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Asia, Modernity, and the Pursuit of the Sacred: Gnostics, by Joel S. Kahn

By Joel S. Kahn

Asia, Modernity, and the Pursuit of the Sacred examines a good number of Europeans who, disappointed with western tradition and faith after global warfare I, and awaiting the religious seekers of the counterculture, grew to become to the spiritual traditions of Asia for proposal.

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Extra info for Asia, Modernity, and the Pursuit of the Sacred: Gnostics, Scholars, Mystics, and Reformers

Sample text

The hermeneutical understandings and insights of such scholars clearly transgress the boundaries of academic study or speculation. In their subjective poles, these understandings become personally transformative; in their objective poles, they produce genuine insights into the nature of the phenomena under study. These are types of understanding that are at once passionate and critical, personal and objective, religious and academic. Such forms of knowledge are not simply academic, although they are that as well, and rigorously so.

Without seeking to validate any particular version of Gnostic diplomacy, in what follows, I want to use the wave of criticism that it has provoked as a platform for assessing not the whole history of the West’s engagement with Asia, but with the particular forms that it has taken since the time of high cultural, intellectual, artistic, and religious modernism in the West, that is, from roughly the interwar years through to the early twenty-first century. My contention will be that, while open to all sorts of criticism, we might still have something to learn about both Asia and ourselves by taking not just the critiques of earlier attempts at Gnostic diplomacy into account in our evaluation of more recent versions of the project, but also by taking the projects of an Erwin Schrödinger, a René Guénon, an Alexandra DavidNéel or a Hermann Hesse much more seriously than we currently do.

In the novel, Hesse struggled with issues to do with nature of modern selfhood that had concerned him so much in his previous work. This time, however, he drew on Eastern ideas about the illusory nature of the autonomous self as a way of addressing them. Hesse too was awarded a Nobel Prize, but not for this, the most Eastern of his novels, which did not attract a large readership when it first appeared. Much to Hesse’s surprise Siddhartha enjoyed considerable success in the 1970s, particularly among the young spiritual “seekers” of the counterculture, although it is not widely read today either by scholars of Asian religion or by serious literary critics.

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