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 quite a few Europeans who, upset with western tradition and faith after global battle I, and expecting the religious seekers of the counterculture, became to the non secular traditions of Asia for thought.

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

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Similarly, Kripal defines “Gnosis” as “a form of intuitive, visionary, or mystical knowledge that privileges the primacy of personal experience and the depths of the self over the claims of both faith and reason, traditionally in order to acquire some form of liberation or salvation from a world seen as corrupt or fallen” (2006: 4). I am using the term Gnostic, therefore, both to describe a concept of a stream of special inner knowledge and enlightenment understood as flowing out of direct experiential encounters with the very (un)ground of being on the one hand, and to the embrace of a strategy that is typically labeled heretical by both the forces of so-called organized religion and, increasingly, also by a self-identified secular mainstream.

Not to be left out, the current darling of the European left, Slavoj Žižek, writes of “Western Buddhism” that it perfectly fits the fetishist mode of ideology in our allegedly “post-ideological” era, as opposed to its traditional symptomal mode, in which the ideological lie which structures our perception of reality is threatened by symptoms qua “returns of the repressed,” cracks in the fabric of the ideological lie. Fetish is effectively a kind of envers (sic) of the symptom. (Žižek 2001) Natural and social scientists, religious studies scholars and many others have been quick to denounce the Eastern turn as irrational, contrary to the laws of science, inauthentic, Orientalist, colonial, and overly subjectivist, while Western Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, and Sufis have been found guilty of cultural appropriation and political quietism (if not “fascism”).

The deterministic materialism that characterized the physical sciences was systematically challenged by the discoveries of Einstein and, even more so, by the findings of quantum physicists. Philosophers too were increasingly inclined to reject what they took to be the underlying metaphysical presuppositions that had heretofore grounded Western scientific and philosophical reason. Pragmatism, phenomenology, and existentialism, albeit in different ways, all contributed to the growing sense of dissatisfaction with the certainties of nineteenth-century thought.

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