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Traditionalist School

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Title: Traditionalist School  
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Subject: Islamic philosophy, Modern paganism, Hungarian neopaganism, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Perennial philosophy
Collection: 20Th-Century Philosophy, Esotericism, New Right (Europe), Philosophical Movements, Traditionalist School
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Traditionalist School

The Traditionalist School, founded by Rene Guenon, was a group 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.


  • Members 1
    • René Guenon 1.1
  • Ideas 2
    • Perennial philosophy and the loss of tradition 2.1
    • Return to tradition 2.2
  • Influence 3
  • Association with far right movements 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • Sources 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


The Traditionalist School was founded by Rene Guenon and Ananda Coomaraswamy. Other participants include Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings, Jean-Louis Michon, Marco Pallis, Huston Smith, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Frithjof Schuon, Jean Borella and Julius Evola.[note 1]

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."[1] 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.[1] For Guenon, "the malaise of the modern world lies in its relentless denial of the metaphysical realm."[1][note 2]

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.[1] His works center on the return to these traditional worldviews,[1] trying to reconstruct the Perennial Philosophy.[web 1]

In his first books and essays he envisaged a restoration of traditional "intellectualité" in the West on the basis of Roman Catholicism and Freemasonry.[note 3] 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,[note 4] two influential movements that were flourishing in his lifetime. In 1930 he moved to Egypt, where he lived until his death in 1951.[1]


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.[1] 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.[3]

According to the Traditionalist School, this truth has been lost in the modern world,[1] and modernity itself is considered as an "anomaly in the history of mankind."[1] Traditionalists see their approach as a justifiable "nostalgia for the past".[4][note 5] 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.[4]

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.[note 6] 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.[5]

Most Traditionalists, such as Guénon himself, found a way in Sufism and embraced Islam.[note 7] 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,[web 1] 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.[note 8]

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,[6] 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.[web 1][note 9]

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).[7]

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.[note 10]

See also


  1. ^ Renaud Fabbri argues that Evola should not be considered a member of the Perennialist School. See the section Julius Evola and the Perennialist School in Fabbri's Introduction to the Perennialist School.
  2. ^ According to Wouter Hanegraaf, "modernity itself is in fact intertwined with the history of esotericism."[2] Western esotericism had a profound influence on Hindu and Buddhist modernisers, whose modernisations in turn had a deep impact on modern western spirituality. See:
  3. ^ Cf. among others his Aperçus sur l'ésotérisme chrétien (Éditions Traditionnelles, Paris, 1954) and Études sur la Franc-maçonnerie et le Compagnonnage (2 vols, Éditions Traditionnelles, Paris, 1964-65) which include many of his articles for the Catholic journal Regnabit.
  4. ^ Cf. his Le Théosophisme, histoire d'une pseudo-religion, Paris, Nouvelle Librairie Nationale, 1921, and L'Erreur spirite, Paris, Marcel Rivière, 1923. Both books exist in English translation.
  5. ^ Guénon rejected the term, because "it implies in his view a kind of sentimental attachment to a tradition which, most of the time, has lost its metaphysical foundation.[web 2][web 3]
  6. ^ See Titus Burckhardt, "A Letter on Spiritual Method" in Mirror of the Intellect, Cambridge (UK), Quinta Essentia, 1987 (ISBN 0-946621-08-X), where a rather strict list is given.
  7. ^ See a candid personal account by Martin Lings: "How Did I Come to Put First Things First?", in A Return to the Spirit, Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2005 (ISBN 1-887752-74-9).
  8. ^ Witness the works by Mahmoud Bina at the Isfahan University of Technology, the Malay scholar Osman Bakar, and the Ceylonese Ranjit Fernando. This is probably also related to the expansion of the Maryamiyya branch of the Shadhili Sufi order, as studied by Sedgwick, Against the Modern World, always within the pale of Sunni Islam. Cf. also a review 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.
  9. ^ Some critics with traditionalist sympathies questioned the content and methodology of the book and the motives of its author, charging him with various personal motives, including being "a Euro-Atlantic spy" and having himself "not been allowed to enter an initiatory order with 'Traditionalist' connections".[web 4][web 5]
  10. ^ On radio courtoisie (20 May 2013), during the programme "le Libre Journal de la resistance française" presented by Emmanuel Ratier and Pascal Lassalle.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kalin 2015.
  2. ^ Sedgwick 2004, p. 13.
  3. ^ Coomaraswamy 1977, p. 7.
  4. ^ a b Schuon 1982, p. 8.
  5. ^ Guénon 2001, p. 48.
  6. ^ Davies & Lynch 2004, p. 322.
  7. ^ Accart 2005.


  1. ^ a b c Description: "Against the Modern World. Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century"Oxford University Press,
  2. ^ An Introduction to the Perennialist School.
  3. ^ The Problem with "isms"Saint Aidan Orthodox Church,
  4. ^ reviewRobert Horvath,
  5. ^ ReviewFitzgerald, , by Michael Fitzgerald.

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
  • Antoine Faivre, ed, Dossier on "Perennialisme" in Aries 11 (1990).

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
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