Top critical review
Discovering a Movement Where the Evidence is Unclear
on August 6, 2017
Before encountering this book, I had never heard of "traditionalism" as anything but a general, conservative resistance to change--and not necessarily a resistance to the kind of change represented by modernity. The author has elevated and "privileged" the term into 'capital T' Traditionalism by focusing on a single, obscure French author, and many other similarly obscure 'religionists'--to describe a movement that apparently only those participating in it understood. The underpinning of Sedgwick's Traditionalism is a hazy and ill-defined network of mystics who self-identified as Sufis (often described as 'Islamic mystics'); that obscure Frenchman, Rene Guenon, described himself in that way, as did other figures in this narrative. Since there is no received, authoritative history of either Sufism or Traditionalism, Sedgwick is quite free to create a fairly elaborate picture of Traditionalist cultural and religious conservatism, and who is to gainsay its accuracy? While there IS some documentary evidence supporting the interpretation, much of it depends on interviews with persons who also self-describe as Sufis and lay claim to the creation of, or membership in. Sufi "orders." To this reader, whose exposure to 'the Sufi way of thought and action' has largely been through the claims and viewpoint of the late Idries Shah (which see), it is surprising to read of Sufis (as an entire group) as linked with any specific, consistent point of view--much less a firmly conservative one. Shah's major 'historic' survey of the Sufic phenomenon suggests that its practitioners haven't been associated with any particular stance regarding culture, other than a definite commitment to the nurturing of human perceptive ability and creative, rational, evolutionary growth. As an exploration of the way in which some self-identified Sufis have pursued their investigations, and adopted positions with regard to modern (20th century, or post-Enlightenment) societies, this book will be of interest to those curious about the origins and development of a certain kind of resistance to the effects of modernity.