Western Sufism: From the Abbasids to the New Age
WESTERN SUFISM – Book Sample
Contents – WESTERN SUFISM
- Introduction 1
- Part I | Premodern Intercultural Transfers
- Neoplatonism and Emanationism 15
- Plotinus: The Key 17
- Emanation Explained 19
- Neoplatonism Spreads 24
- Islamic Emanationism 30
- Arab Neoplatonism 31
- The First Sufis 36
- Sufi Classics 40
- Jewish and Christian Emanationism 50
- Jewish Neoplatonism 50
- Jewish Sufism 56
- Latin Emanationism 58
- Conclusion to Part I 66
- Part II | Imagining Sufism, 1480– 1899
- Dervishes 71
- Angels and Deviants 72
- The View from France 79
- Sufism as Mystical Theology 82
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- Deism and Pantheism 85
- The prisca theologia in the Renaissance 86
- Universalism: Guillaume Postel and the Jesuits 89
- Deism Demonstrated by Arab and Turk 93
- Pantheism and Anti-Exotericism 97
- Universalist Sufism 102
- Sufism as Esoteric Pantheism 103
- Perennialism and Universalism in India 106
- The Dabistan and After 108
- Dervishes Epicurean and Fanatical 113
- Dervishes in Drama, Painting, and Verse 114
- The Rubلiyلt of Omar Khayyلm 121
- Fighting Dervishes 125
- Conclusion to Part II 130
- Part III | The Establishment of Sufism in the West, 1910– 1933
- Transcendentalism, Theosophy, and Sufism 135
- Transcendentalism and the Missouri Platonists 137
- The Theosophical Society and Carl- Henrik Bjerregaard 142
- Ivan Aguéli, the Western Sufi 148
- Toward the One: Inayat Khan and the Sufi Movement 156
- Inayat Khan Visits America 157
- The Sufi Message is Spread 162
- The Continuation of the Sufi Movement 170
- Tradition and Consciousness 172
- René Guénon and the Traditionalists 173
- George Gurdjieff and Consciousness 176
- The Early Years of John G. Bennett 181
- Conclusion to Part III 183
- Part IV | The Development of Sufism in the New Age
- Polarization 189
- Toward Islam 190
- Reorientation with Meher Baba 191
- The Travels of John G. Bennett 194
- The Maryamiyya and the Oglala Sioux 202
- Idries Shah and Sufi Psychology 208
- Shah and the Gurdjieff Tradition 209
- Shah’s Sufism 213
- Followers and Opponents 217
- Sufism Meets the New Age 222
- Traditionalism and the New Age 223
- The Sufi Movement Conserved 223
- Sufi Sam in San Francisco 225
- Vilayat and the Sufi Order International 231
- Fazal and Mystical Warfare 233
- Islamic Sufism 236
- Ian Dallas and the Darqawiyya 237
- Ibn Arabi and Beshara 240
- The Murabitun and Sufi Jihad 243
- John G. Bennett at Sherborne 246
- Conclusion to Part IV 247
- Conclusion 249
- Notes 263
- Selected Bibliography 319
- Index 333
Transcendentalism, Theosophy, and Sufism
In about 1906, a Swedish painter who had converted to Islam and moved to Egypt, Ivan Aguéli, joined a Sufi tariqa in Cairo. In 1910 or 1911, he transmitted his initiation into this tariqa to a French occultist, René Guénon, in Paris.
Guénon later died a Sufi and a Muslim in Cairo, leaving behind a body of “Traditionalist” writings on the basis of which a number of Western tariqas have since been founded, of which the most impor- tant was established in 1933. Anyone who has done any serious reading on Sufism in a Western language has almost certainly read works by Traditionalist Sufis, knowingly or not.
One year after Aguéli initiated Guénon in Paris, an Indian musician on a tour of America, Inayat Khan, initiated a Californian occultist, Ada Martin, into Sufism in San Francisco. From this start developed the Sufi Movement, on which basis a number of Western Sufi groups have since developed.
Also in 1911, a Russian journalist with an interest in the occult, Peter Ouspensky, published a book entitled Tertium Organum which, though it barely mentions Sufism, provided a third basis on which another set of Sufi groups would later be established.
These, too, still exist today. The years 1910 to 1911, then, mark a turning point in the history of Western Sufism.
Aguéli, Khan, and Ouspensky did not know of each other’s existence, but nonetheless they had two things in common. One was that they were active just before the out- break of the First World War, which meant that the processes they started were poised to develop further in the new West that emerged after the end of that war.
The other thing that they had in common was that they were all connected to the Theosophical Society, a late nineteenth-century movement of American origin that had no great inter- est in Sufism or Islam, but even so, was crucial to the later establishment of Sufism in the West. The Theosophical Society drew on and developed the perennialism and anti- that were discussed in the previous section of this book.
It also added two new and important ingredients: the idea of the Mahatmas as hidden masters; and anti- dogmatism.
The Theosophical Society was not particularly universalist, however, and emanationism and universalism descended to twentieth-century Western Sufis by other routes. One of these was the New England Transcendentalists, Neoplatonists who are also considered in this chapter.
The intercultural transfers that started the establishment of Sufism in the West were primarily in the form of individual contact, which built on the understandings of Sufi theology as perennial, esoteric universalism that had become established during the early modern period.
This chapter considers the contact with Egyptian Sufism of Ivan Aguéli. Other contacts are considered in later chapters: the contact with the West of an Indian Sufi, Inayat Khan, and the contact with the Algerian Sufism of Guénon’s fol- lower, Frithjof Schuon.
The nineteenth century was a time of religious and spiritual innovation in the West, especially in the United States, where the start of the century saw the Second Great Awakening, a loose popular movement that gave rise to numerous new religious groups. The First Great Awakening of 1730–50 was in comparison a small affair.
The new religious groups that emerged from the Second Great Awakening included the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, founded by Joseph Smith in 1829–30, and now gener- ally known as the Mormon Church after the title of its sacred text, The Book of Mormon. Smith’s followers believed that the English text of this book is Smith’s translation of a text recorded in “Reformed Egyptian” on golden plates, and made available to Smith by the angel Moroni.
The Second Great Awakening largely dispensed with the structures and many of the teachings of the major Christian churches that had dominated the religious life of the West since the end of the Roman Empire, but was not universalist:
it kept within the basic framework of the Christian narrative, even when this was some- what extended, as by the Mormons. Neither Sufism nor any other non-Christian system play any significant part in the Second Great Awakening.
The Second Great Awakening was succeeded by Spiritualism, its “late-coming child.”1 Spiritualism went further than the Second Great Awakening and sought to explore the transcendent directly, dispensing with the basic framework of the Christian narrative, though it did not explicitly challenge it
. Many Spiritualists focused on establishing com- munication with the recently dead during séances, activities that now seem marginal and even comic, but which were taken very seriously at the time. The first president of the Society for Psychical Research, a British organization established to investigate Spiritualist phenomena, was Henry Sidgwick, professor of philosophy at Cambridge.
He was succeeded by a professor of physics, and then by Arthur Balfour, a politician who later became the British prime minister, and by William James, professor of philosophy at Harvard.2 These were not marginal figures. A number of Spiritualist journals flourished, providing some structure to an otherwise loose movement. Spiritualism was the milieu from which Mary Baker Eddy emerged in 1874 with the publication of Science and Health,
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