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Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century 1st Edition

3.3 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195396010
ISBN-10: 0195396014
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"An exceptionally well-informed book.... It is a marvellous inquiry on the mutual porosity of a wide range of sometimes mutually contradictory anti-modernist ideological trends, from anarchism to fascism, and mutually opposed ilieus, from dissidents to officers of secret services."--Stéphane A. Dudoignon, Central Eurasian Reader


"Well-researched, well-written...an impressive scholarly achievement."--H-Net Reviews


"Against the Modern World is a genuinely startling book. In this massively researched and clearly written study, Mark Sedgwick seeks nothing less than to provide an alternative intellectual history of the twentieth century. Time and again, he offers unexpected connections, stresses the importance of forgotten or underestimated thinkers, and throws new light on the history of esoteric thought and religion. A wonderful contribution." --Philip Jenkins, author of The Next Christendom: the Coming of Global Christianity


"An erudite, graceful, and nuanced study of a movement that has enjoyed far more influence than attention in the modern world that it so despises."--Parabola


"Mark Sedgwick shows how Traditionalism is a major influence on religion, politics, even international relations. Famous scholars, theosophists and masons, Gnostic ascetics and Sufi sheikhs, jostle with neo-fascists, terrorists and Islamists in their defection from a secular, materialist West. As a study of esotericism and Western images of the East, Against the Modern World compares in importance with Edward Said's monumental Orientalism. Likewise, it deserves the widest readership."--Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, author of Black Sun and The Occult Roots of Nazism


This is an invaluable contribution to an ongoing and increasingly sophisticated discussion about modernity, the professional study of religion, and the religions themselves. What sets Sedgwick's narrative apart from most all previous accounts is his remarkable historical sweep (from the Italian Renaissance to today), his impressive grasp of the Muslim world, and, perhaps most of all, the humane grace with which he treats his historical subjects. Here they emerge with both their hearts and their warts intact, neither as intellectual fathers to slay nor as cultural gods to put on the proverbial pedestal, but as human beings struggling with some of the deepest religious problems and promises of our modern world. The result is a reading experience through which one comes to realize, with something of a start, that their story happens also to be ours.--Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism


"An exceptionally well-informed book.... It is a marvellous inquiry on the mutual porosity of a wide range of sometimes mutually contradictory anti-modernist ideological trends, from anarchism to fascism, and mutually opposed ilieus, from dissidents to officers of secret services."--Stéphane A. Dudoignon, Central Eurasian Reader


"Well-researched, well-written...an impressive scholarly achievement."--H-Net Reviews


"An erudite, graceful, and nuanced study of a movement that has enjoyed far more influence than attention in the modern world that it so despises."--Parabola


"Against the Modern World is a genuinely startling book. In this massively researched and clearly written study, Mark Sedgwick seeks nothing less than to provide an alternative intellectual history of the twentieth century. Time and again, he offers unexpected connections, stresses the importance of forgotten or underestimated thinkers, and throws new light on the history of esoteric thought and religion. A wonderful contribution." --Philip Jenkins, author of The Next Christendom: the Coming of Global Christianity


"Mark Sedgwick shows how Traditionalism is a major influence on religion, politics, even international relations. Famous scholars, theosophists and masons, Gnostic ascetics and Sufi sheikhs, jostle with neo-fascists, terrorists and Islamists in their defection from a secular, materialist West. As a study of esotericism and Western images of the East, Against the Modern World compares in importance with Edward Said's monumental Orientalism. Likewise, it deserves the widest readership.--Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, author of Black Sun and The Occult Roots of Nazism


This is an invaluable contribution to an ongoing and increasingly sophisticated discussion about modernity, the professional study of religion, and the religions themselves. What sets Sedgwick's narrative apart from most all previous accounts is his remarkable historical sweep (from the Italian Renaissance to today), his impressive grasp of the Muslim world, and, perhaps most of all, the humane grace with which he treats his historical subjects. Here they emerge with both their hearts and their warts intact, neither as intellectual fathers to slay nor as cultural gods to put on the proverbial pedestal, but as human beings struggling with some of the deepest religious problems and promises of our modern world. The result is a reading experience through which one comes to realize, with something of a start, that their story happens also to be ours.--Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism


"I have rarely read an academic book with such ease and pleasure and, at the same time, learned so much novel and relevant information unavailable in previous western research. ...one of the most fascinating books in the history of ideas published in recent years."
--Patterns of Prejudice


About the Author


Mark Sedgwick is Assistant Professor of History at the American University in Cairo, and is the author of Sufism: The Essentials (2000).
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (July 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195396014
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195396010
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #965,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Like many others, I was influenced by the Traditionalists without actually reading Guenon or Schuon. Their pretensions, lack of serious scholarship, and simply ridiculous ideas were enough to keep me away. But their followers? Huston Smith? Eliade? I took their works very seriously - as did many others - without seeing the underlying - and frankly disguised - assumptions.

Traditionalism has influenced every area of religious studies in many ways - not the least, the elevation of Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta to the status of ultimate reality - something not accepted in India. Guenon's absurd idea that all religions teach the same fundamental thing - which happens to be Advaita - is disproved at every turn. His idea that there is one underlying "perennial philosophy" has no basis in fact. While there may well be an underlying reality behind all religions, Islam and Hinduism don't teach the same things. And Guenon's mental gymnastics don't change the facts.

But the influential nature of many of his (crypto-) followers has given these ideas a place in the marketplace of ideas that they would not have on their own merit.

In addition, there's a hypocrisy to Traditionalism that this fine books make clear. A traditionalist - in the desire to connect with a stream of the great primordial river - may become an Orthodox Christian, a Latin Mass Catholic, a Muslim (as did Guenon), an Orthodox Jew, a Hindu - with absolutely no real intellectual or emotional connection to that tradition. As though a commitment to a traditional way of life is a suit of clothes that can be changed at convenience.

These were all things I'd sensed. But Dr.
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Format: Hardcover
Frankly, until reading Against the Modern World, I knew nothing about Traditionalism nor about the Perennial Philosophy which René Guénon (1886-1951) formulated, based on the basic truths of the world's great religions. I found Sedgwick's book so interesting because it offers answers to questions such as these:

1. How does Sedgwick define "modern"?

2. Why was Guénon so opposed to it?

3. Why has Traditionalism attracted such a wide, deep, and diverse following worldwide?

4. What is the relationship between Traditionalism and Orientalism?

5. What are the most relevant historical "streams and counterstreams"? Why?

6. What have been the nature and extent of cultural displacement?

7. What role has the tactic of (in italics) entrisme (end italics) played during the development of Traditionalism?

8. What is Frithjof Schuon's significance?

9. Why have various religious leaders rejected Traditionalism?

10. What are Traditionalism's sub-denominations and how do they differ from each other?

During the Religioscope interview (5 June 2004), Sedgwick explains that "the real reason that I became interested in Traditionalism as a subject for research was growing astonishment at the extent and importance of the movement. I remember spending an evening, shortly after the Internet had reached Egypt, looking through the various editions and translations of Guénon's works in European library catalogs-I couldn't believe it. And the more I looked, the more I found, and the more convinced I became that here was a story worth the telling.
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Format: Hardcover
When I first saw the book I was delighted to see that an important school of thought in the twentieth century has finally found the attention it deserved. But my delight was changed to disappointment after reading through the chapters of the book.

First of all, one may call many thinkers with very divergent ideas "traditionalists," but one cannot make blanket statements and judgments about all of them based on the thoughts and deeds of some. It is as if one condemned Sartre as being a Nazi, because he was an Existentialist philosopher like Heideger, and Heideger, in some point, agreed with Hitler! There is a huge difference between a Rene Guenon and a Mircea Eliade, between an Evola and a Schuon, and one can put them all in one category only in some very superficial way, as exactly it is done in this book. The difference in the outlook and philosophy of these thinkers is sometimes as enormous as possible. Their political thought was even more divergent: the author has not been able to give even one example of any endorsement of Nazism, Fascism, or any totalitarian system by Guenon, Schuon, or Coomaraswami, whom he regards as the most influential among the traditionalists and as "hard" traditionalists (there is no example indeed; actually these people and their loyal followers always opposed and condemned that kind of regimes), yet he cleverly asserts Eliade (his "soft" traditionalist) and Evola's approval of fascism in a way to convince the reader of the whole party's guilt.

Secondly, when reading a book about some philosophy, one expects the critical examination of the philosophy in itself, and not some here and there told stories, whether factual or fictional, coupled with some not very important aspects of the philosophy in question.
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