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James S. Cutsinger is Professor of Theology and Religious Thought at the University of South Carolina. His many books include Advice to the Serious Seeker: Meditations on the Teaching of Frithjof Schuon, also published by SUNY Press.
Born in Basle, Switzerland in 1907, Frithjof Schuon was the twentieth century's pre-eminent spokesman for the perennialist school of comparative religious thought. The leitmotif of Schuon's work was foreshadowed in an encounter during his youth with a marabout who had accompanied some members of his Senegalese village to Basle for the purpose of demonstrating their African culture. When Schuon talked with him, the venerable old man drew a circle with radii on the ground and explained: "God is the center; all paths lead to Him." Until his later years Schuon traveled widely, from India and the Middle East to America, experiencing traditional cultures and establishing lifelong friendships with Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, and American Indian spiritual leaders. A philosopher in the tradition of Plato, Shankara, and Eckhart, Schuon was a gifted artist and poet as well as the author of over twenty books on religion, metaphysics, sacred art, and the spiritual path. Describing his first book, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, T. S. Eliot wrote, "I have met with no more impressive work in the comparative study of Oriental and Occidental religion", and world-renowned religion scholar Huston Smith said of Schuon, "The man is a living wonder; intellectually apropos religion, equally in depth and breadth, the paragon of our time". Schuon's books have been translated into over a dozen languages and are respected by academic and religious authorities alike. More than a scholar and writer, Schuon was a spiritual guide for seekers from a wide variety of religions and backgrounds throughout the world. He died in 1998.
Reading Frithjof Schuon years ago changed my life but I struggle still when explaining to friends and students why his message is so important, especially for our times. There are excellent introductions to Schuon's work already in print -- Harry Oldmeadow and Seyyed Hussein Nasr have both edited admirable overviews and collections -- but what has been missing was something of a revelation or liminal experience of Schuon rather than a survey or Greatest Hits. In 'Splendor of the True: A Frithjof Schuon Reader,' James Cutsinger, author of the seminal 'Advice for a Serious Seeker' (the argument of which is almost entirely formed and informed by Schuon) and translator/editor of seven books of Schuon's writing, has put together just such an experience for the determined reader.
And determination is necessary, if the rewards far out strip effort. Reading Schuon is never easy, but in 'Splendor's five parts and appendix of unpublished poetry and letters, what emerges for the attentive reader is both the breadth and the brilliant substance of Schuon's thinking. Beautifully illustrated and formatted, the selections here complement and lead to one another so aptly that I checked the listing of which books they were taken from several times to be sure they were not written as sets. The choices of poems to introduce each section and selection were cause for my reflection, even meditation, at the end of which I never failed to be impressed by the editor's thoughtfulness and magisterial command of Schuon's writings and insights.Read more ›
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Frithjof Schuon, the traditionalist metaphysician and preeminent spokesman of the "perennial philosophy," whose writings are artfully selected, translated and introduced by James S. Cutsinger in his new book Splendor of the True, was a philosopher, sage and spiritual master (Sufi), whose unique and yet controversial approach to religious unity and religious plurality is of increasing significance for our time of unprecedented religious convergence and explosive religiously-based social and political reaction. Born in Basle, Switzerland in 1907, Schuon in early life became acquainted with the writings of the French metaphysician, Rene Guenon, the founder of what has become known as the perennialist school of comparative religious thought or perennialism. He collaborated and corresponded with Guenon for over twenty years until the latter's death in 1951. From the time of the publication in French in 1948 of one of his earliest works, The Transcendent Unity of Religions. until his death in Indiana in 1998, 50 years, 23 books, some 4000 poems, 2000 letters and many other spiritual texts later, Schuon has slowly but surely emerged as the undisputed voice of perennialism, or to use the term that Schuon himself preferred, traditionalism.
What is unique--and uniquely significant for our time--about Schuon's understanding of religious unity and religious diversity? As Prof. Cutsinger points out in his illuminating introduction to Schuon's thought that begins the book, the cornerstone of perennialism is expressed in the very title of the first book of Schuon's to garner wide-spread attention: the Transcendent Unity of Religions. The persuasiveness of the perennialist position seems to hang entirely on how this beguilingly simple, yet singular and deeply subtle doctrine is understood.Read more ›
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