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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Political Hesychasm

In a comment to my post on "Alexander Dugin, Bishop Tikhon, and President Putin," Wurmbrand asks for an explanation of the term “Political Hesychasm.”

Hesychasm (ἡσυχασμός) is, of course, the tradition associated with the late Byzantine monk Gregorios Palamas (died 1359) that focuses on the repetition of the Jesus Prayer, a sort of Orthodox dhikr. This was accepted by the Orthodox Church and condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.

The phrase “political Hesychasm” seems to have been coined by Vladimir Petrunin in Политический исихазм и его традиции в социальной концепции Московского Патриархата (Political Hesychasm and its Traditions in the Social Thought of the Moscow Patriarchate, 2009). It describes an understanding of relations between East and West ascribed to Pavel Florensky (1882-1937), a priest and scientist who did not survive the Great Terror, and the philosopher (and monk) Aleksei Losev (1893-1998), who did survive the Terror.

In Эстетика Возрождения (Esthetics of the Renaissance, 1978) Losev developed a highly original analysis of the Renaissance in terms of the ascendency of “anthropocentric Neoplatonism” and the consequent birth of individualism. He contrasts this in his introduction to Palamas and the Hesychasts, who he sees as central to a parallel Eastern Renaissance that drew on the Orthodox Neoplatonism of Dionysius the Areopagite.

Hesychasm and the Eastern Renaissance were not Losev’s main topic, but his book provides the basis for a view of Eastern Christianity in opposition to Western Christianity and the Renaissance that fits very neatly with Alexander Dugin’s Traditionalism.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Alexander Dugin, Bishop Tikhon, and President Putin

There has been much discussion about how much influence Alexander Dugin really has in the Kremlin. A partial answer is provided by a new article by Michael Hagemeister, “Der ‘Nördliche Katechon’ – ‘Neobyzantismus’ und ’politischer Hesychasmus’ im postsowjetischen Russland” (The Northern Katechon: Neo-Byzantinism and political Hesychasm in Post-Sovet Russia), Erfurter Vorträge zur Kulturgeschichte des Orthodoxen Christentums 15 (2016), pp. 5-36.

Dugin is not Hagemeister’s main topic. This is Bishop Tikhon, Georgy Shevkunov, who is visibly very close to President Putin, and may well be the president’s confessor. The article describes Tikhon’s influence and examines the ideologies that he represents, notably Neo-Byzantinism and political Hesychasm, which Hagemeister traces back to Gelian Prochorov in the mid 1960s.

Political Hesychasm, especially, is easily compatible with Traditionalism, as it sees modernity and the Renaissance in very much the same way as Tradiitonalism does. Dugin’s Neo-Eurasianism thus fits very comfortably with two wider and possibly more powerful currents, and the views of the influential Bishop Tikhon. Whatever Dugin’s own influence in the Kremlin, then, others with very similar views clearly have significant influence there.

My thanks to Birgit Menzel for bringing this article to my attention.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

New book on Eurasianism in Turkey

A new book on Eurasianism in Turkey has just been published, The Foreign Policy of Modern Turkey: Power and the Ideology of Eurasianism, by Özgür Tüfekçi (London: I. B. Tauris, $95).

Tüfekçi understands “Eurasianism” broadly, as the idea that Turkey should turn towards Russia rather than the West. He starts off in the nineteenth century, moves on to the period of Turgut Özal (1983-1993) and then to the present day, to Doğu Perinçek and the İşçi Partisi (IP, Workers' Party) and Alexander Dugin, a relationship already mentioned on this blog.

I have not yet been able to look at the book itself. The chapter titles look a bit clunky. But the long view may be interesting.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Traditionalism in Indonesia

A new article covers the topic of Traditionalism in Indonesia, a topic that has been covered in one PhD dissertation in Indonesian (and briefly on this blog) but has otherwise been largely ignored, certainly in Western languages. The article is by Asfa Widiyanto, and is “The Reception of Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s Ideas within the Indonesian Intellectual Landscape,” Studia Islamika: Indonesian Journal for Islamic Studies 23, no. 2 (2016): 193-236, DOI: 10.15408/sdi.v23i2.3002.

Widiyanto dates Nasr’s influence in Indonesia to three lectures that he gave during a visit in 1993, which attracted much attention. Some Indonesian translations of his books were then already available, but more have been published since 1993. Nasr’s views have also been promoted in the journal Ulumul Qur’an, which has published many articles with a Traditionalist perspective, and may even in some sense be a Traditionalist journal.

Widiyanto identifies a number of Indonesian scholars who have been influenced by the work of Nasr and Schuon, and lists many of their publications. He pays special attention to Nurcholish Madjid (1939-2005), a prominent Muslim intellectual whose PhD thesis at the University of Chicago was supervised by Fazlur Rahman, and who became Indonesia’s leading exponent of Traditionalist ideas. It was Madjid who was credited with persuading President Suharto to resign in 1998. Madjid was more enthusiastic about perennialism’s pluralism, which he likened to the non-denominational theism of Pancasila, Indonesia’s official state philosophy, than about its anti-modernism, which he rejected. In Widiyanto’s view, this corresponds to Nasr’s general reception in Indonesia.

Widiyanto also singles out Komaruddin Hidayat (born 1953), a professor of philosophy with a PhD from the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, a former rector of the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta, and an active journalist. An editor of Ulumul Qur’an, Hidayat is evidently now Indonesia’s leading Traditionalist.

Both Madjid and Hidayat are evidently significant figures in Indonesia, more important than Traditionalists are in most countries. They seem, however, to be “soft” Traditionalists more than “hard” Traditionalists.

Widiyanto spends some time on the issue of whether Nasr can be considered a Shi'i, an issue that has not caused much concern elsewhere, and argues that he is more scholar than Shi'i. He does not explicitly ask to what extent Traditionalism is Western and to what extent it is Islamic, but addresses this question obliquely, referring to Nasr’s debt to Suhrawardi, and concluding that “Nasr’s popularity in Indonesia is not merely due to his Perennialist ideas but also due to the fact that he represents an advocate of living Islamic philosophy, which survives in the Persian world most notably in the form of the School of Illumination.”

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

JAAR review of The Study Quran

A review of The Study Quran, edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and others and previously mentioned on this blog for its Maryami connections, has just been published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, possibly the world’s leading journal in the field. It is by Aisha Geissinger, a Quran specialist and assistant professor at Carleton University in Canada, and is careful and fair.

Geissinger welcomes The Study Quran as “a fascinating example of what could be termed the ‘next stage’ in the publication of confessional literature that reflects the reception of the Qur’an by believing Muslims writing in English” because, unlike other English translations, it really engages with the techniques and history of tafsir (exegesis) and “vividly conveys something of the Qur’an’s long and intellectually vibrant history of interpretation.”

She notes, however, that—like all other translations—The Study Quran presents one particular perspective. She characterizes this perspective as “broadly... neo-traditionalist” and sometimes perennialist. The selection of “traditional” material, she concludes, produces “a twenty-first century CE construction of an ostensibly timeless ‘tradition.’” And how, I wonder, could it not?

My thanks to OA for drawing this review to my attention.