Traditionalist, publishing two Swedish translations of selected works by Schuon and Guénon, and several Traditionalist books of his own, starting with Den glömda dimensionen (The Forgotten Dimension, 1959) and ending with Ordet är dig nära: om uppenbarelsen i hjärtat och i religionerna (The Word is Near to You, On Revelation in the Heart and in the Religions, 1994).

Almqvist's most important reader was Lindbom, originally a prominent member of Sweden's dominant political party, the Social Democrats. Lindbom contributed to establishing the postwar Social Democratic model in Sweden, but then became disenchanted, publishing Efter Atlantis (After Atlantis), which questioned socialism in particular and political ideology in general, in 1951. Some years later he read Almqvist's Den glömda dimensionen, contacted its author, and ultimately also joined the Maryamiya, in 1962, the year in which he published Sancho Panzas väderkvarnar (The Windmills of Sancho Panza), a more thorough attack on modern politics. A number of similar works followed, including Mellan himmel och jord (Between Heaven and Earth, 1970) and Agnarna och vetet (The Chaff and the Wheat, 1974), which Hammer discusses in some detail. Hammer sees Lindbom as "a right-wing political writer par excellence," a Sufi (as a Maryami) whose politics were paradoxically closer to Sayyid Qutb than to Sufism, given that--like Qutb--he dismissed human ideologies and turned instead to Divine authority.

Lindbom is interesting not only as a Swedish Traditionalist but also as a rare example of an explicitly political Schuonian Traditionalist.  There are many political Traditionalists, of course, but they generally follow Julius Evola, not Schuon. Followers of Schuon and Guénon may have political views, but they do not normally write about them, given the primacy of the transcendent over the political. Lindbom, however, was well established in political life before he encountered Traditionalism, and first became a Maryami relatively late in life, at the age of 53. This may be why he did not drop his earlier political interests and emphases.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Yahya Bonnaud (1957-2019)

Yahya Bonnaud (1957-2019), the Shi'i Franco-Iranian Traditionalist, died on August 26, 2019 in a car accident in Côte d'Ivoire.

Bonnaud encountered the works of Guénon as a young man, and became Muslim in 1979. He studied with the great Malian ethnographer and Tijani Amadou Hampâté Bâ. In 1991, he published Le soufisme : « al-taṣawwuf » et la spiritualité islamique (Sufism: "al-taṣawwuf" and Islamic spirituality) with a preface by the French Traditionalist scholar of Ibn Arabi Michel Chodkiewicz.

While working on a PhD at the École pratique des hautes études in Paris with Henri Corbin, he studied with Sayyed Jalal-ed-Din Ashtiani, an Iranian philosopher who had himself studied under the Ayatollah Khomeini (and who also taught William Chittick). Bonnaud became Shi'i himself. His PhD dissertation was later published as L'Imam Khomeyni, un gnostique méconnu du xxe siècle : métaphysique et théologie dans les œuvres philosophiques et spirituelles de l'Imam Khomeyni (Imam Khomeini, an unrecognised gnostic of the twentieth century: metaphysics and theology in the philosophical and spiritual works of Imam Khomeini).

Bonnaud moved to Iran, where he lived in the city of Mashhad, working on a very scholarly translation of the Quran into French, referring to all the leading classical Shi'i authorities, and using copious notes to summarise his researches and thus the meanings that he had decided to translate. The note explaining the bismillah at the start of the fatiha was nine pages long. He also traveled abroad as an exponent of Shi'ism, and it was on such a mission that he lost his life.



Thursday, February 20, 2020

James Cutsinger (1953-2020)

James S. Cutsinger (1953-2020), an important follower of Frithjof Schuon and a notable Eastern Orthodox Traditionalist, died on February 19, 2020.

Cutsinger completed a PhD. in theology and comparative religious thought at Harvard in 1980, and then taught religious studies at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina, from 1980 until 2018. He was best known for his Advice to the Serious Seeker: Meditations on the Teaching of Frithjof Schuon (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997) and for his
Splendor of the true: A Frithjof Schuon reader (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2013).

Among his other books were Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East (Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2004) and Not of This World: A Treasury of Christian Mysticism (Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2003).

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Call for Papers for conference on Islam and esotericism in Belgium

Call for Papers: “Islamic Esotericism in Global Contexts,” 2020 Meeting of the European Network for the Study of Islam and Esotericism (ENSIE)

24-26 September 2020, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain la-Neuve, Belgium

Deadline for submissions: 1 May, 2020

The European Network for the Study of Islam and Esotericism (ENSIE) invites you to submit proposals for its 2020 meeting. The theme for the meeting is “Islamic Esotericism in Global Contexts”. The aim is to consider the relationship between Islam and esotericism, and Islamic esotericism, in a global context, shifting the emphasis not only from Western perspectives, but also being more inclusive of the experience of Islam beyond the Arabo-Persian domains. We encourage proposals that give prominence to the agency of non-Western actors in negotiating and challenging social, political, and doctrinal “realities” as they manifest in the writings and activities of esoteric groups and systems. The chronological scope thus stretches from medieval to contemporary times. We encourage papers outlining suitable methods of investigation, re-evaluating accepted conceptual frameworks, formulating effective comparative research, and foraying into new textual frontiers.

We invite papers that engage with these aims, but proposals that do not relate to the 2020 meeting theme are also welcome.

There is no fee for attending the meeting and accommodation will be provided, but the cost of travel is the responsibility of individual participants.

Further information at http://ensie.site/conferences.html.