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The Eternal Spiritual Tradition:

René Guénon's Legacy Today

Edited Excerpts From An Interview with Mark Sedgwick

Edits and comments by OmarKN

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“In any case, what Westerners call civilization, the others would call barbarity, because it is precisely lacking in the essential, that is to say, a principle of a higher order.”
René Guénon, East And West, 1924

At _ living islam - Islamic tradition _ we do use the term Tradition, but not Traditionalism - as the author in the text below. Traditionalism evokes the idea of a system apart, or of a definitive spiritual doctrine, which it is not. Tradition itself is the Truth, the sap of life, or the carrier of the spirit of every authentic world religion, even if those ancient religions have lost (much - all - ) of their saving power.

The Modern World Is A Descent Into Darkness,
A Low Point Of A Last Age

R. Guénon’s idea and rediscovery[1] of Tradition proves ”that the modern world is not the result of progress out of darkness, but of descent into darkness, that this — the time we live in — is a last age, a pretty low point of a last age at that. What has been lost — and what needs to be recovered, reinstated even — is ’tradition’. And tradition can be fairly precisely defined, as the truths that” have been sent down,[2] or ”have been handed down from time immemorial, … the original Ur-religion of humanity.”
This is the dīnu-l qayyim, the eternal, ever-lasting spiritual way of ascent to the Divine (knowledge).

[1]: This is not a school - such as when supposing that “Guénonian Traditionalism is a school inspired by Guénon, and taking various different forms,” but a metaphysical point of view, or of inspiration. Different authors may share their critical view of modernity, but would have to propose a spiritual medicine against it, which they mostly failed to do.

[2]: Sedgwick writes: ”as the truths that should have been handed down.” But they have been handed down.

Recover What Has Been Lost

“Traditionalists[8] are those who want to recover[3] what has been lost, and who also recognize the "true" nature of modernity. And recognize that one of the most important aspects of modernity is inversion — that the world sees the valuable as worthless and the worthless as valuable, the good as bad and bad as good. ... And with that comes "counter-initiation" — religious movements[9] that are actually irreligious, that actually lead away from what religion is meant to lead to. ... Against counter-initiation, the only thing left is real, genuine initiation — into traditional esoterism.”

[3]: This recovery is ”in full swing” in the West and in several countries in the East. Many flowers are flourishing and trees finding their roots.

[9]: Not just 'religious movements', but more and more political, exclusivist movements.

[8]: Concepts such as ”Traditionalism” or ”Traditionalists”, are useful for academics or orientalists, but easily misunderstood, see above fn1.

“Still less would (many Muslims in the Islamic world) think much of his idea of the fundamental unity of all religions.[4] Sure, there have been and are dissenting voices, but the overwhelming consensus among Muslims is that other religions are just plain wrong.[5] That's very different from the standard Traditionalist view.”

[4]: The ’idea of the fundamental unity of all religions,’ in this expressively stated form was not R. Guénon’s , but F. Schuon’s idea.
Guénon’s concern was to rediscover the traces (and principles) of tradition in the many religious forms of the world. His purpose was not to propose some ’super-religion’, as his detractors contend.

[5]: Answer to this proposition: To say that older religions before Islam are no longer ”up to the mark” and therefore not valid for the salvation of man, is different from saying they are ”just plain wrong.” We cannot and must not try to restrict the mercy of the All-Merciful.

For the individual person the final decision is upon God as expressed in the Holy Quran:

{ So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it… }
{ My mercy encompasses all things…}

“Traditionalism at the start was more or less an intellectual movement — find the true religion of mankind, that sort of thing. And then after Guénon had been in Cairo for a while, had been living with Islam — which is a religion that really emphasizes daily practice — suddenly it was all about practice. Well, perhaps not all about — the intellectual element stayed. But practice was really emphasized, became really very important. And that was because of Islam, I'm almost certain.”[6]

[6]: Of course it was Islam, which still was - and is today - a living religion, because it offers the intellectual insights, and practical methods to tread the path for inner enlightenment to reach the Divine Presence.

There is simply no authentic tradition, such as Islam, if there is no spiritual practice. Many verses in the Holy Quran together with the prophetic practice ﷺ focus on this principle.[10]

You Can't Be Against Modernity Until You Have Experienced It

Q: And how do you explain the more recent surge of interest for Traditionalism in some countries of Islamic tradition, such as Iran or Turkey? Do people there become interested in Traditionalism to the extent that they are being increasingly exposed to Western modernity and its challenges?

“Yes, I think that's exactly it. Although Traditionalism defines itself in terms of what it is for — tradition, the religio perennis and so on — in some ways it's a lot easier for an observer like myself to define Traditionalists partly in terms of what they are against. And what they are against is modernity. And you can't be against modernity until you have experienced it.”

“Now, Iran and Turkey are the two countries in the Middle East that have most experienced modernity. Morocco has a bit, too, and that's where in the Arab world you find Traditionalism most important. There are no Traditionalists at all, so far as I know, in mountain villages in the Yemen. None of it would make any sense at all there. This is actually part of the point you made earlier about Traditionalism being, in many ways, essentially modern.”

Those For Whom Traditionalism Is A "Stepping Stone"

Q: There seems to be today two trends among Traditionalists: those who feel encouraged by their reading of Guénon to look for a firm anchoring in a specific religious tradition, and those who seem to consider Tradition as explained by Guénon as a kind of "supra-religion”.”

“I call those who look for a firm anchoring in their own or some other religion those for whom Traditionalism is a "stepping stone" — it gets them somewhere, whether to Sufi Islam or Russian Orthodoxy or whatever, and then they just get on with where they are. Traditionalism may remain interesting to them, but it isn't the main point. But then there are those for whom Traditionalism remains the main point, and for some of these it is indeed a sort of supra-religion.”[7]

[7]: This question has been answered in:
On The Common Eternal Principles, And That Islam Reigns

A Current Example For "Soft Traditionalism"

“In Bosnia, there's a man called Rusmir Mahmutcehajic. He was a minister in the Bosnian government, but then resigned, essentially over the division of Bosnia — which he didn't want. Nowadays, he's one of Bosnia's most important public intellectuals, and runs an important institute. ... His views would be very different without the influence of Guénon; he would hardly be him. It's almost like the "stepping stone" phenomenon I was talking about before. Traditionalism wasn't a stepping stone to Islam for Mahmutcehajic, since he was a Muslim anyhow, though it may have been a stepping stone to the sort of Islam he now practices. Most importantly, it was an essential stepping stone to his mature intellectual positions. He's a perfect example, but there are others with more access to the general Western culture.” (see below for the book*).



*Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 368 pages.

The interview with Mark Sedgwick was conducted by Jean-François Mayer. Mark Sedgwick is associate professor in the Department for the Study of Religion at Aarhus University in Denmark.

The complete interview is here
( religion.info )

Religioscope, 5 Jun 2004

"When man is imprisoned like this in life and in the conceptions directly connected with it, he can know nothing about what escapes from change, about the transcendant and immutable order, which is that of the universal principles"
René Guénon, East And West, p.90



Related texts
link-in Shaykh Abd Al Wahid Yahya - René Guénon
link-in The Story of Hadith, by Sh. G. F. Haddad


* Living Islam – Islamic Tradition *