Traditionalist School

The Traditionalist School, also called the Perrennialist School, is a term referring to a number of 20th century writers who rejected modernity and argued for a return to the perennial truths as preserved in the traditions of the world religions. They are often referred to as "Traditionalists" or "Perrenialists".


    The ideas of the Traditionalist School are considered to begin with Rene Guenon. Other people considered Traditionalists include Titus Burckhardt, Jean Borella, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Martin Lings, Jean-Louis Michon, Marco Pallis, Huston Smith, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Frithjof Schuon and Julius Evola.

    René Guenon

    A major theme in the works of René Guenon (1886-1951) is the contrast between traditional world views and modernity, "which he considered to be an anomaly in the history of mankind." For Guenon, the physical world was a manifestation of metaphysical principles, which are preserved in the perennial teachings of the world religions, but were lost to the modern world. For Guenon, "the malaise of the modern world lies in its relentless denial of the metaphysical realm."

    Early on, Guenon was attracted to Sufism, which he saw as a more accessible path of spirirtual knowledge. In 1912 Guénon was initiated in the Shadhili order. He started writing after his doctoral dissertation was rejected, and he left the academia in 1923. His works center on the return to these traditional worldviews, trying to reconstruct the Perennial Philosophy.

    In his first books and essays he envisaged a restoration of traditional "intellectualité" in the West on the basis of Roman Catholicism and Freemasonry. He gave up early on a purely Christian basis for a traditionalist restoration of the West, searching for other traditions. He denounced the lure of Theosophy and neo-occultism in the form of Spiritism, two influential movements that were flourishing in his lifetime.[] In 1930 he moved to Egypt, where he lived until his death in 1951.


    Perennial philosophy and the loss of tradition

    According to the Traditionalist School, "the primordial and perennial truth" is manifested in a variety of religious and spiritual traditions.Coomaraswamy explains:

    The metaphysical "philosophy" is called "perennial" because of its eternity, universality, and immutability; it is Augustine's "Wisdom uncreate, the same now as it ever was and ever will be"; the religion which, as he also says, only came to be called "Christianity" after the coming of Christ [...] and so long as the tradition is transmitted without deviation.

    According to the Traditionalist School, this truth has been lost in the modern world, and modernity itself is considered as an "anomaly in the history of mankind." Traditionalists see their approach as a justifiable "nostalgia for the past".Frithjof Schuon explains:

    ... "traditionalism"; like "esoterism" [...] has nothing pejorative about it in itself [...] If to recognize what is true and just is "nostalgia for the past," it is quite clearly a crime or a disgrace not to feel this nostalgia.

    Return to tradition

    The Traditionalist School insists on the necessity for affiliation to one of the "normal traditions", or great ancient religions of the world. The regular affiliation to the ordinary life of a believer is crucial, since this could give access to the esoterism of that given religious form.

    Most Traditionalists, such as Guénon himself, found a way in Sufism and embraced Islam. The most influential representatives of this school in Northern Europe, viz. Kurt Almqvist, and Tage Lindbom, also embraced Sunni Islam.[] Others, such as Marco Pallis, found a way in Buddhism, and some, such as James Cutsinger, belong to the Orthodox churches.[]


    Traditionalism had a discrete impact in the field of comparative religion, particularly on the young Mircea Eliade, although he was not himself a member of this school. Contemporary scholars such as Huston Smith, William Chittick, Harry Oldmeadow, James Cutsinger and Seyyed Hossein Nasr have advocated Perennialism as an alternative to secularist approach to religious phenomena.[]

    Through the close affiliation with Sufism, the traditionalist perspective has been gaining ground in Asia and the Islamic world at large.

    Association with far right movements

    The Traditionalist School has been associated with far right movements. Critics of Traditionalism cite its popularity among the European Nouvelle Droite, while Julius Evola's were used by Italian far-right groups during the 1970s turmoils.[]Mark Sedgwick's Against the Modern World, published in 2004, gives an analysis of the Traditionalist School and its influence. He describes how

    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.

    In his book Guénon ou le renversement des clartés, the French scholar Xavier Accart questions the connection sometimes made between the Traditionalist school and the far right movements. According to Accart, René Guenon was highly critical of Evola's political involvements, and was worried about the possible confusion between his own ideas and Evola's. Guénon also clearly denounced the ideology of the fascist regimes in Europe before and during the Second World War. Xavier Accart finally claims that the assimilation of René Guénon with Julius Evola, and the confusion between Traditionalism and the New Right, can be traced back to Louis Pauwels and Bergier's Le matin des magiciens (The Morning of the Magicians) (1960).

    Alain de Benoist, the founder of the Nouvelle Droite declared in 2013 that the influence of Guénon on his political school was very weak and that he does not consider him as a major author.

    See also


    Further reading

    Traditionalist School
    • Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century ISBN 0-19-515297-2
    • Harry Oldmeadow, Traditionalism: Religion in the Light of the Perennial Philosophy (2000) ISBN 955-9028-04-9
    • Carl W. Ernst, "Traditionalism, the Perennial Philosophy and Islamic Studies" in the MESA Bulletin (1994).
    Rene Guenon
    • Xavier Accart, René Guénon ou Le renversement des clartés Paris, Milano: Arché, 2005 (ISBN 978-2-912770-03-5).
    • Marie-France James, Esoterisme et Christianisme: autour de René Guénon (1981).
    • Jean-Pierre Laurant, "Le problème de René Guénon", Revue de l'histoire des religions (1971).
    • Jean-Pierre Laurant, René Guénon: Les enjeux d'une lecture (2006) ISBN 2-84454-423-1
    • Jean-Pierre Laurant and Paul Barbanegra, eds, René Guénon [Cahier de l'Herne] (1985).
    • Pierre-Marie Sigaud, ed., Rene Guenon [Dossiers H] (1984).
    Julius Evola
    • Franco Ferraresi, "Julius Evola: Tradition, Reaction and the Radical Right" in Archives Européennes de Sociologie (1987).
    • Roger Griffin, "Revolts Against the Modern World: The Blend of Literary and Historical Fantasy in the Italian New Right" in Literature and History (1985).
    • Troy Southgate, ed., Evola: Thoughts & Perspectives, Volume One, Black Front Press, 2011.
    • Troy Southgate, "Anti-Tradition in the Age of Iron" in Le Salon: Journal de Cercle de la Rose Noire, Volume 1, Black Front Press, 2012.
    Writings by members
    • Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins: Post-War Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist (1953, revised 1967, with a new appendix, 1972).
    • Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred (1989) ISBN 0-7914-0177-4
    • Andrew Rawlinson, The Book of Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions ISBN 0-8126-9310-8
    • Huston Smith, Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World's Religions (1976), reprint ed. 1992, Harper SanFrancisco, ISBN 0-06-250787-7
    • Alice Lucy Trent, The Feminine Universe: An Exposition of the Ancient Wisdom from the Primordial Feminine Perspective (2010) Golden Order Press, ISBN 1-4537-8952-9
    • William W. Quinn, Jr., The Only Tradition (1996) ISBN 0-7914-3213-0
    • The Unanimous Tradition, Essays on the essential unity of all religions, by Joseph Epes Brown, Titus Burckhardt, Rama P. Coomaraswamy, Gai Eaton, Isaline B. Horner, Toshihiko Izutsu, Martin Lings, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Lord Northbourne, Marco Pallis, Whitall N. Perry, Leo Schaya, Frithjof Schuon, Philip Sherrard, William Stoddart, Elémire Zolla, edited by Ranjit Fernando, Sri Lanka Institute of Traditional Studies, 1991 ISBN 955-9028-01-4

    External links

    • Sacred Web – A Traditional Journal
    • A Web Site on the Perennialist/Traditionalist School
    • Interview of Huston Smith on the primordial tradition
    • Integral Tradition
    • Review of "Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century"
    • World Wisdom Books
    • Fons Vitae Books
    • Revista de Estudios Tradicionales
    • Slideshow on the Perennial Philosophy
    • La Tradición – Textos Tradicionales (Spanish)
    • A website for the Study of (Traditionalism and the Traditionalists)
    • The Matheson Trust for the study of comparative religion
    • An article on Muslim Perennialism
    • A review of some Traditionalist books by Carl W. Ernst "Traditionalism, the Perennial Philosophy, and Islamic Studies", Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, vol. 28, no. 2 (December 1994), pp. 176–81