See also Traditionalist School (architecture).

The Traditionalist School of thought, also known as Integral Traditionalism (in the sense of Integralism) or Perennialism (in the sense of perennial philosophy, or Sophia Perennis) is an esoteric movement inspired by the interwar period writings of French metaphysician René Guénon and developed by authors such as German-Swiss philosopher Frithjof Schuon, the Ceylonese-British scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy, Italian occultist Julius Evola,[1] Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings, Huston Smith, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. The movement divided in 1948-50 after a split between Guénon and Schuon.

Philosophia Perennis

The term philosophia perennis first appears in the Renaissance. It is widely associated with Leibniz who in turn owes it to the 16th century theologian Augustinus Steuchius.

The French author René Guénon (1886-1951) was in a certain sense a pioneer in the rediscovery of this Philosophia Perennis or Sophia Perennis in the 20th century. His view, largely shared with later Perennialist authorities, is that "Semitic religions" have an exoteric/esoteric structure. Exoterism, the outward dimension of religion, is constituted by religious rites and a moral but also a dogmatic theology. The exoteric point of view is characterized by its "sentimental", rather than purely intellectual, nature and remains fairly limited. Based on the doctrine of creation and the subsequent duality between God and creation, exoterism does not offer means to transcend the limitations of the human state. The goal is only religious salvation, which Guénon defines as a perpetual state of beatitude in a celestial paradise. In the Traditionalist view esoterism is more than the complement of exoterism, the spirit as opposed to the letter, the kernel with respect to the shell. Esoterism has, at least de jure, a total autonomy with respect to religion for its innermost substance is the Primordial Tradition itself. Based on pure metaphysics - by which Guénon means a supra-rational knowledge of the Divine, a gnosis, and not a rationalist system or theological dogma - its goal is the realization of the superior states of being and finally the union between the individual self and the Principle. Guénon calls this union “the Supreme Identity”.

By "Supreme Identity", Guénon and Schuon do not refer to the personal God of exoteric theology but to a suprapersonal Essence, the Beyond-Being, the Absolute both totally transcendent and immanent to the manifestation. In their view the innermost essence of the individual being is non-different from the Absolute itself. Guénon refers here to the Vedantic concepts of Brahman (Transcendence), Atman (Self) and Moksa (Deliverance). For Guénon the Hindu Sanatana Dharma represents "the more direct heritage of the Primordial Tradition". More generally the great traditions of Asia - (Advaita Vedanta, Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism) - play a paradigmatic function in his writings. He considers them as the more rigorous expression of pure metaphysics, this supra-formal and universal wisdom being, in itself, neither eastern nor western.

Traditionalism and religion

As Guenon pleaded in his first books for a restoration of traditional “intellectualité” in the West on the basis of Roman Catholicism and Freemasonry, it is clear that, very early on, he gave up the idea of a spiritual resurrection of the West on a purely Christian basis. Having denounced the lure of Theosophy and neo-occultism, two influential movements that were flourishing in his lifetime, Guénon was initiated in 1912 in the Shadhili order and moved to Cairo in 1930 where he spent the rest of his life as a Sufi Muslim. To his many correspondents he clearly designated Sufism as a more accessible form of traditional initiation for Westerners eager to find what does not exist any more in the West: an initiatory path of knowledge (Jnana or Gnosis), comparable to Advaita.

Many followers of Guénon, such as Frithjof Schuon, Martin Lings and Titus Burckhardt, have been initiated into Sufism. Others remain Christians, such as the religious philosopher Jean Borella. Marco Pallis was a Buddhist and Ananda Coomaraswamy was a Hindu.

The most influential representatives of this school in Northern Europe are all Muslim converts: Kurt Almqvist, Tage Lindbom and Ashk Dahlén.

It could be argued that Traditionalism has a strong, although discreet, impact in the field of comparative religion and 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.

View of modernity

For Guénon, the author of the Crisis of the Modern World, the end of this descending process is modernity itself, which manifests the lowest possibilities of the Kali Yuga. Guénon also called our age the Reign of the Quantity, because man and the cosmos are more and more determined, ontologically speaking, by matter. The tragedy of the Western world since the Renaissance is, in his view, that it has lost almost any contact with the Sophia Perennis and the Sacred. Consequently, in the Western context, it is virtually impossible for a spiritual seeker to receive a valid initiation and to follow an esoteric path.

Academic reception

Traditionalists are usually hostile to the work of academic scholars. Guénon himself had held academic scholars in low regard, seeing them as part of the problem of modernity, and his later followers generally held similar views. Academic reception of Traditionalism began in 1971 with the publication of an article by Jean-Pierre Laurant on "Le problème de René Guénon" in the Revue de l'histoire des religions. During the 1980s, scholars writing in English focused mostly on Julius Evola because of the use of his theories made by Italian far-right groups during 1970s turmoils; during the same decade, scholarship in French on René Guénon himself became better established. It was not until the 1990s that scholars writing in English began to publish on the wider phenomenon of Traditionalism.

Controversy followed publication of Mark Sedgwick's Against the Modern World in 2004. Certain critics with traditionalist sympathies have published reviews which 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.".[2][3]

In his book Guénon ou le renversement des clartés, the French scholar Xavier Accart seriously calls into question the connection sometimes made between the Traditionalist school and the far right movements. He shows, for instance, that 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 (1960).


"Tradition" in Perennialism has a special meaning far removed from the generic meaning of folklore. "Integral Tradition" does not have a human origin and may be considered as principles revealed from Heaven and binding man to his divine origin, or to what Schuon called a "transcendent unity". Perennialists claim that the historically separated traditions share not only the same divine origin but are based on the same metaphysical principles, sometimes called philosophia perennis. To the "modern error," the Perennialists propose an everlasting wisdom of divine origin, "a Primordial Tradition", transmitted from the very origin of humanity and partially restored by each genuine founder of a new religion.


Critics of Traditionalism cite its popularity among the European Nouvelle Droite,[4] and claim it to be a anti-democratic, anti-modern, anti-liberal ideology critical of modernity and the bourgeois constitutional state.

See also


  • William W. Quinn, Jr., The Only Tradition (1996) ISBN 0791432130
  • Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred (1989) ISBN 0-7914-0177-4
  • Harry Oldmeadow, Traditionalism: Religion in the Light of the Perennial Philosophy (2000) ISBN 955-9028-04-9
  • Huston Smith, Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World's Religions (1976), reprint ed. 1992, Harper SanFrancisco, ISBN 0-06-250787-7
  • Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins: Post-War Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist (1953, revised 1967, with a new appendix, 1972).
  • Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century ISBN 0-19-515297-2
  • Jean-Pierre Laurant, René Guénon: Les enjeux d'une lecture (2006) ISBN 2-84454-423-1
  • Carl W Ernst, "Traditionalism, the Perennial Philosophy and Islamic Studies” in the MESA Bulletin (1994)
  • Andrew Rawlinson, The Book of Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions ISBN 0-8126-9310-8
  • Jean-Pierre Laurant, "Le problème de René Guénon", Revue de l'histoire des religions (1971).
  • Marie-France James, Esoterisme et Christianisme: autour de René Guénon. (1981)
  • Pierre-Marie Sigaud, ed, Rene Guenon [Dossiers H] (1984)
  • Jean-Pierre Laurant and Paul Barbanegra, eds, Rene Guenon [Cahier de l'Herne] (1985)
  • Antoine Faivre, ed, Dossier on “Perennialisme” in Aries 11 (1990)
  • Roger Griffin, "Revolts Against the Modern World: The Blend of Literary and Historical Fantasy in the Italian New Right" in Literature and History (1985)
  • Franco Ferraresi, "Julius Evola: Tradition, Reaction and the Radical Right" in Archives Européennes de Sociologie (1987)
  • Xavier Accart, René Guénon ou Le Renversement des clartés Paris, Milanos: Edidit Arche (2005)

Books and resources

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