Studies in Comparative Religion
The First English Journal on Traditional Studies - established 1963
Advanced Search
Skip Navigation Links
Book Review
Journal Information
Future Issues
Free Subscription
Purchase Copies
Mark Sedgwick
Mark J. Sedgwick is an academic and historian. Dr. Sedgwick is currently an associate professor of Arab history, culture and society in the Department of the Study of Religion, and program manager for Arab and Islamic Studies, at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. He previously worked at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Mark Sedgwick is the author of the controversial book Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century, published by Oxford University Press in 2004. The book purports to be a survey of "traditionalism," with particular emphasis on the role René Guénon played in this school of thought. A number of careful reviewers, however, have found that Against the Modern World contains serious errors and faults in both premises and facts.

Dr. Mark Sedgwick maintains an active presence on the internet, including his blog, some of which strikes various readers as rather biased and self-promotional while other readers perceive his efforts as the result of academic inquisitiveness. It is undeniable that he is a source of information about Tradition and Perennialism. However, the controversial nature of Mark Sedgwick's work on Traditionalism and Perennialism causes many readers to ask whether his influence is disproportionate to his credentials and possibly even to his motives. Readers must judge for themselves whether Sedgwick is a dispassionate student of Traditionalism or someone with an internet connection and a "personal and undisclosed bias against Traditionalism." In the interest of a more balanced and well-researched view of Traditionalism, we present on this website three rather detailed and, we hope, incisive reviews of Mark Sedgwick’s Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century.


Mouse over this icon to see the abstract of the article.

• Click on the header on any column to sort.
• Click on an issue listing   (e.g. "Vol. 1, No. 1. ( Winter, 1967)" )   to see the full contents of only that issue.

Type TitleAuthor/
Reviewed Author*
Author 2/
Book Review
Hungarian writer Róbert Horváth finds that Against the Modern World, by Mark Sedgwick (Oxford University Press, 2004), strangely purports to present a history of Traditionalism, yet the book contains very little of real substance regarding the ideas or writings of the central figures on whom Sedgwick focuses. In addition, Sedgwick has overlooked significant historical precedents before the appearance of Guénon, to whom he traces most of the origins of Perennialism/Tradionalism. The reviewer cites numerous flaws in the content and method of the book, and concludes that it is "practically…a gossip book, nothing more than a new false history."
A Critique (1) of Against the Modern World by Mark SedgwickSedgwick, Mark *Horváth, Róbert 2009 - Web Edition Comparative Religion
Book Review
Michael Fitzgerald's review of Mark Sedgwick's Against the Modern World is a detailed view of Sedwick's study of the history of Traditionalism, taking the author to task for shoddy scholarship and research, possible bias, sensationalization for the purpose of marketing, unsupported conclusions, and, most fundamental of all for a writer undertaking such a project, "a flawed understanding of Traditionalism."
Review (2) of Against the Modern World by Mark SedgwickSedgwick, Mark *Fitzgerald, Michael Oren 2009 - Web Edition Comparative Religion
Book Review
Against the Modern World, written by Mark Sedgwick in 2004, has received much criticism for its lax scholarship. This review adds more detail to the criticism, revealing the extent of Sedgwick's shoddy scholarship, misrepresentations and distortions (intended or unintended), self-contradictions, and lack of clarity in use of terminology. The reviewer concludes that, in short, Sedwick is "unable to comprehend the core elements of his study," which inevitably would result in such a work, which purports to be much more. The review includes some important corrections and clarifications, which would have been of assistance to the work had the author himself been aware of them.
Review (3) of Against the Modern World by Mark SedgwickSedgwick, Mark *Poindexter, Wilson Eliot 2009 - Web Edition Comparative Religion
 3 entries (Displaying results 1 - 3) View :
Page: [1] of 1 pages

  Featured Reviews of this Author's Work

Below are the reviews of the controversial book by Mark Sedgwick Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 2004) which have appeared in the online edition of Studies in Comparative Religion. Readers may click on any of the links that appear immediately below to go to that particular review, or may choose to read through the reviews in sequence.

Review by Róbert Horváth. Summary: Róbert Horváth is a Hungarian writer who has authored a number of pieces on traditionalist/perennialist subjects. Soon after Sedgwick's book first came out, Horváth wrote this review, which by now has appeared in print and in numerous place online. The precision of Horváth's critique covers all major aspects of Against the Modern World, amassing impressive supporting evidence to conclude that it is "a gossip book, nothing more than a new false history." Horváth's review finishes with an interesting addendum that includes some further clarifications and a report of an exchange with the author of Against the Modern World, Mark Sedgwick, following the initial publication of Horváth's review.

Review by Michael Fitzgerald. Summary: Michael Fitzgerald’s review documents that Mark Sedgwick’s comments in Against the Modern World demonstrate a flawed understanding of Traditionalism and the world’s religions, including a narrow and intolerant interpretation of Islam. The review states that Mark Sedgwick systematically contacted detractors of the Perennialist School, thus encouraging far-fetched allegations by depending upon these hostile and unreliable informants for much of the material in the book. The review claims that Dr. Sedgwick systematically failed to contact known Perennialists to hear their response to these allegations, thus resulting in a book that is, unfortunatley, very one sided. Fitzgerald's mordant review of Sedgwick's book contains more "behind the scenes" information on the book and its author than is available elsewhere.

Review by W. E. Poindexter. This review appeared in the respected Traditionalist journal Sophia. Mr. Poindexter, too, found it necessary to point out further problems with Against the Modern World. In the review, Poindexter laments the fact that Sedgwick's book held promise as a serious academic treatment of the Traditional school and the Perennial Philosophy, but a close reading proves that "it is in fact a step in the wrong direction, serving more to obfuscate than to clarify." The reviewer points out cases in which Sedgwick very evidently explains key terms and concepts, such as the central one of "Tradition," incorrectly. Poindexter also enumerates some methodological shortcomings, misrepresentations, and exclusions of vital information in the book, concluding that the "excessive focus upon the personal lives of Traditional scholars" and other errors lead to Sedgwick's squandering "a golden opportunity to provide a detailed analysis of a perspective that is gaining increasing acceptance in many academic circles."

Book Review


by Mark Sedgwick

(Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-19-515297-2)

Review by Róbert Horváth

Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, web edition 2009 © World Wisdom, Inc.

This book—the curious cover of which reminds one more of a spy-novel than an academic work—declares itself to be “a biography of René Guénon and a history of the Traditionalist movement that he founded” (p. vii). This is rather a strange objective on the part of an author who hardly makes any reference to the works of the most important authors of the spiritual current at issue, and who either fails to refer to its numerous representatives or just lightly touches upon some of their names[1]; furthermore, he appears to know little about the periodicals of this current and mainly refers to those accessible through the Internet. In our view it is too ambitious to define a book “a history of René Guénon and the Traditionalists” (ibid.) when the author is in the dark about certain important historical sources of the theme,[2] and consequently writes “Heidnische Imperialismus” instead of Heidnischer Imperialismus (pp. 104, 298, 353), “Editions Traditionnels” in place of Editions Traditionnelles (p. 132), “Herrenclub” for Herrenklub (p. 224), “Agiza” instead of Algiza (pp. 297, 319), and “Mediterranée” in place of Mediterranee (p. 320). In addition to all this, he does not manage to give the precise date of birth of Julius Evola (p. 363), although he devotes nearly two chapters to him.[3] All in all, it is quite obvious that we cannot find a work reliable, when, expressing the references to Hungary numerically, it transpires that out of 21 pieces of information 13 are false (pp. 186–187).[4] We do not intend, however, to dwell upon these mistakes too long, since the work of the assistant professor of the American University in Cairo includes much graver errors than these.

The author ultimately traces this extended and vast spiritual current back to only one single person: René Guénon—and to his works and influence. We certainly do not desire to belittle the significance of Guénon, but we consider this conception mistaken both historically and phenomenologically. How can one imagine that the influence of a single person—or of even a few—might be as great as that? The conceptions, ideas and truths appearing (in a concentrated and clarified form) in the life-work of Guénon were once the main directions and principles of whole cultures; they cannot be seen as the privilege of certain individuals. Their reappearance is a fact, even if the written teachings in Guénon’s works are necessarily generalising rather than full of practical details. Referring to the equivalents of the spiritual current long before Guénon, Mr Sedgwick simply lists the names of a few individuals while gratuitously separating Spiritual Traditionality from “Perennialism.” It must be emphasised that Ficino and Agostino Steuco are but two names in the long chain of representatives of universally open, strictly traditional spirituality and intellectuality.[5] It is also ridiculous to speak about “Vedanta-Perennialism” (pp. 24, 40), since every real tradition is a representation of spiritual Perennialism. In addition, the author mingles these “origins” together with such individuals and schools that—not only on the surface, but also in their very nature—show modern, and not at all traditional characteristics. Who was Reuben Burrow and who were all the nineteenth- and twentieth-century theosophists, we might ask, compared to those ancient people who believed in a perennial wisdom both in the East and the West?

Mr Sedgwick seems to be uninformed about the difference between philosophia and wisdom (sophia), and also about the fact that the term philosophia perennis often used by the Scholastics was also generally used in the academic circles of philosophers until the mid-twentieth century.[6] He does not seem to know about that Plato, who was interested in the primordial wisdom of the Greeks and that of Atlantis, or about Plutarch, one of the priests of the Shrine of Delphi, who was also versed in the Egyptian traditions. He also seems to forget about Plotinus, who had his eastern connections, and whose influence upon post-Platonic European spiritual culture cannot be denied. Not a word is uttered about Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna), who first attempted to unify the Platonic and Aristotelian philosophies, nor about the outstanding role of Ādi Śańkarācārya who aimed at the totality of Hindu tradition, and we could continue to list those ancient authors whose spirituality is either closely related to or analogous—if not identical—with the latest traditional authors of our age. After this it naturally follows that the author also fails to mention that the concept of the transcendent unity of the great spiritual traditions and world religions, or the idea of the primordial Tradition are not new at all, that is to say, they are neither the fiction of Guénon, nor Schuon, nor Matgioi, nor anybody else. The validity and reality of an idea do not depend on the fact that the religious tradition practised by the majority is silent about it. The Tibetan ris-med current and the following extracts from the Indian-Hindu sacred texts unequivocally show the primordiality in terms of the idea of the universal and integral Tradition:

“For whatever path men choose, they all come to me [the Godhead] in the end…”
“…that man sees the truth who sees sāńkhya and yoga as one.”
“…whatever form any devotee worships with true faith, I give them this unshakable faith.”
“Even those who worship other gods and offer their sacrifice to them with faith, they, too, sacrifice to Me alone…”
“‘The ordinary man, who draws a [final] distinction among the divinities of the Trinity [Brahmā, Vişņu, and Śiva], surely will stay in hell as long as the Moon and the stars are glittering on the sky. My follower is allowed to venerate any gods, for by ascending towards them he can reach the knowledge leading to the ultimate liberation. Without rendering homage to Brahmā one cannot venerate Vişņu; without rendering homage to Vişņu one will not venerate me either.’ Having said that, Śiva, the Lord Supreme, the Merciful God uttered the following words in everyone’s hearing: ‘If a follower of Vişņu hates me, or a follower of Śiva hates Vişņu, both draw curses upon their heads, and they will never realise Reality.’”[7]

The spiritual current at issue and the spirituality of the ancient authors are basically identical. This is only blurred to a certain extent by one characteristic: the contemporary representatives take modern circumstances into consideration while writing. This characteristic, however, makes them different only on the surface: in their approach to the topic, in their style, in their external starting point, and in their lives. They remain essentially identical. The numerous historical correspondences or, at least, the spiritual relationship also convey the suggestion that the most eminent representatives of this current must be called contemporary traditional authors, and not “Traditionalists.” We must totally agree with Professor András de László, who first applied this term to them. From the order of things it also evidently follows that not every thinker connected to this current can be considered a traditional author. As we expressed in a previous article,[8] those “Traditionalists” to whom the worthy “traditional author” title cannot be applied yet, can be regarded as those who, by virtue of proper efforts and achievements may become traditional authors one day.

As we can see, in Mr Sedgwick’s book even the expressions “Traditionalism” and “Traditionalists” are highly debatable. If the author had really taken his aim seriously to write about René Guénon and the history of the spiritual current “he founded,” he should have consequently dismissed the idea of using the expressions “Traditionalism” and “Traditionalists,” as Guénon himself did.[9] Taking into account the time and events that have passed since his death, our strong advice is not to separate Traditionalism from Tradition as definitively as Guénon did,[10] but to look at it as a strictly transitional and intermediary term.[11] This applies so much the more in the case of the term “movement.” What might politically be acceptable, and in certain cases even desirable, is not always valid in a higher order. Guénon himself refrained from using such a fundamentally leftist label as “movement,” together with the view and conceptions connected to it.[12] He and all the representatives of the spirituality reembodied in his life-work have always represented spiritual aristocratism, the true spiritual elitism which has never allowed itself to have any of the characteristics of a “movement.”[13] As to politics and the collective nature of influences, the characteristics of a movement might appear occasionally, although they are by no means essential. They are not something to which the true representatives of this current would pay much attention, nor on the basis of which anything could be defined.

After all that has been said, the following question arises: has the author chosen his ab ovo erroneous starting points because of lack of proper knowledge or intentionally? Immediately on the second page of the Preface one can come across such unsavoury expressions as “anti-Semitism, terrorism, and fascism,” while in the next sentence—as it were just for safety’s sake—the terms “SS” and “Nazi Germany” catch one’s eye (p. vii). What original impressions these words convey! Under their influence the average reader of the book will certainly turn with great interest and an open heart towards the spiritual current and look forward to learning more objective details about it! The Prologue begins by painting a similarly “winning” picture of the Russian intellectual state of affairs, from which we can learn—among other things—that an alleged representative of “Traditionalism” worked as a street-sweeper in the Soviet era (pp. 3–5). The basic tone of the book is set by many such pictures, which the Western readers will without doubt “profoundly understand,” and which—right at the beginning—will surely paint the whole current in the “most favourable” light. Likewise, “a biography of René Guénon” also wishes to introduce the “founder” in the most bizarre environment possible: it names all the well-known scholars and artists who are the least significant from the spiritual current’s point of view (pp. 22–23, 29–30, 36–38, etc.), reports on the Theosophical Society (pp. 40–44, etc.), Isabelle Eberhardt (pp. 63–65), or Adam Alfred Rudolf Glauer alias Rudolf von Sebottendorff (pp. 65–66), most of whom had nothing or hardly anything in common with Guénon, who attacked their mentality in thick volumes. Mr Sedgwick goes into full particulars about Guénon’s “foolish youth” (p. 12), and to muddle things more, he also includes in Guénon’s life-work those ideas which he later outgrew and criticised. The author seems to know—for instance—not only that Guénon occasionally smoked opium before he was 26, but also that Albert Puyou (Matgioi), the Count of Pouvourville had taught him how. He seems to have cast-iron proof of it: Matgioi has written a book on opium (pp. 58, 283). Mark Sedgwick also wonders—in the manner of a “good,” modern historian—whether Guénon would have moved to Egypt had it not been for his comforting, new lover, Mary (Dina) Shillito (p. 74). Despite the fact that in Cairo many Muslims took Guénon to be a saint (or even more than that), it turns out that during Ramadan he did not refrain from “smoking a cigarette and drinking a coffee,” and he did not go on a pilgrimage to Mecca (pp. 75–76). How terrible! According to this, then, all the Muslims who do not smoke and drink coffee, but go to Mecca, are much more eminent and considerable persons than Guénon was. By this time we have reached the second part of the book, the title of which is “Traditionalism in Practice.” Here we learn about Frithjof Schuon, in whose case the motif of love and psychology also appears (pp. 85–86, 90–91), and immediately after him comes chapter 5 entitled “Fascism,” which, to say the least, is only loosely connected to the previous topics. Here, at least, it comes to light why von Sebottendorff had to be drawn into the story earlier, although the author very carefully keeps to himself that Evola wrote a work entitled The Right-Wing Critique of Fascism,[14] which obviously hardly fits the conception of “Practice,” and is thus better considered non-existent. Regarding Romanian “Fascism,” it is necessary to make some corrections: Mircea Eliade was not a “follower” of Evola (p. 109), nor was the Legion of the Archangel Michael identical with the Iron Guard (p. 113), and it was not Vasile Lovinescu who “introduced” Evola to Corneliu Codreanu (p. 114). As can be seen we are able to quote many examples for the author’s lack of information, and indeed, on the basis of his standpoints, the given information, and the structure of the whole book we cannot assume a bona fide ignorance on his part, but rather we can find traces of certain manipulations.

The spiritual current’s influence upon academic life and its cultural and social impact seem to be sore points for the author. The way he treats Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy is truly astounding (perhaps only Evola, Schuon, and Nasr are treated worse). We are informed that the reason why this prince among scholars, this “50-year-old museum curator from Boston,” became more receptive to Guénon’s Traditionalism was—in part—that Coomaraswamy’s second wife had “become pregnant by [Aleister] Crowley in 1916. […] This incident presumably helped to diminish Coomaraswamy’s enthusiasm for occultism” (p. 53), and in this he was supported by Guénon’s critiques on occultism. The author is also able to reconstruct in which occultist bookstore in New York Coomaraswamy might “possibly” have met with Guénon’s works (p. 34). It reminds one too much of the psychologising methods of the numerous historians, who inform us, for instance, about the thoughts of Adolf Hitler. Certainly, they sometimes delineate their ideas as mere hypotheses, but they are also fully aware of the fact that the readers soon forget the conditional structure.

As is mentioned above, the impact of the spiritual current at issue upon scientific-academic circles seems really disturbing to Mr Sedgwick. He names many individuals whom he believes to be connected to the spiritual current (e.g. pp. xiii–xiv), which, on the one hand, clearly reveals his ignorance about it, and on the other, confuses things even more. Thus he is able to get as far as stating his theory of “dangerous” “soft Traditionalism” which exercises significant influence upon the cultural and social levels, but this only results in his mixing even more names (Gérard Encausse [Papus], Jacques Maritain, Oswald Wirth, Mircea Eliade, Louis Dumont, Paul de Séligny, Alan Watts, Louis Pauwels, Ernst Friedrich Schumacher, the Aristasians, Edvard Limonov, etc.) with the true representatives of the current. His irritation is obvious with respect to the spiritual current’s influence upon the scientific and academic life in the USA (Huston Smith, Thomas Merton, World Wisdom Books, Fons Vitae [pp. 162–170, 190–193], etc.), upon the cultural-political level in Great Britain (Temenos Academy, John Tavener, Charles, the Prince of Wales [pp. 213–216], etc.), and he shows effective paranoia towards its general social-political impact (Italy, Central-Eastern Europe, Neo-Eurasianism, Islamic countries, etc.). He is in too much of a hurry to emphasise Evola’s alleged influence on Italian terrorism in the 1960s, skilfully referring to the work of Gianfranco de Turris (pp. 179 ff. and 319), although he does not happen to mention that this work entitled The Praise and Defence of Julius Evola. The Baron and the Terrorists rather acquits Evola from the charges brought against him. It is even stranger that pages 222–240 and 257–260 of the book deal with the persons, schools, and parties that are admittedly “post-Traditionalists” at best (cf. p. 260) in the etymological sense of the word, that is to say, that recanted Traditionality in the course of time.[15] Naturally, the author must act like this, otherwise his book would not raise enough interest: he could not toll the storm-bell of a “school” or “movement” which is so dangerous in its influence.

To those who, after these examples still have their doubts about the malice and manipulations of the author, suffice it to say that the book was written in such a way that shows the “Traditionalist movement” for sympathisers and judges them at the same time. One of the nadirs of this work is the introduction of the term “Traditionalist Sufism,” by which the author suggests that it is an essentially modern current which merely alludes to the Tradition, the various traditions, and Sufism. At this point he wants to be more Catholic than the Pope, similar to his Hungarian colleagues who—either as laymen or biased devotees—feel entitled to tell one what true Christianity, Gnosis, true Orthodoxy and true Islam are, without heartfelt and unifying reference to the Godhead. In like manner, he attempts to point out why Sufis are not Sufis, and why traditional people are not traditional. His answers and arguments in most respects lack deep insight and profundity, and stand on the ground of formalism, dogmatism, and phariseeism. He seems to know and accept solely the conventional and rustic form of Sufism, while he keeps silent about the Sufi characteristics—of mostly Persian origin—of the eastern part of the Muslim world, those super-religious manifestations which were occasionally rejected by official Islam, and whose representatives were once burnt at the stake, but without whom Islamic metaphysics, esoterism, gnosis, and initiation would hardly exist today. The author is not—or at least appears not to be—conversant with the principle according to which the validity and reality of an idea do not depend on the fact that the religious tradition practised by the majority may keep quiet about it.

“There is no doubt that the Lord of the inhabitants of Heaven and Earth, our Master, God’s Messenger (may God bless him and give him peace) was openly manifested, like a sun on standard, and in spite of that was not seen by all, but only by some. God veiled him from others, just as He veiled the Prophets (on them be peace) from certain men, and just as He veils the Saints from the men of their time, so much so that they slander the Saints and do not believe them. God’s Book testify to this: ‘Thou shalt see them looking toward thee and they see not’ (VII. 197) and they said: ‘What kind of a messenger is this, who eats food and walks in the markets’ (XXV. 7) and so on, in all the other analogous passages. Two thirds or more of the divine Book tells how Prophets (on them be peace) were slandered by the men of their time. Among those who did not see God’s Messenger (may God bless him and give him peace) was Abū Jahl [Ibn Hisham] (God’s curse be upon him); he saw in the Messenger only the orphan who had been adopted by Abū Ţālib. The same applies to the spiritual Master who is simultaneously ecstatic (majdhūb) and methodical (sālik), who is at the same time both drunk and sober; only a few find him.”[16]

It is well known in traditional circles that spiritual Tradition is beyond conventions and religious forms. Mr Sedgwick, however, noticeably blames Schuon for permitting the members of his community to drink beer (p. 126), and in one of the footnotes he draws a parallel with the hijackers of the 11 September 2001 attack in New York, who “had been seen drinking vodka” (p. 305).[17] After this the malice, the manipulations of the facts, the petty bourgeois bookishness and the special pseudo-traditional dogmatism on his part do not require further evidence.

In Hungary, different assumptions have arisen about the author of this book. Some presume that he is a kind of Euro-Atlantic spy, whose official task is to hunt for all the anti-modernist conceptions that have fertilised the contemporary Islamic world.[18] According to others he has not been allowed to enter an initiatory order with “Traditionalist” connections, and has written this book as revenge. Some hold the opinion that certain “Traditionalists” chose him to write the history of the “movement,” although mistakenly (cf. pp. 347–349). However it may be, the Oxford University Press should have been more cautious about whose book they were going to publish, since the scientific value of this work is, to say the least, insignificant. We do admit, that—apart from everything mentioned above—the author successfully collected the secondary and tertiary historical sources of the spiritual current, and that he occasionally makes a proper distinction among certain authors. However, the primary sources of a work concerning the history of ideas can only be considered the works of the significant representatives of that current, whom Mr Sedgwick, unfortunately, hardly knows about. He refers to five books from Coomaraswamy, four books, two articles and two letters from Schuon, only one book from Titus Burckhardt and four books and two articles from Nasr (pp. 34, 316–318, 351–359), leaving out such works as A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom by Whitall Perry. These references, moreover, do not presume a thorough knowledge of the books, since the long—although partial—list of the works of Guénon and Evola (pp. 353–354) seems only a mere enumeration in the light of what we have read so far. With respect to this current’s history of ideas, the books must be considered first sources, and not websites, analytical articles written subsequently, or telephone, fax, and e-mail interviews. As for the personal interviews made with witnesses, they can only be seen as secondary sources, since, on the one hand, it is unascertainable who said what, and on the other—and this is the most decisive factor—the personal interests of the subjects of an interview should always be transparent and clear, since their memory and words show events in a personal light, emphasising only the idiosyncratic aspects or parts of history.[19] As proof of the author’s familiarity with the basic works, periodicals and articles, we would gladly have read about how and to what extent a topic, an idea, or a certain conception of the spiritual traditions were presented in the contemporary authors’ thoughts and lives according to the evidence of their writings. We would have appreciated reading about the works of significant authors, such as Vasile Lovinescu, the eminent writer and great knower of mythologies and analogies; Leo Schaya, the outstanding representative of theistic metaphysics; John Levy, the expert of autology; and others. We would happily have heard where, how, and in whose writing a traditional conception has appeared; who has taken up the thread again and how it has been expounded in more detail; and finally, which elements have been continued or disappeared from their works. Had the author written about these, he would have presented a true history. We would also have been pleased to read about the theoretical debates (in the spirit of the moral of their different viewpoints, and not in terms of demonstrating “dissension” among them) between Evola and Guénon, Michel Vâlsan and Marco Pallis, Claudio Mutti and Antonio Medrano, instead of descriptions of the environment of Mutti’s publishing office and the “appetizing smells of Italian cooking” which pervaded it (p. 11).

Taking all of this into consideration, we have practically read a gossip book, nothing more than a new false history. “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgement.”[20]


Writing the foregoing has to a high degree been motivated by the supposition that no competent review will be written about the book in the English-speaking countries. The supposition turned out to be unfounded as Michael Fitzgerald published an annihilating critique in the July 2005 issue of the on-line periodical Vincit Omnia Veritas.[21] The Sophia Journal also brought out a summary written by Wilson Eliot Poindexter, and although we do not know it, owing to the similar spirituality of the two journals, we can take it for granted that the review is also appropriate.

In spite of the fact that Mr Fitzgerald performs a thoroughgoing critical annihilation and unmasking, we do not consider our work to be unnecessary. (He criticizes Sedgwick for ranking Evola among “the seven most important traditionalists,” but he does not criticize him for tendentiously including others who were in the best possible case only the “followers of followers”, etc.) As we thought our writing above completes the American review with further important aspects, on 13th March 2006 we sent it to the forums mentioned. Copies of the electronic letter containing the English translation prepared in the meantime were also sent to Mark Sedgwick and a representative of his publishing company.

The letter was sent at 21 minutes past 4 in the afternoon, and Mr Sedgwick replied to it in record time at 4 minutes to 11 the next morning—14th March, 2006. By that time he had corrected the mistakes in the Internet errata of the book mentioned in the first paragraph (except some awkward ones like Evola’s wrong year of birth and the incorrect names of two significant publishing companies).

At the beginning of his electronic letter we found a typical evasion. He must have been criticized by several people for his false statements concerning the “origin” of the spiritual current (and also for considering people who do not even regard themselves as “traditionalists” as belonging to the current), so he turned to Aristotle’s theory regarding the four causes.[22] Aristotle differentiated four kinds of causes as the explanatory principle of beings: material cause, formal cause, efficient cause and final cause. According to Sedgwick’s new point of view the material, formal and final causes of “traditionalism” may be different from what he wrote in his book, but it is the study of the efficient cause (and partly the material causes) that is the task of historical science and, as he is a historian, his task too. Yes, but in the history of an intellectual phenomenon, the nature of the efficient causes are different from those of a historical phenomenon. As stated above, in the case of a history of ideas the efficient causes—to mention only these—are the works: books which, carrying ideas, had the greatest effect—and which the writer in this case is almost unfamiliar with.

Mr Sedgwick continues his letter saying that “Some of the difference may also result from different readings of what I wrote. Once it is assumed that I have some sort of malevolent intention, it seems, perfectly unproblematic statements are taken as attacks. To give the most obvious example from your review, it never occurred to me that anyone might see my statement that Guenon broke his fast at the end of the day in Ramadan with a cigarette and a coffee as any sort of a criticism—I simply mentioned it to illustrate how he retained some French habits. And why not? What is wrong with retaining a French habit?” We are happy to believe that the author wanted to write this in his book, but why then did he not write it?

Shortly after these sentences he writes the following: “I was never refused admittance to any initiatic order, and I am not any sort of a spy—the ‘elite commando group’ I once lectured consisted of young conscripts who were learning Arabic. They would have been most flattered that anybody thought of them as elite!” This explanation is rather strange, since our critique makes it perfectly clear that this was not our own opinion, but the assumption of some Hungarians, which we mentioned because it well illustrates the questionable nature of the book. Why did the author excuse himself to us regarding this?

Finally, we were quite astonished when Mr Sedgwick—as if he had not read our critique—came forward with the following: “But anyhow, my purpose in writing to you is not actually to object to your critique, but rather to ask you for information. (…) Might you be so kind as to tell me which 13 [pieces of information] are false, and to correct me/them? I will then be able to post corrections on my ‘errata’ page (thanking you by name if you so wish, or leaving your name out of things if you prefer), and the corrections will also benefit a forthcoming Russian translation of the book.”

What shall we say about all this?

We had at least three reasons not to answer Mr Sedgwick’s letter:

1. We consider him to be neither an authority of the subject, nor one who is informed on it.

2. Against the Modern World cannot be the standard work of the subject, because so many corrections should be carried out that it would be easier to rewrite it.

3. Both in his letters and in his books, the writer shows characteristics, because of which we find it better to keep away from him. He intentionally does not mention Fitzgerald’s and Poindexter’s critiques among the reviews of his books on his web page, and, as we have noticed, it is staggering how far he goes to make it successful—while what he is willing to do is merely correct (some) factual mistakes.

Translated from Hungarian by Andrea Gál and Tamás Bencze (Addenda)

This review essay was originally published in Axis Polaris, No. 7 (Budapest: 2006) in Hungarian and in TYR,
Vol. 3 (Atlanta, Georgia: 2007) in English. The first publication of its “Addenda” in English is the present.


[1] Thus, the connecting German thinkers, such as Leopold Ziegler, Othmar Spann, Taras von Borodajkewycz, Walter Heinrich and others, as well as André Préau, Arthur Osborne, Elie Lebasquais (Luc Benoist), Kurt Almqvist, Charles Le Gai Eaton, Lord Northbourne, William Stoddart, Rama Coomaraswamy, Gaston Georgel, Bruno Hapel, etc., are not mentioned at all, while others such as John Levy, Leo Schaya, Whitall Nicholson Perry, Franco Musso (Giovanni Ponte), Renato del Ponte, are only mentioned briefly in passing.

[2] The author is uninformed about sources of historical importance, such as the two letters of Michel Vâlsan to Frithjof Schuon dated 17 September 1950 and November of 1950 (unpublished, typed version, pp. 2 and 25, A/4); Florin Mihăescu’s article entitled “Mircea Eliade e René Guénon” (Origini [Milan], March 1997, [Eliade-special issue], pp. 15–18); the volume with the title of Eliade, Vâlsan, Geticus e gli altri by Claudio Mutti (Parma: Edizioni all’insegna del Veltro, 1999); the book entitled Traditionalism: Religion in the Light of Perennial Philosophy by Kenneth Oldmeadow (Colombo: Sri Lanka Institute of Traditional Studies, 2000); etc. He confesses in a footnote that he has not read the letters of Vâlsan, but in spite of this, he refers to one of them repeatedly over a few pages (304–306). Had he known about the relevant article from Mihăescu, he could not have called Eliade even a “soft traditionalist.” Some of his basic conceptions—in terms of the “Fragmentation” and the “Dissension” (pp. 123–131)—would similarly have been shattered, had he informed the reader that Vâlsan in the above mentioned breaking-away letters addressed Schuon as his “Most dear and honoured Master.”

[3] None of the listed mistakes has been corrected until the appearance of this critique in the book’s Errata on the Internet: (08. 12. 2005). Incidentally, we find it strange that a non-traditionalist has been occupying the following Internet address for years for his own purposes:

[4] It is impossible to indicate each and every mistake here, but it is highly bizarre that Hungary—and therefore Béla Hamvas, for instance—is mentioned in a chapter called “Terror in Italy.” A historian ought to have known that being “near the Romanian border” (p. 186) has never meant anything in terms of spirituality for the Hungarians.

[5] The reference to Steuco originates from one of the Gifford-lectures of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, but the author forgets to give his source. Cf. “What is Tradition?” in S. H. Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred, (New York: Crossroad, 1981), p. 69. (The author miswrites the date of birth, as did Mr Nasr: he gives 1497 instead of 1496.)

[6] See, e.g., Athenaeum (Budapest), Vol. XXVIII (1941), pp. 136 ff.

[7] Bhagavad-gītā IV. 11, V. 5, VII. 21, IX. 23 (Hungarian translation by József Vekerdi). Śiva-purāņa, Rudrasańhitā II. 43. 17–21 (Hungarian translation by the author).

[8] “A ‘tradicionális szerzők’ kifejezésről” [“About the term ‘traditional authors’”], Axis Polaris (Budapest), No. 5 (2003) pp. 5–9. Modified version: Tradíció yearbook (Debrecen), 2004, pp. 19–24. Revised and expanded English version: (06. 06. 2007)

[9] In Guénon’s life-work the terms “Traditionalism” and “Traditionalists” never occur in a positive or approved sense.

[10] See, e.g., René Guénon, Le règne de la quantité et les signes des temps, (Paris: Gallimard, 1995), pp. 203–209.

[11] Cf. note 8.

[12] Guénon refused not only the principle of equality, democratism and liberalism, but also socialism. See René Guénon, Precisazioni necessaire: I saggi di Diorama-Regime Fascista, (Padua: Il cavallo alato, 1988), p. 26. Furthermore, René Guénon, Le règne de la quantité et les signes des temps, pp. 53–58. René Guénon, La crise du monde moderne (Paris: Gallimard, 1995), pp. 68–112.

[13] We have no knowledge of anyone among the representatives of the spiritual current that would have belonged to the left wing. The “anarchism” of John Gustaf Agélii (Ivan Aguéli) was a unique case, Henri Hartung had a positive attitude to Evola, and Tage Lindbom amended his early leftist attitude in no less than four volumes. Evola was the one who systematically expressed the political application of internal traditional spirituality, but the other outstanding representatives of the current also showed countless characteristics of a rightist attitude in the classical and traditional sense. See, e.g., Henri Hartung, “Rencontres Romaines au milieu des ruines,” L’Age d’Or (Puiseaux), No. 4 (1985), pp. 26–38; Tage Lindbom, Omprövning (Borås: Norma, 1983); Tage Lindbom, Roosevelt och det andra världskriget (Borås: Norma, 1985); Tage Lindbom, Fallet Tyskland (Borås: Norma, 1988); Tage Lindbom, The Myth of Democracy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996); Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, “The Bugbear of Democracy, Freedom and Equality,” in his The Bugbear of Literacy, (Bedfont: Perennial Books, 1979), pp. 125–150; Titus Burckhardt, “A konzervatív ember,” Arkhé (Budapest), No. 1 (1996), pp. 27–33; Marco Pallis, “Do Clothes Make the Man?” in his The Way and the Mountain (London: Peter Owen, 1991), pp. 141–159; Martin Lings, “The Political Extreme,” in his The Eleventh Hour: The Spiritual Crisis of the Modern World in the Light of Tradition and Prophecy (Cambridge: Quinta Essentia, 1987), pp. 45–59.

Under the influence of Alexander Dugin on one side, certain Islamic movements on another, and various representatives from the USA on a third, today many people are unfortunately toying with leftism, although—to our knowledge—none of them may be called a leftist.

Evola, besides his partial cooperation with German National Socialism and Italian Fascism, can be considered the most important twentieth-century theoretician of the right-wing attitude in the classical, traditional, and European sense.

[14] First edition: Il Fascismo: Saggio di una analisi critica dal punto di vista della Destra (Rome: Volpe, 1964). Second and third editions: Il Fascismo visto dalla Destra. Note sul Terzo Reich (Rome: Volpe, 1970; 1974). And most recently: Fascismo e Terzo Reich (Rome: Edizioni Mediterranee, 2001).

[15] Sedgwick puts too much emphasis on politics, even more than on psychology or sociology, although he noticeably disguises it. It is as if the whole book were centred around Alexander Dugin. Might it be possible that the author suffers from a well-developed anti-modernist and Eastern-European phobia? (Cf. note 4 to this essay.) Not incidentally we would remark that Dugin’s political activity can be seen as modern in many respects. (Cf. note 13 in this essay.)

[16] Al-’Arabī ad-Darqawī, “Letter 14” [At-Tarjumāna] (English translation by Titus Burckhardt).

[17] After this parallel the author ineffectually adds that “these reports must be treated with extreme caution” (p. 305).

[18] He gave a lecture on Islam for a Danish elite commando group. See (07. 08. 2005)

[19] Mark Koslow, the later denouncer of Schuon, for instance, was obviously motivated by jealousy (cf. pp. 174–175). We cannot use even such an important historical source uncritically as the Document confidentiel inédit by Marcel Clavelle (Jean Reyor).

[20] Matthew 12:36 (The Gideons International, Tennessee).

[21] See, (2006. 05. 24.)

[22] (2006. 05. 24.)

Book Review


by Mark Sedgwick

(Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-19-515297-2)

Review by Michael Fitzgerald

Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, web edition 2009 © World Wisdom, Inc.

Editor's note: The following was originally published in
Sacred Web (Volume 13, 2004), and is reprinted here
with the permission of the author.


The following quotation, taken from the book’s advertising story lines, summarizes the ambitious scope of the author’s thesis:

Against the Modern World is the first history of Traditionalism, an influential yet surprisingly little-known twentieth century anti-modernist movement. Involving a number of important, yet often secret, religious groups in the West and Islamic world, it affected mainstream and radical politics in Europe and religious studies in the United States.…It found its voice in René Guénon, a French writer who rejected modernity as a dark age, and sought to reconstruct the Perennial Philosophy—the central religious truths behind all the major world religions—largely on the basis of his reading of Hindu religious texts. Mark Sedgwick reveals how this pervasive intellectual movement helped shape major events in twentieth century religious life, politics and scholarship—all the while remaining invisible to outsiders. 

A number of disenchanted intellectuals responded to Guénon’s call with attempts to put theory into practice. Some attempted without success to guide Fascism and Nazism along Traditionalist lines; others later participated in political terror in Italy. Traditionalism finally provided the ideological cement for the alliance of anti-democratic forces in post-Soviet Russia, and at the end of the twentieth century began to enter the debate in the Islamic world about the desirable relationship between Islam and modernity.

Despite these advertising claims, anyone interested in understanding the basis of Traditionalism must look elsewhere,[1] because the book does not explore the actual writings or thought of any Traditionalist author in detail. The book purports to be a scholarly document, but it fails on several counts to meet the criteria of such a work. This review will examine the following notable flaws: 1. The author created advertising story lines for the book that are overly sensationalized, thus distorting the facts. 2. The author has an undisclosed personal history with Traditionalism that may have created a bias in his point of view. 3. Several of the author’s generalizations and unilateral assertions about Islam demonstrate a narrow and intolerant interpretation that is characteristic of fundamentalist Islamic movements. 4. The author coins terms without adequately defining what he means by them, while ignoring established definitions.  5. The author makes connections between people, ideas and events that are superficial, misleading and contrary to existing scholarship. 6. The author inappropriately stretches the definition of a Traditionalist in unprecedented and inappropriate ways, while inaccurately narrowing the current understanding of Traditionalist philosophy. 7. The author’s research ignores existing scholarship that is contrary to his conclusions, and his methods encourage unsubstantiated allegations from informants who appear to harbor hostility toward Traditionalism. 

It is by Dr. Sedgwick’s own admission that some of the summary story lines for this book are “highly colored wrapping paper”:

I’ll be honest: one has to dress things up slightly for the summary, to make things a bit more dramatic and clearer than they actually are, to engage the general reader who knows nothing at all of the subject. Regard that as the highly colored wrapping paper around a more sober product.…The summary story lines are more highly colored than the book.[2]   

This was the author’s comment to me after I had observed that the advertising story lines for his book—posted on his Internet site—were overly sensationalized and thus distorted some important facts. But first, some background about my interaction with the author: I contacted Dr. Sedgwick in January 2003, after the promotional descriptions and summaries for this book[3] were brought to my attention. I concluded that the manuscript for Against the Modern World likely contained significant errors, and therefore wished to provide Dr. Sedgwick with additional information so that he could at least make a more balanced presentation of certain issues. After a series of correspondence, Dr. Sedgwick granted the request for me and two other Traditionalist authors to read and comment upon three chapters of Against the Modern World. The review process provided various insights into Dr. Sedgwick’s research methods, scholarship and motivations, including his admission recorded above. 

Our review of the flaws in the book will demonstrate faulty scholarship, and yet faulty scholarship can explain only some of these errors. It is, for instance, helpful to know that Dr. Sedgwick is a somewhat recent convert to Islam who became a disillusioned Sufi aspirant and then turned to a prominent Traditionalist for spiritual advice. A review of correspondence with Dr. Sedgwick will allow each reader to determine if the author has a personal and undisclosed bias against Traditionalism.

When Dr. Sedgwick was asked if he might have a personal prejudice against Traditionalist authors as a result of his request for personal spiritual advice from Dr. Martin Lings, an important Traditionalist, he responded: 

I have no memory of Dr. Lings ever giving me any advice—in fact, so far as I can remember (this was some years ago) most of the discussion was about architecture. Further, I am not and have never been attached to any tariqa.[4] So your surmise that perhaps I had “a personal prejudice or hostility . . . as the result of [my] various experiences” is wrong. . . .[5]

However, an individual with direct knowledge of Dr. Sedgwick’s contact with Dr. Lings provided the following contrasting recollection:

This was maybe January 1990. I knew Mark Sedgwick as Abd al-Azim.…Abd al-Azim was attached to the Nakhshabandiyya tariqa in Cairo and intended to receive an initiation into that tariqa . . . when he went to visit their Shaykh [spiritual guide] in Cyprus. Apparently when he met his Shaykh—I imagine this must be Shaykh Nazim al-Qubrusi—he had felt uncomfortable, as he did not share in the loving and devotional attitude of the other fuqara [spiritual aspirants] he saw around him. Feeling he had done the wrong thing . . . Abd al-Azim was able to obtain a meeting with [Dr. Lings] to ask what would be the correct thing to do under such circumstances. . . .

[Sedgwick’s] question went something like this: “I have been to Cyprus to see my Shaykh and I do not feel that I love him like the other fuqara. . . .” [Dr. Lings] interrupted him with I think the words, “But you must love your Shaykh”. This brought the entire interview, which we had anticipated might last for 30 to 40 minutes, to a close. . . .

I was amazed to read what Sedgwick had written to you regarding his first meeting with [Dr. Lings]. I think he is being deliberately misleading.…

This first recollection was then sent to another person who was also present at the meeting between Dr. Sedgwick and Dr. Lings, resulting in this comment:

[The first recollection] has summed up the meeting . . . vividly and accurately.…I think Sedgwick was disappointed with [Dr. Lings’] remark that one must love one’s Shaykh; not because he necessarily thought it untrue, but because he may have feared that he was temperamentally unsuited to following a spiritual path. My recollection of further discussions with him, until I lost touch with him around 1993, was that he badly wanted to find a spiritual path but felt unable to follow one. I gained the impression, but this is only an impression, that this caused him some sadness and engendered some bitterness in his approach. 

After both recollections were presented to Dr. Sedgwick, he responded: “I must congratulate you on your research into my first meeting with Dr. Lings, but that really alters nothing. On reading [the] accounts, I did indeed remember asking the question and receiving the answer that are [sic] reported by them.…It was hardly of much significance to me.”[6] Why did Dr. Sedgwick provide false information about the fact that he sought spiritual advice from a leading Traditionalist? Part of the answer may be that Dr. Sedgwick repeatedly accuses many Traditionalists of an excess of devotion to their spiritual guides, which is the exact quality he apparently lacked and that disqualified him as a Sufi aspirant. Is there an ax to grind? The denigrating tone that pervades Dr. Sedgwick’s “study” of Traditionalists is a strong indication that this may indeed be the case. Dr. Sedgwick’s action demonstrates an ironic double standard: a recurring accusation in Against the Modern World is that certain Traditionalist authors are guilty of inappropriate secrecy because of the fact that they have not disclosed every aspect of their personal spiritual lives; yet Dr. Sedgwick himself feels no need to disclose the details of his spiritual quest as it relates to Traditionalism.[7] 

In various ways Dr. Sedgwick’s analysis demonstrates the kind of zeal seen in recent converts to Islam, who often adopt some of the narrow and intolerant interpretations that are consistent with various fundamentalist Islamic groups. For example, Dr. Sedgwick spends parts of three chapters exploring whether it is permissible for a Sufi Shaykh to grant various dispensations to disciples living in the Western world so that they are not obliged to follow all of the requirements of Islamic formality while living in a non-Islamic culture. In his discussion he fails to mention that the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence disagree on many interpretations of required formalities, and that there is a significant ongoing debate among Muslims living in the West on exactly this issue. The author repeatedly asserts that it is almost never permissible to omit any formality of the religion. To justify this opinion he then presents what he says is “the well-known story of the shaykh traveling through the desert with his exhausted followers during Ramadan [the month of fasting]. Suddenly, an oasis with a cool, clear pool and date-palms laden with ripe dates appears from nowhere. ‘Help yourselves!’ says the voice of God. . . .” But the Shaykh recognizes that this is in reality the voice of Satan “‘because I know that God never releases anybody from observing the Sharia [Islamic law]’.”[8] During this ongoing discussion he repeatedly disparages the practice of the dhikr—remembrance of God (“prayer of the heart”) as part of a spiritual method.[9] These and many of Dr. Sedgwick’s other opinions, all of which are presented as based on some single absolute Islamic authority, ignore numerous Koranic injunctions, ahadith, Islamic jurisprudence and the commentary of Sufis throughout history to the contrary.[10] And if Dr. Sedgwick is correct that it is never permissible to omit any formality of Islam, including during Ramadan, then a discernable percentage of the world’s Muslims, especially those Muslims working in the West, are necessarily excluded from ever attaining the degree of orthodoxy that Dr. Sedgwick seems to hold as an absolute standard. To speak categorically in the name of Islam on such matters demonstrates a presumption that may in part be explained not only by his somewhat recent conversion to Islam, but also by his apparent attempts to follow a Sufi spiritual path.

Against the Modern World presents a new conceptual framework for understanding Traditionalism that is a significant departure from existing understandings. To evaluate this new conceptual framework it is important to understand some of the author’s new definitions of existing terms and his newly coined terminology.[11] He starts by defining the Perennial Philosophy as “. . . ‘primal truth’ [which] is more commonly known as the Perennial Philosophy, and belief in the existence of the Perennial Philosophy—a belief I will call ‘Perennialism’—is one of the three central elements in the Traditionalist philosophy Guénon developed.” The book goes on to selectively identify two additional concepts from Guénon’s writings, namely “inversion” and “initiation”,[12] which the author asserts are the missing central elements that must be added to constitute Traditionalist philosophy (at least, according to his own definition). Readers already familiar with Guénon’s writings will recognize that this new definition of Traditionalist philosophy selects two terms from Guénon’s writings out of context, while ignoring many other important elements of Guénon’s thought, thus distorting Guénon’s point of view. This new definition of Traditionalist philosophy differs from the definitions in common use in at least two ways. It overemphasizes the importance of certain ideas found in Guénon and it ignores the contributions of other acknowledged founders of the Perennialist School, which though being based on the doctrinal principles that Guénon identified, went much further in forming a fully developed school of thought.[13]

The book states, “The Traditionalist movement has no formal structure, and since the late 1940s has had no central command. It is made up of a number of groups and individuals, united by their common debt to the work of René Guénon.” He defines a Traditionalist as a “person forming part of the movement deriving from René Guénon, or of a movement deriving from that movement [emphasis added].”[14] The author’s definition of a Traditionalist allows him to create a “List of Main Characters” at the beginning of the book that lists “The Seven Most Important Traditionalists”.[15] Many readers will be very surprised to see the names of Julius Evola, Mircea Eliade and Alexander Dugin on this list, because many aspects of each of their writings deviate significantly from the other men’s writings and from the central ideas of the Perennialist School. This is undoubtedly the first time that these three names have been included in a list of the seven most important Traditionalists. The author’s definition of Traditionalism therefore includes not only the Perennialist School, but also three identifiably different points of view under the same umbrella. It therefore becomes, as any moderately discerning reader can tell, hardly possible to identify shared ideas among these so-called “Traditionalists” or to relate the ideas of many of these “Traditionalists” back to the three concepts the author uses to define Traditionalist philosophy.[16] Perhaps the confusion in the minds of our readers will be clarified when we apply the author’s ambitious schema to another of his newly coined definitions: political Traditionalism.

A substantial part of Against the Modern World is devoted to the newly coined concept of “political Traditionalism”, which includes the alleged political actions of men influenced to some extent by Guénon. However, the author acknowledges that Guénon’s writings led to “spiritual activity” and that none of these political actions can be traced directly to Guénon. In the first of several discussions about different “political Traditionalists”, Dr. Sedgwick acknowledges that Evola “made the most dramatic modifications to Guénonian Traditionalism, which was essentially apolitical.” Dr. Sedgwick also acknowledges that Evola is typically not associated with Guénon because of his divergence from Guénon’s point of view.[17] In this section of the book Dr. Sedgwick frequently summarizes Guénon’s point of view as “anti-modernist”, but without sufficiently exploring either what characterizes “modernity” for Guénon or other Traditionalist philosophers or why and in what ways they may disagree with it.[18] Nowhere does the book mention that many Perennialists actively resisted both Fascism and Nazism during World War II,[19] that Guénon strongly disapproved of Fascism and Nazism and that Evola was an outspoken critic of both Fascism and Nazism.[20]  

The chapter of the book entitled, “Neo-Eurasianism in Russia,” is devoted to Alexander Dugin and Russian politics. In this section the author acknowledges that Dugin’s point of view is based upon Evola’s writings, but with several significant departures from Evola. The book states “Dugin’s second modification of [Evola’s interpretation of] Traditionalism was to combine it with a doctrine known as Geopolitics or Eurasianism.”[21] The book then elaborates: “Dugin’s Neo-Eurasianism is not specifically or overtly Traditionalist.…The word ‘tradition’ does not appear in the glossary of [his books], for example, and no Traditionalist or other philosophical authors are in the extracts from classic texts included in [Dugin’s] book.” Dr. Sedgwick goes on to note that after 2000, Dugin’s “main focus shifted to what he called ‘radical centrism’” and that the other key person in this movement “was not a Traditionalist”. Dr. Sedgwick may be correct when he says that “Traditionalist influences can easily be identified [in Dugin’s point of view] by the informed reader”; however, perhaps that is the most that should be said when attempting to connect Dugin to Guénon.

The book’s new definition of a Traditionalist as a “follower of Guénon in one sense or another, or a follower of such a follower” allows the author to trace Dugin back to Evola, and then Evola back to Guénon. The author therefore paints Traditionalism in political terms, as the advertising story lines for the book assert in connecting Traditionalism with “Fascism, Nazism and anti-democratic forces in post-Soviet Russia”. However, as we have seen, this connection is contrary to most existing scholarship and to many of the author’s own admissions. This connection is even more strained because Dr. Sedgwick acknowledges that central elements of Evola’s writings are “recognizably a variation on the established Traditionalist philosophy” and that Dugin is even further away from Guénon’s perspective than Evola. Using similar unsubstantiated and tenuous logic, it would be possible to connect most political events of the last century to any number of philosophers.[22] Dr. Sedgwick is the first author to link Traditionalism to these political movements and to coin the term “political Traditionalism”.[23] Let us hope that he is also the last to do so, since this alleged link to Traditionalism is sufficiently irrelevant to, and incompatible with, the common core principles identified with this school of thought that it does not merit further discussion.

The discussion of political Traditionalism highlights the confusion that results from the different ways that Dr. Sedgwick uses variations on the word “tradition”. First, the author is not consistent in the way he uses his newly coined terminology and he often fails to provide sufficient definition.[24] For example, he says, “the ‘tradition’ to which ‘Traditionalism’ refers is, in essence, the perennial religion.” The use of these terms among established Traditionalist authors appears to be substantially different from Dr. Sedgwick’s new definitions. The book also coins the terms “Guénonian Traditionalism” and “Traditionalist Perennialism”, without definition. And, as we have seen in the examination of “political Traditionalism”, many of the so-called “Important Traditionalists” do not subscribe to elements in the book’s definition of Traditionalist philosophy. To say the least then, the line of “political Traditionalists” that leads to Dugin bears no resemblance to the Perennialist School; the author’s definition of Traditionalism is thus so expansive as to include entire movements that do not agree on central ideas. This reviewer concludes that Dr. Sedgwick has attempted to stretch the definition of a Traditionalist in unprecedented and inappropriate ways, [25] while inaccurately narrowing the correct definition of Traditionalist philosophy. Such flaws in the conceptual framework of Dr. Sedgwick’s scholarship cause it to fail by any measure.

The author’s writing style is engaging, but in large part this is because it is written from an “omniscient” point of view that presents only those facts that support his conclusions. The aspirations of true scholarship towards balance, accuracy of factual data, and objectivity are sacrificed to other, more “entertaining” goals. In addition, the author presents his opinions in absolute terms, without even considering the need either for verification or a discussion of alternative interpretations.[26] Readers, however, will be inclined to question the author’s impartiality when many of his generalizations and observations go beyond the selectively chosen facts and allegations in the book.[27]

A large portion of Against the Modern World focuses on conflict among Guénon and several inheritors of his intellectual legacy insofar as these inheritors allegedly challenge Guénon, and then each other, for supremacy within the Traditionalist movement. The book portrays a series of disagreements—apparent schisms—that result in a splintering into distinct groups, and then into distinct sub-groups, all of which apparently disagree with the others. The author summarily disregards their shared beliefs and instead accentuates only their alleged disagreements, all against the background of a list of supposed character flaws of almost every person profiled in the book.  At one point Dr. Sedgwick identifies the primary source of what is described as a substantial break between Guénon and one of his followers,[28] but in the absence of information about the underlying issues, the reader is left to wonder why this and other differences seem so insurmountable? Because there are almost no references to, or analysis of, the writings or opinions of prominent Traditionalist authors, the uninformed reader is also left to wonder whether key Traditionalists would agree with the book’s assertions. Readers already familiar with Traditionalism will have different questions because they will recognize that the author’s opinions are contrary to the writings of leading Perennialists. The book therefore has many attributes not of a scholarly research work but of a historical novel because of its focus on conflict in personal relationships, its shallow and often confusing presentation of underlying concepts and its failure to present any substantive analysis.  

Given that the author does not present information or interpretations contradicting or even contrasting with his conclusions, it is important to examine the author’s research methods and motivations prior to the time that I contacted him. The few conversations the author did have with Perennialist authors were early on in his research and of a superficial nature, and they did not include discussion of any of the controversial allegations raised later by the author in this book. Dr. Sedgwick did not attempt to contact the great majority of Perennialist authors, even though their identity is listed on the author’s Internet site. Instead, the author actively contacted a couple of handfuls of informants, many of whom openly acknowledge their personal animosity toward one or another Perennialist writer, and he ignored the fact that most of these informants had little contact with important Perennialists. Dr. Sedgwick cloaks many of the informants who provided hostile allegations in anonymity,[29] encouraging unsubstantiated accusations on their part, while preventing his readers from an examination of the motives and credibility of these sources. The author failed to consult previously published articles in journals known to promote a discussion of Traditionalism and modernity, such as Sacred Web and Sophia, even though these journals are listed on the author’s Internet site. As a result, Dr. Sedgwick presents a number of allegations from informants—who appear to be hostile toward Traditionalism in general—as indisputable facts, when ample information to refute virtually all of these allegations has already been discussed in detail in previously published materials.[30] These allegations are followed by the author’s own conclusions, including carefully worded assertions that Guénon and some of his intellectual inheritors suffer from mental illness.[31] Since an abundance of previously published material is available to refute most of these false accusations, I will merely observe that part of the reason Dr. Sedgwick raises the allegations of inappropriate secrecy against many Perennialist authors is due to the fact that he has not read many of the published writings on the subject;[32] thus, he erroneously concludes that Traditionalism is a secret to everyone.[33]

In correspondence with Dr. Sedgwick during the review of the manuscript, he acknowledged that he had not read the great majority of the previously published articles and books about Traditionalism cited in this review, many of which contained information contrary to his allegations and conclusions. During February 2003 many deficiencies in the manuscript were identified and an abundance of written material and citations were brought to Dr. Sedgwick’s attention. Initially, Dr. Sedgwick adamantly refused to postpone his impending deadline for submitting the final manuscript to the publisher in order to meet the originally scheduled publication date of September 2003. A collegial process turned into a contentious process when it became evident that he did not willingly intend to take the time to acquire an informed knowledge of Traditionalism before publishing his book.[34] The publication date was eventually postponed for nine months, but the changes the author made did not correct the problems that have already been noted. Nor does the author disclose a great deal of information that directly contradicts or tends to undermine his allegations and conclusions. For example, Dr. Sedgwick was provided with extensive and irrefutable documentation, including newspaper articles and court records, which demonstrate that two of his informants are not authoritative sources because they both have intense personal animosity towards members of the Perennialist School; they both have extensive court records that include being judged in “contempt of court” multiple times; one has a criminal record that resulted in psychological counseling; and the other is an adjudicated fraud and perjurer.[35] Dr. Sedgwick’s response was: “for a historian, there is really no such thing as ‘an authoritative source’.”[36] Unfortunately readers who rely on this book to draw conclusions about Traditionalism are not aware of this background information, since the author never mentions it.

At this point, it is worth repeating certain observations. Dr. Sedgwick’s commentary demonstrates that he has a flawed understanding of Traditionalism and the world’s religions, including a narrow and intolerant interpretation of Islam. The author has systematically contacted every detractor of the Perennialist School and then encouraged far-fetched allegations by relying upon adjudged frauds and liars and granting anonymity to hostile informants. Further, Dr. Sedgwick systematically failed to contact known Perennialists to hear their response to these allegations and also blatantly disregarded and failed to disclose verifiable information that conflicted with his allegations and undermined his conclusions. He provided false information about his negative personal experience with key Perennialists, and when forced to acknowledge his false statements he denied that either his falsehoods or his undisclosed possible personal prejudice are relevant. How did this happen? Perhaps to some degree the author was blinded by an excess of two personal ambitions: first, he wanted to plow a new ground of scholarship by creating an elaborate schema to define a multi-dimensional philosophy in an unprecedented way; second, he wanted to justify his own rejection of a spiritual path in which many Traditionalists have found a “home”. His excessive ambition may have blinded him to the consequences of poor scholarship. The result is a thinly disguised attack on Traditionalism that can best be characterized as historical fiction or popular journalism, rather than a serious work of academic importance. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Traditionalist ideas, one cannot help being left with the view that Mr. Sedgwick’s book is a highly irresponsible, biased and inaccurate reading of what Jacob Needleman called “some of the most serious thinking of the twentieth century”.[37]


[1] These and the other citations in this review demonstrate that Against the Modern World is not the “first history of Traditionalism”. Traditionalism: Religion in the Light of the Perennial Philosophy by Harry Oldmeadow (Sri Lanka Institute of Traditional Studies, 2000); Jean Borella’s essay entitled, “Rene Guénon and the Traditionalist School” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality (Crossroad, l992), edited by Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman; The Only Tradition by William W. Quinn Jr. (SUNY, 1997); Forgotten Truth: The Primordial Tradition by Huston Smith (Harper, 1976); Journeys East: 20th Century Western Encounters with Eastern Religious Traditions by Harry Oldmeadow (World Wisdom, 2004). World Wisdom’s “Library of Perennial Philosophy”, together with explanatory materials, can be reviewed at

[2] E-mail from Mark Sedgwick dated January 23, 2003.

[3] The description was posted on the author’s Internet site:

[4] Sufism is Islamic mysticism and a tariqa is one of many Sufi orders that provide guidance to spiritual seekers following a Sufi path.

[5] E-mail from Mark Sedgwick dated January 23, 2003.

[6] E-mail from Mark Sedgwick dated February 19, 2003.

[7] Anyone reading the published material cited in this review should be able to draw their own conclusions on this issue regarding those authors and the details of their private lives.

[8] Dr. Sedgwick has justified his opinion with an illustration that is contrary to the Prophet Muhammad’s practice not to fast while traveling during Ramadan. It is predominantly the more fundamentalist Muslims who ignore the recommended simplifications of rites and instead burden themselves with unnecessary hardships. The author’s illustration is therefore of almost entirely fundamentalist origin because it involves travelers during Ramadan who take on unnecessary hardship as a type of penance.

[9] The practice of dhikrprayer of the heartis the heart of Sufism. This is only one example of many of Dr. Sedgwick’s remarks that denigrate Sufism, a position that is also consistent with almost all Islamic fundamentalist groups. 

[10] For instance, the author fails to mention the hadith that “He who omits one-tenth of the law now (at the time of the prophet Muhammad) will be damned, while he who accomplishes one-tenth of the law at the end of time will be saved.” The Koranic Sura 29, verse 45, illustrates the importance of the remembrance of God: “Ritual prayer preserves from indecency and grave sin, but the remembrance of God (dhikr Allah) is greater.” 

[11]  To offer readers a point of contrast, we offer the following abbreviated definitions of selected terms that are consistent with the general understanding and usage of those terms among today’s leading Traditionalist writers. A “perennialist” subscribes to the idea that there is a transcendent Unity of religion from which emanates the timeless Truth underlying the diverse religions, this Truth often being referred to as the Sophia Perennis, Religio Perennis or Philosophia Perennis (Perennial Wisdom, Perennial Religion or Perennial Philosophy respectively). A “traditionalist” subscribes to the proposition that the spiritual tradition of each religion, including the writings of their great sages and their artistic creations, is an indispensable support for the perpetuation of the perennial Truth within each religion. The timeless wisdom of the Perennial Philosophy provides the intellectual principles capable of explaining both the formal contradictions between the religions and the transcendent Unity that is the source of the great religions.

The Perennialist School arose in the beginning of the twentieth century and focused on the enunciation and explanation of the Perennial Philosophy. Deeply rooted in the sense of the sacred, the writings of its leading exponents establish an indispensable foundation for understanding the timeless Truth and spiritual practices which live in the heart of all religions. It is generally recognized that the three central writers in the Perennialist School are René Guénon, Ananda Coomaraswamy and Frithjof Schuon, and that Guenon’s writings alone do not sufficiently represent this philosophy. When used by writers associated with the Perennialist School, the capitalized terms “Perennialist” and “Traditionalist” are interwoven and are often used interchangeably because they both indicate a person who endorses the majority of the central principles of that school of thought, although one has to take into account that there will be inevitable differences. 

[12] Dr. Sedgwick states, “. . . ‘inversion’ is seen as an all-pervasive characteristic of modernity. While all that really matters is in fact in decline, people foolishly suppose that they see progress.” Later he says, “initiation, which is the third major element in the Traditionalist Philosophy . . . has two aspects, which can be described as exoteric and esoteric.”

[13] The author states, “[Seyyed Hossein] Nasr had convinced me [that this philosophy] should be called not Guénonianism but Traditionalism.” However, one finally has to conclude that the author has misunderstood Dr. Nasr’s comments because Dr. Nasr has written extensively about the definition of Traditionalist philosophy and Traditionalism, and his definitions and explanations do not correspond to Dr. Sedgwick’s revised definitions. It is probable that Dr. Nasr’s comment was meant to insist that Guenon’s writings alone do not constitute an integral shared philosophy, which must include the work of the other central writers of this school. Therefore Dr. Nasr insists that the definition focus on underlying concepts and not on any one individual. For a more extensive explanation, see Dr. Nasr’s chapter, “What is Tradition?” in his Knowledge and the Sacred (SUNY, l989).  

[14] In an e-mail from Mark Sedgwick dated January 23, 2003, he explained that a Traditionalist is a “follower of Guénon in one sense or another, or a follower of such a follower.”

[15] The seven are (by date of birth): Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy, René Guénon, Baron Julius Evola, Dr. Mircea Eliade, Frithjof Schuon, Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Alexander Dugin. The writings of Guénon, Coomaraswamy, Schuon and Nasr contain many shared principles and all four are important writers in the Perennialist School.

[16] For purposes of discussion we will assume that Dr. Sedgwick’s understanding of both inversion and initiation are central to Guénon’s thought, and thus, by definition, that they must be included in the Perennialist School. Mircea Eliade’s writings are not concerned either with initiation or inversion. Neither of these two concepts is an important part of Evola’s or Dugin’s writings, although both are critical of various aspects of modernity.

[17] The author admits that, “I found already a scholarly literature on [Baron Julius] Evola, but nowhere were Guénon or religion mentioned. . . . Not all readers of Guénon would discover Evola. . . . Evolian Traditionalism pointed toward the political right, separating it definitively from Guénonian Traditionalism.”

[18] The author says: “Evola’s analysis of modernity is recognizably a variation on the established Traditionalist philosophy,” but he fails to elaborate in sufficient detail.

[19] For example, Frithjof Schuon was a soldier in the French Army who fought against the Nazis, was captured, escaped from a Nazi prison camp and fled into Switzerland.

[20] Dr. Sedgwick does not cite the book entitled, Man Among the Ruins (Inner Traditions, 2002), a compilation of Evola’s writings that contains a well-researched essay by H.T. Hanson on Evola’s thought.  In this essay Hanson analyzes the complex figure of Evola and shows that he was a fearless critic of the Fascist regime, asserting the existence of an intellectual elite based upon spiritual and intellectual principles and rejecting the biological racism of the Nazis. 

[21] “Neo-Eurasianism” is Dugin’s term to describe his political point of view.

[22] Regardless of one’s opinion of the traditional principles underlying the Hindu caste system, a parallel application of Dr. Sedgwick’s logic could trace the biological racism of the Nazis to Hinduism, an equally improper link.

[23] “Political Traditionalism” is a non sequitur because it is inconsistent with the apolitical nature of Traditionalism, which is focused on a study of the underlying spiritual truths and practices that live at the heart of each religion. The fact that Dr. Sedgwick has coined such a term indicates that he does not understand the foundational principles of Traditionalist thought and that the ambitious scope of his elaborate schema is intrinsically flawed.

[24] The book rarely mentions or defines key Traditionalist terms, such as the “transcendent unity of religions”, which are common in Traditionalist writings and could help to define this point of view.

[25] Given that the combination of Dr. Sedgwick’s new definition and inconsistent use of the word “Traditionalist” is confusing, and because the label “traditionalist” is also applied in many other circumstances, the term “Perennialist” will be substituted for Traditionalist in the remainder of this review. For example, Dr. Sedgwick correctly points out that “a ‘traditionalist’ may be no more than a conservative . . . who hankers after the customs of his or her youth. A ‘traditionalist’ may also be someone who prefers a specific established practice over something that has replaced it, as in the case of Marcel Lefebvre, the Catholic archbishop who rejected the conclusions of the Second Vatican council . . . commonly described as ‘Catholic traditionalists’.”

[26] For example, he says, “an apocalyptic view of things became one of the most important elements of Traditionalism”, without being able to cite any important Traditionalist author or writing to verify this opinion. If Guénon and other Perennialists were such pessimists, why would they take so much trouble to emphasize the need for prayer and to try to point readers back to their respective religious traditions? This is another example of the author’s uniformly critical and exaggerated observations of Traditionalism.

[27] In the Prologue the author states: “mere Fascism had always been far too tame for Evola. . . . Evola was to Mussolini as Trotski was to Stalin—but who has heard of him?” Such generalizations seem exaggerated when Dr. Sedgwick’s later chapters disclose a selection of Evola’s many criticisms of Fascism, including the fact that Evola edited a newspaper column entitled “Spiritual Problems in Fascist Ethics”.

[28] There are multiple references to a disagreement over the validity of Christian sacraments, but there is no discussion about the substance of the disagreement or the practical implications to Christians. 

[29] In the book he refers to his anonymous informants by numbers.

[30] As just one example, Dr. Sedgwick’s allegations against Frithjof Schuon are discussed in detail in “Frithjof Schuon: Providence Without Paradox”, Sacred Web 8 (2001). Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings, by Jean-Baptiste Aymard and Patrick Laude (SUNY, 2004) contains several English translations of material that has previously only been available in French.

[31] Dr. Sedgwick is able to make such accusations with relative impunity because our laws do not protect the dead against libelous and defamatory comments.

[32]  Those writings include: The Essential Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, edited by Rama Coomaraswamy (World Wisdom, 2004); Dossier H: René Guénon (L’Age d’Homme, 1984); Dossier H: Frithjof Schuon, edited by Jean-Baptiste Aymard and Patrick Laude (L’Age d’Homme, 2001); Fragments of Infinity: Essays in Religion and Philosophy: A Festschrift in Honor of Professor Huston Smith, edited by Arvind Sharma (Prism, 1991); and The Philosophy of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, edited by Lewis E. Hahn, Randall E. Auxier and Lucian W. Stone (Open Court, 2001), which is a volume in the Library of Living Philosophers series. 

[33] The appearance of secrecy is partially explained by the author’s admission in the first chapter that “Guénon’s proposed elite did not need to be . . . secret, since its activities, ‘by their very nature, remain invisible to the commonality, not because they are hidden from it, but because it is incapable of understanding them.’”

[34] Readers should be aware of the contentious history between this reviewer and the author.

[35] The author mentions two “allegations” of misconduct raised by Perennialists, but does not identify the many actual legal judgments against these two informants, including an assessment of punitive damages based on fraud.

[36] E-mail from Mark Sedgwick dated January 19, 2003.

[37] Cited from Needleman’s Introduction to The Sword of Gnosis (Penguin, 1974). This book is also an authoritative source of information about Traditionalism.

Book Review


by Mark Sedgwick

(Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-19-515297-2)

A Review Essay by Wilson Eliot Poindexter

Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, web edition 2009 © World Wisdom, Inc.

Editor's note: The following was originally published in
Sophia (Volume 11, No. 1, Summer 2005)

Réné Guénon, Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, Frithjof Schuon, Titus Burckhardt and other writers associated with the Traditional school represent an important yet understudied dimension of 20th century intellectual history.   Many studies of Guénon have been published in French and secondary literature on Frithjof Schuon has been on the rise over the last five years.  Nonetheless, a critical academic treatment of the Traditional school and the Perennial Philosophy so closely intertwined with it is still lacking, especially in the English-speaking world.  Against the Modern World would thus appear to be an essential contribution, helping to fill this academic lacuna.  But it is in fact a step in the wrong direction, serving more to obfuscate than to clarify.

What is Tradition?

The author does not grasp the core elements of Tradition and never provides a satisfactory definition.   In his one attempt to define Tradition, he writes:

The word “tradition” derives from the Latin verb tradere, to hand over or to hand down, and in an etymological sense a tradition is “a statement, belief or practice transmitted (especially orally) from generation to generation.”[1]  The Traditionalist movement with which this book deals takes “tradition” primarily in this sense, as belief and practice transmitted from time immemorial—or rather belief and practice that should have been transmitted but was lost to the West during the last half of the second millennium A.D. (22)

This definition fails to recognize that “Tradition represents doctrines about first principles, which do not change.” (Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Correspondence, 1946)[2]  Being based upon “first principles”, all Traditions referred to by Guénon, Coomaraswamy and others are of a religious nature, and the sine qua non of Tradition is that it be firmly rooted in divine revelation. Perhaps the best definition of Tradition is that provided by S. H. Nasr in Knowledge and the Sacred, the most “academic” presentation of Traditional teachings:

Tradition as used in its technical sense in this work, as in all our other writings, means truths or principles of a divine origin revealed or unveiled to mankind and, in fact, a whole cosmic sector through various figures envisaged as messengers, prophets, avataras, the Logos or other transmitting agencies, along with all the ramifications and applications of these principles in different realms including law and social structure, art symbolism, the sciences, and embracing of course Supreme Knowledge along with the means for its attainment.[3]

 Thus Tradition is always used with a view to the meta-historical transcendent Truth that is believed to be at the heart of all religions.  Indeed, this metaphysical aspect of Tradition is its central and defining element.  As Réné Guénon writes: 

...there is nothing and can be nothing truly traditional that does not contain some element of a super-human order.  This indeed is the essential point, containing as it were the very definition of tradition and all that appertains to it.[4]

There may be many definitions of “Tradition”, but the author does not accurately represent the definition employed by those he proposes to study.  As a result he is never able to grasp the central technical terms of their discourse, and those terms he does employ are poorly defined.

This lack of clarity is of great importance for the use of the term “traditionalist”.  Although “traditionalist” and “traditionalism” are now used and accepted by followers of Guénon, he himself applied the term to those who did not yet understand “Tradition”, maintaining that  “traditionalists” are

… people who only have a sort of tendency or aspiration toward tradition without really knowing anything at all about it; this is the measure of the distance dividing the “traditionalist” spirit from the truly traditional spirit, . . . In short, the “traditionalist” is and can be no more than a mere “seeker”, and that is why he is always in danger of going astray, not being in possession of the principles which alone could provide him with infallible guidance . . .”[5]

Thus for Guénon, the ability to understand true principles is what distinguishes a true Traditional scholar from a mere “traditionalist”.  Having missed this critical point, the author is not able to understand the central focus of Guénon’s project—rebuilding tradition by returning to pure transcendent principles.  In turn, he fails to understand that Guénon was opposed to nothing other than the absence of such principles, which for him characterizes modern Western civilization.  As Guénon expresses it: “The modern civilization suffers from a lack of principles, and it suffers from it in every domain; by a monstrous anomaly, it is, alone among all others, a civilization without principles.”[6] 

Guénon maintained that once metaphysical principles are renewed among an intellectual elite, then tradition and religion can be renewed:

Thus a return to tradition and a return to principles are in reality just one and the same thing; but clearly the knowledge of the principles, where it is lost, must first be restored before there can be even a remote thought of applying them.[7]

Guénon did not “clearly dismiss” people not qualified for this elite as the author maintains (27).  Rather, he believed that the reinstitution of principles would provide benefits for all of humanity by allowing every domain of life to be rooted in eternal truths rather than transient fantasies.  As Guénon writes:

The purely intellectual task, which must first of all be fulfilled, is then really the first in every respect, being at the same time the most necessary and the most important, since on it everything depends and from it everything is derived; but when we use this phrase “metaphysical knowledge,” there are very few indeed, among the westerners of to-day, who have even the vaguest suspicion of all that it implies.[8]

Who is a Traditionalist?

Failing to grasp the essential religious and moreover metaphysical nature of the Traditional school, the author portrays it as an anti-modern movement rather than a pro-religious movement.  As a result, he devotes the entire book to peripheral aspects of the Traditionalist movement, never grasping the core teachings.  This approach leads him to confuse Traditional thinkers and non-traditional anti-modernists who exhibit familiarity with Traditional writings.  As a result of this confusion, he expands his definition of Traditionalist to a “person forming part of the movement deriving from René Guénon, or of a movement deriving from that movement.” [emphasis added]  This is so vast as to provide no clarity or precision.  As such, it is not a definition.  The author then commits the error of touting this truncated “definition” of Guénonianism as representative of “Traditionalism” as a whole.

Including all who have contemplated Guénon as Traditionalists, the author devotes an entire chapter (12) to the Neo-Eurasian political movement headed by Alexander Dugin, while there is no analysis of central Traditional figures such as Titus Burchhardt and Martin Lings.  To justify this approach, he invents the label “soft Traditionalist”, meaning “someone for whom Traditionalism was evidently important but not a determining influence, and for whom it had few visible consequences”. (38)  If Alexander Dugin is indeed a “soft-Traditionalist”, as the author states, (230) for whom Traditional writings were not a “determining influence” or “had no visible consequences”, how is it that Dugin is also cited as “a centrally important Traditionalist”? (221)  Movements such as Dugin’s that combine a misunderstanding of Tradition with a political ideology were foreseen and disavowed by Guénon himself as a way of “denaturing the idea of tradition”.[9]

A similar lack of discernment pervades the author’s treatment of other movements and figures treated in this book.  Foremost among them is the renowned Professor of Religious Studies, Mircea Eliade, also labeled a “soft-Traditionalist”.  In comparing Eliade and Guénon, the author writes:

What Eliade called “archaic” religions and Guénon called “tradition” had generally been termed “primitive” religion, a term that carried the evolutionary implication that these religions were somehow incomplete precursors of a more perfect later religion.  (191) 

Guénon, however, applied the term tradition to all religions, including Islam, which was for him the last revealed religion and which he cites as an example of an integrated traditional civilization still founded upon principles.[10]  Islam hardly qualifies as “archaic” in the sense that Eliade employed the term.  While Mircea Eliade may have been searching for the ultimate ur religion, Guénon never engaged in such speculation, always looking to the transcendent, not earthly, origin of religion.

It is well known that Eliade had extensive contact with prominent members of the Traditional school and took their writings very seriously.  Although these authors may have had a central influence in shaping his initial appreciation of non-Western religions, Eliade maintained that, “the sacred is a structure of human consciousness”.[11]  This understanding is clearly distinct from Guénon’s position that the sacred is “of a super-human order”.  As expressed by S. H. Nasr: “That Reality which is immutable and eternal is the Sacred as such, and the manifestation of this Reality in the stream of becoming and the matrix of time is that which possesses the quality of sacredness.”[12]  For Guénon, Coomaraswamy, Schuon and those who followed them, the Sacred can never be conceived of as an individual human construct or a social construct.  It is in fact the very reduction of the sacred to quantitative “human” norms that Guénon decries in The Crisis of the Modern World and The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times; for it relegates objective reality to the discursive constructions of the human subject. 

The author goes on to claim that Eliade found support for his Traditionalist positions in the writings of Rudolf Otto and this “helped relieve him of the need to cite Guénon”. (191)  Many scholars have observed that Otto’s ideas influenced Eliade.  But the relation of the sacred to the irrational that pervades Otto’s thought is far from Guénon’s emphasis on “pure principles”.  One could hardly cite Rudolf Otto in place of Réné Guénon or in support of Traditional ideas. 

The greatly expanded category of Traditionalists employed in Against the Modern World leads to loose associations that sometimes draw it into the realm of the absurd.  For example, the author includes the Feminist group Aristasia, which views the rise of masculine gods as the first phase in the decline of humanity because the female is the primary and inherently superior gender. (217)  This group is labeled a Traditionalist movement because its proponents make some reference to Guénon and oppose many aspects of the modern world.  In an odd way this label may be correct.  Aristasia is a perfect example of the “traditionalists” regarding whom Guénon writes, “Indeed it sometimes happens that people go so far as to apply the word “tradition” to things which are by their very nature as anti-traditional as possible . . .”[13]

Scholarly Method

Unable to grasp that Traditional perspective is grounded in first principles, the author often relegates himself to writing about rumor and conjecture from “anonymous sources” rather than analyzing the writings of those he proposes to examine.  He does not cite basic sources such as Jacob Needleman’s The Sword of Gnosis, Frithjof Schuon’s Esoterism as Principle and as Way or Logic and Transcendence, S. H. Nasr’s Knowledge and the Sacred, Titus Burckhardt’s Mirror of the Intellect, Ranjit Fernando’s The Unanimous Tradition, or The Essential Writings of A. K. Coomaraswamy, to name only a few.  In fact, more of the essential Traditional works are omitted than are included.  One wonders how a book with such egregious omissions could have passed the peer-review process.

The methodological shortcomings that lead the author to seek refuge in unreliable sources are evident from the beginning when he writes, “some sections of this book depend more on guesswork than is usual,” (viii) and, “I have entered into numerous areas where I have little scholarly right to be.” (viii) Unfortunately, guesswork is employed where readily available resources, in written and human form, could have provided important clarifications.  For example, there is no interview with Martin Lings who served as Guénon’s personal secretary for many years and was a close disciple of Frithjof Schuon, nor are Lings’ two articles on Guénon and Schuon cited.[14]  There is one interview with S. H. Nasr (10), but it does not appear to have involved any essential questions about his own involvement with the movement or his relationship with other Traditional scholars.  The several pages devoted to Nasr’s work in Iran (153-159) raise important questions that Nasr himself could have easily clarified.  The lack of interviews would not be of such concern if the author did not rely so heavily upon extensive interviews with people opposed to certain representatives of the Traditional school.  The opinions of such interviewees, many of whom remain anonymous, are not then balanced with other interviews or with readily available essays published in Dossier H: Frithjof Schuon[15] and the Traditional journals Sacred Web and Sophia, the latter of which has one volume dedicated entirely to Frithjof Schuon.[16]


The author’s foray into areas where he has “little scholarly right” is evident in his treatment of Islam, wherein he conflates Islam and Islamism.  He claims, “nearly all non-Traditionalist Muslims would assert unhesitatingly that there was no proper access to God, and no final truth, except in Islam.” (140)  Such a statement is compatible with Islamism, which it is noted “has no interest in Perennialism and commonly rejects Sufism.” (341, note 94)  But it does not categorize Islam.  Muslims from many countries and many walks of life do in fact accept the validity of other religions. The law of many Islamic lands has even required the protection of Jews and Christians.  In India this was often extended to Hindus.  The underlying religious tolerance of Islam is well expressed by Khalid Abou El Fadl:

Other than a general endorsement of human diversity, the Qur’an also accepted the more specific notion of a plurality of religious beliefs and laws.  Although the Qur’an clearly claims that Islam is the divine truth, and demands belief in Muhammad as the final Messenger in a long line of Abrahamic prophets, it does not completely exclude the possibility that there might be other paths to salvation.  The Qur’an insists on God’s unfettered discretion to accept in His mercy whomever He wishes.  In a rather remarkable set of passages that, again, have not been adequately theorized by Muslim theologians, the Qur’an recognizes the legitimate multiplicity of religious convictions and laws.  In one such passage, for example, the Qur’an asserts: “To each of you God has prescribed a Law and a Way.  If God would have willed, He would have made you a single people.  But God’s purpose is to test you in what he has given each of you, so strive in the pursuit of virtue, and know that you will all return to God [in the Hereafter], and He will resolve all the matters in which you disagree.”[17]  On this and other occasions the Qur’an goes on to state that it is possible for non-Muslims to attain the blessing of salvation: “Those who believe, those who follow Jewish scriptures, the Christians, the Sabians, and any who believe in God and the Final Day, and do good, all shall have their reward with their Lord and they will not come to fear or grief.”[18]

This may not be full-fledged perennialism, but it is far from the categorical rejection of other religions that the author implies is central to Islam.

Although the author has previously published a book on Sufism (Sufism, the Essentials, 2000), he does not grasp the central importance of dhikr, remembrance.  He criticizes Frithjof Schuon’s interpretation of 29:45, Recite what is inspired to you of the Book and establish ritual prayer, for ritual prayer preserves you from wrong and iniquity, and the remembrance of God (dhikrullah) is greater.  Regarding this verse, Schuon writes (in a passage that evaded the author):

The formula “the remembrance of God is greater” or “the greatest thing” (Wa la-dhikru ‘Llahi akbar) evokes and paraphrases the following words from the Canonical Prayer: “God is greater” or “the greatest” (Allahu akbar) and this indicates a mysterious connection between God and His Name; it also indicates a certain relativity — from the point of view of gnosis — of the outward rites, which are nevertheless indispensable in principle and in the majority of cases. In this connection we could also quote the following hadith: one of the Companions said to the Prophet: “0 Messenger of God, the prescriptions of Islam are too numerous for me; tell me something that I can hold fast to.” The Prophet replied: “Let thy tongue always be supple (in movement) with the mention (the remembrance) of God.” This hadith, like the verse we have just quoted, expresses by allusion (isharah) the principle of the inherence of the whole Shari’ah in the Dhikr alone.[19]

This in no way denies the necessity of the Shariah, rather, it emphasizes the necessity and centrality of dhikr.  Nonetheless, the author sees this interpretation accepted by Schuon and his disciples as “an indication of their distance from the Islamic mainstream.”  (note 115, p. 294)  But it is actually a rephrasing of an essential Sufi teaching.  As Shaykh al-‘Arabi al-Darqawi expresses it:

…every single man has any number of needs, but in reality all men need only one thing, which is truly to practice the remembrance of God (dhikrullah); if they have acquired that, they will not want for anything . . .[20]

Similar teachings can be found in hundreds of books from classical Sufi scholars such as Abu Nasr al-Sarraj, Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Jalal al-Din Rumi, Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-‘Arabi and Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri to name a very few.  So although Schuon’s emphasis may distance him from mainstream Islamism, it is at the very heart of Islam itself.

Misrepresentations of Traditionalist Scholars

Though the author distorts the ideas of Réné Guénon, Guénon is the only Traditional writer for whom he maintains respect.  He sees fit to cast aspersions upon other eminent Traditional scholars with little analysis.  For example, he acknowledges that A. K. Coomaraswamy had “a considerable reputation as a scholar”, (34) but then dismisses him as un-academic, relying upon the opinion of one former assistant to Coomaraswamy and a single review from The Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. (34-36) It would seem that a scholar of Coomaraswamy’s stature deserves greater analysis before being dismissed out of hand.  That the author has no real familiarity with Coomaraswamy’s work is demonstrated not only by the citation of merely one book, but also by the claim that “he had not trained as a philologist or a historian of religion.” (36) Coomaraswamy’s works display unparalleled linguistic capabilities, citing over a dozen languages, from Sanskrit to Latin to Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew.  Few scholars have been better qualified for the comparative analysis of ancient texts that is at the very heart of philology.

The author also implies that Joseph Epes Brown’s The Scared Pipe: Black Elks’ Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux is not an authentic academic work, but largely a Traditionalist fabrication:

The Sacred Pipe was written largely in Lausanne over a period of six months, with the benefit of Schuon’s Traditionalist understandings made available during a weekly review by Schuon of Brown’s draft as it developed.  The Sacred Pipe, then, resulted in the generally unsuspected passage of “soft” Traditionalism into mainstream academia.  (123)

It may be that Brown consulted Schuon, but The Sacred Pipe is considered by experts to be a faithful rendition of Brown’s interviews with Black Elk from 1947 to 1948.  It seems that the author casts aspersions on this book simply because Brown consulted with Schuon.  Such criticism is staggeringly incogitant in light of the wide acceptance this book has received, not only among established scholars but among Native American spiritual authorities as well.

Frithjof Schuon

The perfunctory dismissal of Coomaraswamy and the aspersions cast upon Brown’s academic integrity are inappropriate by any standard, especially for one with no expertise in either of their respective fields.  But the author goes to greater extremes in his treatment of Frithjof Schuon.  Accusations and aspersions drawn from anonymous sources, conjecture and innuendo pervade the book from the introduction to the conclusion. 

The degree to which the author incorporates his own speculations is well illustrated by the following passage: “According to one possible interpretation, Schuon at this stage [1970s] may have been wondering whether he was perhaps the prophet Elijah returned at the end of time, or alternatively, a manifestation of the Hindu goddess Kali.” (170) To substantiate this assertion he relies upon an oblique reference in Schuon’s autobiography, Erinnerungen und Betrachtungen, to a conference in Houston, Texas at which a paper on Elijah was presented by Leo Schaya.  The author claims that the article draws “attention to the relationship between the activities of the Maryamiyya and the eschatological function of Elijah”. (316, note 52)  Schaya’s “The Mission of Elias” is in fact a comparison of Elijah and Khidr and the eschatological expectations of the three Abrahamic faiths.  There is a brief reference to the writings of Schuon, but it does not compare Schuon to Elijah or imply that he is the Prophet Elijah returned.  Although Schuon had never even referred to the article itself, only to the conference, we are nonetheless informed, “here Schuon is at least quoting with approval an implicit comparison between him and Elijah.” (316, note 52)  This is a dire distortion of both Schuon and Schaya.

Building upon such distortions, the author portrays Schuon as a tragic figure whose form of universalism “lumps religions together indistinctly”. (129) His ultimate conclusion is that “Schuon also developed Perennialism into a universal mission of his own that led ultimately to disaster.” (267) To corroborate this claim he relies upon interviews with former followers of Schuon. (170-177)  But he never provides a single citation from any of Schuon’s books other than the autobiography.  Further investigation would have revealed that Schuon clarifies this important point in almost all of his writings, such as Gnosis: Divine Wisdom:

Seeing that there is but one Truth, must we not conclude that there is but one Revelation, one sole Tradition possible? To this our answer is, first of all, that Truth and Revelation are not absolutely equivalent terms, since Truth is situated beyond forms, whereas Revelation, or the Tradition which derives from it, belongs to the formal order, and that indeed by definition; but to speak of form is to speak of diversity, and so of plurality; the grounds for the existence and nature of form are expression, limitation, differentiation. What enters into form thereby enters also into number, hence into repetition and diversity; the formal principle — inspired by the infinity of the divine Possibility — confers diversity on this repetition. One could conceive, it is true, that there might be only one Revelation or Tradition for this our human world and that diversity should be realized through other worlds, unknown to man or even unknowable by him; but that would imply a failure to understand that what determines the difference among forms of Truth is the difference among human receptacles. (emphasis added)[21]

In other words, religious forms cannot be joined together in the realm of manifestation, i.e. in this world; their only unity lies in the transcendent formless Truth from which they emanate.  It seems unlikely that a man who maintained this in all of his writings, from the first to the last, the private to the public, would have “confused the accurate, Perennialist observation of the transcendent unity of religions with a foolish and impossible attempt to recreate a single unified religion on earth.”  (Sedgwick, 177)  Further investigation into the subtleties of Schuon’s thought would have helped prevent this dire misrepresentation.

Rather than analyzing Schuon’s ideas, the author goes into many details of Schuon’s life, from a failed love to scurrilous and derisive accusations that were dismissed from a court of law in 1991.  But in all instances he disregards essential material.  For example, he portrays tense relations between Schuon and the followers of Schuon’s Shaykh, Ahmad al-Alawi, after Shaykh al-Alawi’s death, implying that Schuon did not have the right to become a Sufi Shaykh by the name of ‘Isa Nur al-Din. (88-90)  But he neglects to mention that Schuon and his followers in Lausanne maintained good relations with Shaykh al-Alawi’s successor, Shaykh ‘Ada Ben Tounes, and his followers.  As Titus Burckhardt wrote of one meeting with Shaykh al-Mahdi Ben Tounes, the son of Shaykh ‘Ada Ben Tounes:

At the last majlis (prayer gathering) Shaykh Al-Mahdi asked Shaykh ‘Isa to give a mudhakkarah (sermon); but, out of modesty, the latter refused.  I then proposed to Shaykh Al-Mahdi that I read one of Shaykh ‘Isa’s latest mudhakkarah, and Shaykh ‘Isa allowed me to do so.  When I had finished, there was at first silence; then Shaykh Al-Mahdi rose, took off his burnous and put it on Shaykh ‘Isa’s shoulders, whereupon he spoke of the companions of the Prophet, of those who lived in his time and those who lived later and concluded that the last of them was Shaykh ‘Isa. (letter to Paul Gervy, 1954)[22]

One could read many things into this encounter.  The least it says is that Shaykh al-Mahdi Ben Tounes recognized Frithjof Schuon as a Sufi Shaykh.  The author’s footnotes demonstrate that he was in contact with Jean-Baptiste Aymard, who co-authored the book in which this letter is reprinted, Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings.  This is thus information to which the author most likely could have gained access.

To further impugn Schuon’s credentials, the author misrepresents the method of invocation Schuon prescribed for the adherents of his Sufi order, the Maryamiyyah.  He briefly mentions Schuon’s Six Themes of Meditation, “Death and Life,” “Repose and Action”, and “Knowledge and Being” (92) and later implies that they were in some way non-Islamic. (128)  But again he provides no analysis and neglects to inform the reader that these were six modes for invoking the Arabic Name of God, Allah.  If he had the access he claims to many former members of the Maryamiyyah Order, he should have been able to obtain the texts wherein Schuon often employs Islamic terminology to explain these themes.  Furthermore, the themes are fully discussed in the last chapter of Stations of Wisdom.  Here Schuon refers to them as “renunciation and act, peace and fervor, discernment and union”,[23] topics that are discussed as various spiritual states or stations in many classical Sufi texts.

Continuing this line of argument, the author cites the Romanian Traditionalist Michele Vâlsan as one of Schuon’s leading detractors. (129) Vâlsan had been a follower of Schuon who objected to Schuon’s more esoteric interpretation of Islam and separated with a few other disciples around 1950, forming a new Sufi order.  The author portrays Vâlsan as “closer to mainstream Sufi Islam” (133) and cites Vâlsan’s objections to Schuon with approval.  Then he notes that, “by his death in 1974 he [Valsân] had perhaps 100 followers, a respectable number, only rarely exceeded by shaykhs in the Islamic world.”[24] (134)  (This number is often exceeded by Shaykhs in many parts of the Islamic world, but that is another issue.) Here again, the author fails to tell the full story.  As Jean-Baptiste Aymard and Patrick Laude have written:

What many of Schuon’s detractors do not know is that several years later, in 1958, Michel Vâlsan went to Lausanne and, in a gesture of superb humility, apologized for everything that had happened, and suggested reintegrating his group with Schuon’s. Though touched by the offer, Schuon declined, for, as he wrote, he “did not want to reap what (Sidi Mustafa) had sown” and did not wish to have under his authority men who were integrally Guénonian and somewhat hesitant with regard to his own perspective.” (letter to Leo Schaya, September 3, 1958)[25]

Such negligent and erroneous treatment of Coomaraswamy, Brown and Schuon illustrate the degree to which the author excludes vital information from his presentation.  His analysis of the teachings of most Traditional scholars is practically non-existent and his account of their personal histories is fragmented at best.

The excessive focus upon the personal lives of Traditional scholars leads the author to believe that their undisclosed personal and intellectual associations pose serious questions about the authenticity of their perspective.  As if the failure to mention what Church or Synagogue a Christian or Jewish scholar attends constitutes a grave deception.  He thus writes of their works:

Not everyone is happy when they discover Traditionalism behind these books.  One Scandinavian scientist who had converted to Islam reacted with dismay on reading an article of mine which identified Traditionalist writers that she, and others she knew, had read unawares: “‘Traditionalist’ books are everywhere,…” she wrote.  “Perhaps most scary is the subtle penetration of ‘traditionalist’ thinking without references.…People pick up these ideas because they are appealing and then pass them on…”  (169)

Indeed, the Traditional perspective has been far more influential in academia than most have suspected.  This, however, may be due to the fact that many of their ideas do find correspondences within the world’s religions.  Something recognized by such eminent scholars as Mircea Eliade and Huston Smith.  What Sedgwick refers to as “subtle penetration” is in fact not so subtle, and certainly not sinister, no matter how many Muslim Scandinavian scientists are scandalized by it.  That a new perspective that challenges many academic norms is spreading within academia gives one hope that, despite the peculiar prejudices of academia, new perspectives are able to slowly work their way into the cannon, challenging students of all disciplines to consider the world in new ways.


Though the writing style can be engaging at times, this study lacks any real substance. The author fails to analyze the content of most Traditional writings, and misrepresents the content of many others.   One is never sure that he himself understands what Tradition means for those who profess it.  Unable to comprehend the core elements of his study, he never comes to appreciate its full importance.  This is best demonstrated when he writes,

 …every non-Traditionalist scholar who has looked at Traditionalism…has come to much the same conclusion: these people are not serious.  They ignore history, and they ignore anything that does not fit their theories. (271)

100 pages earlier he writes, “Schuonian authors are usually acknowledged experts in some field.” (168) It is indeed very rare for scholars who are not taken seriously to become “acknowledged experts”.

The author’s blatant self-contradictions aside, the international recognition received by many Traditional scholars belies his claim.  For example, the author includes Huston Smith among the “soft-Traditionalists” (165-66) and cites his 1989 Plenary Address to the American Academy of Religion as an example of his subtle “Traditionalism”.  Indeed, Huston Smith has openly praised leading Traditional authors, writing of Schuon, “In depth and breadth, a paragon of our time.  I know of no living thinker who begins to rival him.”[26]  Regarding Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s Knowledge and the Sacred, he writes: “… intellectual historians may one day rank it with William of Moerbeke’s Latin translations of Aristotle in the thirteenth century, Marsiglio Ficino’s of Plato in the fifteenth, or D. T. Suzuki’s 1927 Essays in Zen Buddhism as a landmark showing that a new stage in cross-cultural understanding has been achieved.”[27]  Now, either Smith is not a representative of the Traditional school, as some maintain, or he is.  In the first case, one of the most renowned scholars of religion recognizes the importance of the Traditional movement and takes it very seriously.  In the second, the American Academy of Religion and thousands of professors who have assigned his Religions of Man in college classrooms recognize the importance of this particular Traditional thinker.  Either way, it is an excellent example of the Traditional perspective being taken very seriously in the highest ranks of academia.  Other examples include Joseph Epes Brown, who is recognized as one of the 20th century’s leading scholars of Native American Religion, and Martin Lings, whose Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources is used in universities the world over and whose A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century is still one of the best academic studies of the life and teachings of a Sufi Shaykh.

The recognition received by S. H. Nasr alone is enough to prove the absurdity of the claim that the Traditional school is not taken seriously.  Nasr was the first Muslim to be included in The Library of Living Philosophers, a series that includes such luminaries as Albert Einstein, John Dewey, Bertrand Russel, Martin Buber, Karl Popper and Hans-Georg Gadamer.  Scholars from around the world representing many academic disciplines read Nasr’s writings and provided in-depth responses for this volume.  Nasr has delivered perhaps the two most esteemed lecture series in academia, Gifford (1981) and Cadbury (1994).  His books have been published by Harvard University Press and Oxford University Press, among others.  He served as the General Editor for the SUNY Press series on Islam, is a member of the Council of 100 Leaders on Western-Islamic Dialogue and is invited to lecture at the United Nations and at major universities the world over.  It is difficult to find a living scholar who has received greater recognition and is taken more seriously.

The overabundance of errors, misrepresentations and disinformation in Against the Modern World would take an entire book to clarify and refute.  This essay has only been able to focus upon the most obvious and systemic shortcomings.  In his prologue, Mark Sedgwick states, “As a historian, I am convinced that a carefully told story is in itself a path to understanding, and that conviction underlies the book that follows this prologue.” (17)  His ultimate failure is that he does not take the Traditional school seriously, does not want it to be taken seriously and therefore does not take the time to analyze its teachings or tell its story carefully.  He has ignored most of the primary literature, much of the secondary literature and anything that would complicate his personal theories.[28]  In doing so, he has squandered a golden opportunity to provide a detailed analysis of a perspective that is gaining increasing acceptance in many academic circles.  One hopes that future investigations into the Traditional school will serve to clear the waters that this unfortunate book has now muddied. 


[1] Réné Guénon, Orient et Occident, p. 187.

[2] Cited by Ali Lakhani, Editorial, “Understanding Tradition”, Sacred Web 9 (2002).

[3] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred (SUNY Press, 1981), p. 68

[4] René Guénon, The Reign of Quantity and the Sign of the Times, trans. Lord Northbourne (Sophia Perennis et Universalis, 1995), p. 253.

[5] Ibid.  p. 252.

[6] Réné Guénon, East and West, trans. Martin Lings (Sophia Perennis et Universalis, 1995), p. 165.

[7] Ibid. p. 166.

[8] Ibid. p. 176.

[9] Réné Guénon, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, p. 254.

[10] Ibid. p. 72.

[11] Mircea Eliade, The Quest: History and Meaning in Religion, (University of Chicago Press, 1969), p. i; idem, A History of Religious Ideas, Vol I, From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries, trans. W. Trask (University of Chicago Press, 1978), p. iii.

[12] Knowledge and the Sacred, pp. 75-76.

[13] Guénon, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, p. 254.

[14] Martin Lings, “Réné Guénon”, Sophia: A Journal of Traditional Studies, Volume 1, Number 1 (Summer 1995); Martin Lings, “Frithjof Schuon and Réné Guénon”, Sophia, Volume 5, Number 2 (Winter 1999).

[15] Dossier H: Frithjof Schuon, edited by Jean-Baptiste Aymard and Patrick Laude (L’Age d’Homme, 2001).

[16] Sophia: A Journal of Traditional Studies, Volume 4, Number 2 (Winter 1998).  Other essays that could have provided more perspective are: Frithjof Schuon, “Réné Guénon, Definitions”, Sophia, Volume 1, Number 2 (Winter 1995); Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “Frithjof Schuon and the Islamic Tradition”, Sophia, Volume 5, Number 1 (Fall 1998); idem, “Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998)”, Sacred Web 1, (1998); Scott Korn, “The Illumination of Frithjof Schuon”, Sacred Web 8 (2002); Patrick Laude, “Seyyed Hossein Nasr in the Context of the Perennialist School” in Beacon of Knowledge: Seyyed Hossein Nasr”, ed. Mohammed H. Faghfoory (Fons Vitae, 2003); and Terry Moore, “Frithjof Schuon and Seyyed Hossein Nasr—Beacons of Knowledge” in Beacon of Knowledge: Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

This list only includes the most obvious articles.  The author failed to cite dozens of other articles that analyze Frithjof Schuon’s writings on everything from religious art to the Christian Trinity.

[17] Qur’an 5:49.

[18] Qur’an 5:69, 2:62. Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Place of Tolerance in Islam (Beacon Press, 2002), pp. 16-17

[19] Frithjof Schuon, Sufism: Veil and Quintessence (World Wisdom Books, 1981), p. 77.

[20] Al-Shaykh al-Arabi al-Darqawi,  Letters of a Sufi Master, trans. Titus Burckhardt (Middlesex: Perennial Books Ltd., 1969), p. 37.

[21] The Essential Writings of Frithjof Schuon, ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Element Books, 1991), p. 149.

[22] Cited by Jean-Baptiste Aymard and Patrick Laude, Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings (SUNY Press, 2004), p. 37.

[23] Frithjof Schuon, Stations of Wisdom (World Wisdom Books, 1995), p. 147.

[24] Here one is left to wonder how it is that Vâlsan having around 100 disciples at the time of his death is a sign of success, but Schuon having several hundred disciples on five continents is not. Instead, the author labels Schuon’s Maryamiyyah Order “a disaster”. (268)

[25] Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings, p. 33.

[26] From the back cover of Frithjof Schuon’s Logic and Transcendence (Perennial Books, Ltd. 1975.

[27] From the back cover of Knowledge and the Sacred.

[28] That the Traditional perspective would be subject to such attacks was predicted by Guénon when he wrote: “It is always easy for a man to belittle what he has no knowledge of, and, when he is incapable of reaching it, assumed contempt is actually his best means of consoling himself for his impotence, and it is, moreover, a means that is at everyone’s disposal.” East and West, p. 174.

Home | Authors | Archive | Book Review | Browse | Journal Information | Future Issues | Free Subscription | Purchase Copies | Help | Sitemap |
This site is best viewed 1024 x 768
Copyright © 2007