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Studies in Spirituality Supplements


Edited by

Supplement 27

Hein Blommestijn Kees Waaijman Inigo Bocken

Titus Brandsma Institute Nijmegen The Netherlands

transforming spirituality
Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of
Studies in Spirituality
Selected and Introduced by
Rossano Zas Friz de Col
With a Foreword by
Kees Waaijman


LEUVEN - PARIS - bristol, CT


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Introduction: Spiritual/inner transformation in a secularized society

An overview from Studies in Spirituality (1991-2014)1
Rossano Zas Friz de Col
1 Inner Transformation
1.1 Inner Transformation from a Theological Point of View


Spirituality as transformation demands a structural dynamic approach

Kees Waaijman


Transformation A key word in spirituality43

Kees Waaijman
A theology of transformative healing in the monastic teaching of
William of St. Thierry79
MaryEllen OBrien
The Dark Night in John of the Cross The transformational process99
Hein Blommestijn
Discovering the self and the world through the eyes of God
A selective reading of The Spiritual Canticle115
Hein Blommestijn
Surrender The Ignatian principle for growth in Christlikeness143
John Udris
The imperative of mystical transformation155
Donald Blais
Integration and interiorization165
Duraiswami Simon Amalorpavadass

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Patterns of conversion in Christianity189

Anya Mali
Conversion as turning, conversion as deepening205
James E. Royster
An embodiment paradigm for the study of Christian spirituality
Embodied imagery in the immediacy and indeterminacy of experience227
Elizabeth Leung
1.2 Inner Transformation from the Interreligous Perspective


Becoming what we know Dynamics of integral transformation in

the spirituality of Sri Aurobindo253
Felicity Edwards
Buddhist and Christian ultimate transformation
The Perfection of Wisdom and Pauls Righteoused by Faith281
Jesse Tanner
1.3 Inner Transformation and Psychology


Individuation and mystical union Jung and Eckhart303

Mark James
Converting mortal losses into vital gains Could be worse323
Richard A. Hutch
The available pastor
Anke Bisschops


1.4 Empirical Research and Inner Transformation


Religion and personal/spiritual development

Some preliminary findings353
Frits Mertens
Motives in motion381
Frits Mertens

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Chaos lives next to God Religious visions and the integration

of personality397
Antoon Geels
Contemplative hospitality Empirical explorations of spiritual
experiences among abbey visitors413
Thomas Quartier
Mystical orientation and psychological type
An empirical study among guests staying at a Benedictine abbey431
Leslie J. Francis, Andrew Village, Mandy Robbins & Keith Ineson
Exploring the mystical experiences of a new spirituality
A case study of Reiki449
Jojan Jonker



in a

Secularised Society

2.1An Intercultural Approach The Netherlands, the Philippines

and Australia


Spiritual, yes; religious, no A Dutch students reactions to an abbey

Wiel Smeets
The lack of spirituality in secularization An experiential paradigm
from a Philippine setting513
Macario Ofilada Mina
Rising waters of the Spirit The view from secular society543
David Tacey
2.2Spirituality and Philosophy


Spirituality and postmodern philosophy

Emptiness as an opportunity for esteem565
Frans Maas
Spirituality in a postmodern age Challenges and questions591
Patrick Laude

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2.3 Spirituality and Discernment


Discernment for our times A practice with postmodern implications611

Elizabeth Liebert
2.4 Spirituality and Buddhism


Zen spirituality in a secular age Charles Taylor and Zen Buddhism

in the West637
Andr van der Braak
Zen spirituality in a secular age II Dgen on fullness:
Zazen as ritual embodiment of Buddhahood659
Andr van der Braak
2.5 The Quest for Soul in a Secularised Society


Social spirituality and the quest for soul683

Frans Maas & Kees Waaijman
Appendix List of original publications

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Patrick Laude
Spirituality in a Postmodern Age
Challenges and Questions

SUMMARY This essay examines the impact of postmodernism on

religious thought and spiritual practice, particularly in relation to the
following themes: the crisis and the erosion of religious institutions,
the fundamentalist solidification of religious consciousness, the postmodern theme of the end of esoterism, the claims of the emergence
of a new global spiritual consciousness, and the global and virtual
dissemination of spiritual knowledge. The author seeks to demonstrate that the various religious and spiritual traditions of the world
remain the repository of irreplaceable values and means of inner transformation, and the only adequate alternative to the double challenge
of formalistic and ideological religious identities on the one hand, and
non-traditional forms of spirituality such as the New Age, on the
other hand. He also argues for a greater essentialization and universalization of traditional spirituality to respond to the particular conditions of the age.

Two orientations appear in a particularly prominent manner in the intellectual and spiritual landscape that surrounds us. One encompasses all the tendencies arising from postmodern views and experiences; the other manifests
itself in the different forms of a return to religion, or a recourse to spirituality. In this brief essay, we wish to initiate a reflection on the intersection of
these two types of orientation, be it characterized by fluidity, tensions or
oppositions, and suggest a few lessons that may be drawn from the various
modes of this confrontation. Such a reflection will also lead us, in our later
development, to propose an assessment of the situation of religions in the
postmodern era, by examining some aspects of the new religious deal of our
times in light of traditional principles. The final sections of this paper will be
more specifically centered on the contemporary predicament of Islam as a
keenly representative illustration of the new religious landscape and the challenges it raises.

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Modern Solidification and Post-Modern Dissolution

In his two magna opera, The Crisis of the Modern World and The Reign of
Quantity and the Signs of Times, which appeared in 1927 and 1945 respectively,1
Ren Gunon characterized the modern world by two at once quite distinct
and mutually supporting tendencies which he designated by the terms solidification and dissolution.2 The former term refers to a process through which
the quantitative aspect of phenomena is given precedence to the point of obliterating, or at least relegating to an inoperative background, the qualitative
aspect of existence. This movement results from a kind of metaphysical thickening of the world and human consciousness which have become increasingly
opaque to the light of higher levels of being. One of the major characteristics
of this thickening appears in the infatuation, and one may even say quasireligious faith, surrounding the contemporary experimental sciences and the
technology issuing therefrom. This almost exclusive focus on the physical
aspects of existence bestows an increasingly exteriorized vision, a fascination
for the crust of the world, which contributes to the closing of the doors of
transcendence and blocks the awakening of our awareness to more inner
domains of reality. Unlike the pre-modern, symbolist, vision of existence
which consisted in an ontological hierarchy flowing from the principial and
spiritual heart of reality down to the material circumference of our cosmos,
modernity defines the real as a phenomenal, observable and measurable whole
in relation to which psychological and spiritual realities are but transitory epiphenomena deprived of any essential ontological foundations. It is on this
materialization of the real that modernity bases its myth of progress, both in
its epistemological and socio-political aspects: this myth finds its origins in the
anthropocentric view of Renaissance breaking away from the theocentric universe of the Middle Ages, before being precipitated by the advent of Enlightenment rationalism and the scientific and political revolutions of the contemporary period. Modern optimism resides, or resided, in the conviction of being
able to provide an account of the real in terms of a quantitative science that
was expected to give the keys to the meaning of the universe, but also guide
the march of mankind toward a positive and liberating knowledge.
In addition to this materialist solidification of the modern world, Gunon
analyzed a neo-spiritualist dissolution, the seeds of which appeared in the
Ren Gunon, La crise du monde moderne, Paris: Bossard, 1927; Le rgne de la quantit et les
signes des temps, Paris: Gallimard, 1945.
Cf. Chapter XVII, The Solidification of the World, and chapter XXIV, Toward Dissolution, in Ren Gunon, The reign of quantity and the sign of times, New Delhi: Munshiram
Manoharlal, 2000.

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various occultist and theosophist movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These movements were characterized by a reaction against some
of the tendencies of scientistic materialism, especially the latters incapacity to
open itself to the reality of extra-physical phenomena, but all they could offer
against that materialism were the psychic experiences of a random and sterile
individualism. This justified Gunons implacable critique of spiritism and
theosophy.3 Moreover, the phenomenist tendencies of the neo-spiritualist dissolution identified by Gunon demonstrated clearly that the latter broke away
from modern materialism only in appearance, and proposed in fact nothing but
a caricature of spirituality. Thus, the supra-sensible could be experienced as an
epiphenomenon of matter, whose relation with the latter could one day be
elucidated by positive and experimental science. It is to be noted that the New
Age phenomena which appeared during the last quarter of the twentieth century reflect to a certain extent a number of parallel tendencies.
On another plane, the so-called postmodern way of thinking may be deemed
to stem from a parallel movement of dissolution inasmuch as it advocates
bringing down, or at least dismissing as doubtful, the meta-narratives or the
grand narratives of modernity, as expressed, primarily, by the rationalistic and
materialistic solidification that they involved. This amounts to questioning all
principle of systemic and explicative coherence issuing from human rationality.
In this sense, the postmodern follows the modern just like the epistemic dissolution of meaning follows its systematic solidification. In fact, during the
sixties and the seventies the theme of the death of man which is attributed,
rightly or wrongly, to Michel Foucault already announced the critique of
rationalist and progressive humanism, as well as the rejection of the Eurocentric vision of the human, which are two of the most prominent features of
postmodern thinkers. Already for Foucault, man, this invention of the nineteenth century, was like foam on the surface of formal systems of meaning
which constitute, in the wake of structuralist analyses, the fundamental object
of the new human and social sciences. The multiplicity of these systems of
meaning is thereby substituted to the former unity and universality of man as
an object of study, thus giving way to the postmodern epistemological outburst. It is no longer just a question of fostering a relativism antithetical to any
concept of objective and absolute truth, but also of establishing a new definition of the truth that is at once plural and produced or generic.4
Ren Gunon, Theosophy: History of a pseudo-religion, Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2003;
and The spiritist fallacy, Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2003.
() Une vrit produite scientifique, artistique, politique, amoureuse justement en tant
quelle procde ne peut tre mauvaise, i.e. inductrice dune figure du dsastre. Comme telle
une procdure gnrique de vrit ne saurait avoir dexposition au dsastre. Toute vrit

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Thus, on the one hand one deals with disseminated truths, which means
that each field of thought and action possesses its own type of truth, and on
other hand with truths which are the product of a generic and creative activity, and not of an ontological or epistemological adequation. In other words,
the notion of truth is divorced from that of objectivity: truth as adaequatio rei
et intellectus has become obsolete since reality is never more than the horizon
of a deferred meanings, and the intellect nothing but a machine manufacturing them. If there remains a truth, or if the concept of truth has still some
axiological value, it can only stem from the psychological category of authenticity or refer to realizations of a socio-political order. The rejection of the
traditional or classical concept of truth as adequation of the thing and the
intellect is therefore linked to a profound distrust vis--vis the all-embracing
unity of the concept of truth, and its exclusiveness vis--vis error. In this postmodern view, all forms of philosophical imperialism and semantic diktat are
thereby prevented: the end of systems and the eviction of dogmatism are
indeed announced or celebrated. But this challenging of objective truth is not
the only focus of postmodern thought: its subjective side is likewise targeted,
specifically in the form of the rational subject and, beyond it, the subject as
Thus, it appears that postmodern thought lends itself to being characterized
by two fundamental tendencies: the dispersion and the deferment of meaning on the one hand, and the more or less radical negation of the subject, on
the other. We are thus confronted with the typically pre-modern views that, on
the one hand, meaning ever escapes us notwithstanding our ceaseless producing
of it, or else that it ever lies beyond that in which and by which we produce it,
and, on the other hand, the elimination of the human subject as stable foundation and ontological and epistemological seat of truths and values. Thus, Derridas diffrance hints at the perpetual incompletion of the meaning of words
and concepts which are ever relative to those from which they differ but
also differed by those that complete them, follow them, or accompany them.
Analogously, the zerological subject of Julia Kristeva suggests, for its part, a
negativity which annihilates and which is located out of the space governed
gnrique produite est bonne en soi. On soutiendra donc la thse de lexcellence dtre des
vrits plurielles pour lhumanit gnrique. En revanche, dans tout dsastre historique rel,
en particulier dans ses effets terroristes, qui visent anantir un tre qui devrait ne pas tre,
quelque chose de la catgorie de vrit, donc en rapport avec la philosophie, bien quaucune
terreur ne puisse se soutenir dune vrit ( part peut-tre la terreur religieuse) se trouve exige en un point du parcours historique. Alain Badiou, Philosophie, thorie du mal et de
lamour (1990-1991), Notes dAim Thiault et transcription de Franaois Duvert, http://

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spirituality in a postmodern age


by the sign.5 Not only does the sign escape us and itself qua meaningful, but it
also negates us qua subject who would be the source of denotation and signification.
Post-Modernity and Traditional Mysticism Is There a Convergence?
It has sometimes been suggested that the two aforementioned aspects of the
postmodern sensibility are not without affinity with some central orientations
of traditional mystical theology.6 Thus, some commentators establish correspondences between the postmodern fragmentation of meaning asserting plural truths, and mystical perspectives such as the Akbarian concepts of the God
of imagination or the station of no station maqm bil maqm. In a parallel
manner, the postmodern disappearance of the subject has been read, in this
context, as an insight that converges with the mystical and more particularly
Buddhist orientations of the anatta, the non-self, or even of fan, the Sufi
Can it be seriously entertained that the plurality of postmodern truths could
echo the indefinite diversity of the God of imagination as understood by
IbnArab, or the potentially infinite horizon of hermeneutics and radical
de-centering inherent to his esoteric outlook? For the latter, the God of imagination is but a determination of the Reality proportionate to the belief of a
given human subject. In this sense, the Absolute which is in itself pure Indetermination, not in the sense of a deficiency but inasmuch as it is non-delimited,
Dans cet espace autre (potique) o les lois logiques de la parole ne sont pas valables, le sujet
se dissout et la place du signe cest le heurt de signifiants sannulant lun lautre qui sinstaure. Une opration de ngativit gnralise, mais qui na rien voir avec la ngativit qui
constitue le jugement (Aufhebung) ni avec la ngation interne au jugement (la logique o-i);
une ngativit qui annihile, et que les anciennes philosophies, tel le bouddhisme, ont entrevue
en la dsignant par le terme de sunyvad. Un sujet zrologique, un non-sujet vient assumer
cette pense qui sannule. Ce sujet zrologique est extrieur lespace gouvern par le signe.
Autrement dit, le sujet disparat lorsque disparat la pense du signe, lorsque la relation du
signe au denotatum est rduite zro. Inversons: il ny a de sujet (et par l, ny a de psychologie ou dinconscient) que dans une pense du signe qui compense la pluralit parallle des
pratiques smiotiques occultes par la domination du signe, en se donnant des phnomnes
secondaires, ou marginaux (le rve, la posie , la folie), subordonns au signe (aux
principes de la raison) Le sujet zrologique (on voit quel point le concept de sujet est
dplac ici) ne dpend daucun signe mme si nous, partir de notre espace rationnel, ne
pouvons le penser qu travers le signe (Julia Kristeva, Posie et ngativit, in: LHomme 8
[1968] no.2, 36-63: 60).
See, for example, Peter Coates, Ibn Arab and modern thought: The history of taking metaphysics seriously, Oxford: Anqa, 2002; and Ian Almond, Sufism and deconstruction: A comparative
study of Derrida and Ibn Arab, London: Routledge, 2009.

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determines itself through pre-existential predispositions. Consequently,

there are as many gods or realities as there are limited perspectives on Reality, but this Reality always escapes the understanding resulting from these perspectives. Man cannot go beyond his own measure to grasp the Real in its
plenitude and as such: The Real becomes manifest to His servants in the
measure of their knowledge of Him;7 and The servant sees nothing of the
Real save his own form.8 Ultimately, this means that human perfection can
never consist in a limited determination since the latter constitutes a negation
of Reality, hence, according to Ibn Arab, the super-eminence of the station
of no station (maqm bil maqm) which is none other than the most allinclusive specification [in which a] person [is] not distinguished by a station
whereby he is distinguished.9 This paradox refers to the realization of the
Non-delimited in and by the delimited, that is, the coincidentia oppositorum
which is therefore also a passing beyond the God of imagination. Thus, the
supreme human reality, or the ontological and epistemological perfection, goes
back to being nothing in a manner analogous diachronically but not synchronically so to that in which the Real is not something. The station of
nostation does not halt at any determination which would negate or veil
theReal; it is in a sense infinite and supra-rational hermeneutics and constant
The following is a beautiful practical expression of this mystery by the
Moroccan Shaykh al-Darqaw:
Men with knowledge of God do not run away from things as others do, for they
contemplate their Lord in everything. The others run away because the sight of
existing things prevents them from seeing Him from whom existence flows.
About this, the illustrious Master Ibn At-Illh says in his Hikam: Devout
men and ascetics cut themselves off from all things only because they find that
things cut them off from God; if they contemplated Him in all things, they
would not cut themselves off.10

This capacity to recognize God in everything, or to welcome the ever-changing

multiplicity of theophanic forms and events, presupposes an extinction of the
human subject into a state of servitude vis--vis the Real. There is, therefore,
a subjective zero, as it were, which corresponds to the infinity of the determinations of the Possible. This zero is not nothingness, though it is nothing
Futht, III 215.32, see William C. Chittick, Imaginal worlds: Ibn al-Arab and the problem
of religious diversity, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994, 163.
Futht, III 254.21, see Chittick, Imaginal worlds, 163.
Futht, IV 76.31, ibid., 170.
Al-Arab al Darqaw, Letters of a Sufi master (trans. Titus Burckhardt), London: Perennial,
1969, 32.

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from the point of view of relative determinations which could delimit it. It is
the pure ductility of the heart defined in The Interpreter of Yearnings as qbilan
kulla sratin or receptive to all the forms. It is therefore no longer the bias of
the human subject which delimits and gives meaning to the world but rather
the world, that is, the divine Self-disclosure which signifies in the soul, to use
Henry Corbins phrase.
In light of the above, the structural and thematic analogies between postmodern themes and mystical concepts suggested earlier should in no case prevent one from recognizing the profound and indeed irreducible divergence
between the traditional metaphysical universe and postmodern reality. Certainly, these two perspectives dismiss the modern figures of rationalist humanism, while also revoking the facile ideological optimism of an obsolete modernity. One must however point out that mystical perspectives are at once
metaphysical and spiritual, unlike the postmodern point of view which could
be defined as purely semiotic. The postmodern universe is, radically, a semiotic
network of produced meanings, whereas the mystical universe is an ontologically meaningful universe. Since postmodern reality, if this word is still adequate, turns away from a system of coherent and meaningful signs emanating
from a subjective center of signification and symbolic reading, the subject
fades or disappears on the margin or below the self-producing web of meanings.11 There is no ontological or epistemological depth of meaning, but rather
the type of clash of meanings described by Kristeva in the context of postmodern poetical language. By contrast, the void of the mystical subject constitutes
an absence of egotistic projection which delivers the immanent truth to those
involved in the path of spiritual knowledge instead of imprisoning them in
their own distorting delimitations. The traditional notion of symbolism presupposes an adequation between the divine Source, the symbols which manifest
the infinity of meanings therein, and the human intellect which actualizes these
meanings. The world of postmodern meaning is thus fundamentally alien to
the traditional conception of a meaningful metaphysical order, a meaningful
world with which humanity is consubstantial. Even though postmodern concepts shatter the shell of the solidified universe of the modern world, this is
solely to make room for a purely negative and hollow non-subject on the
surface of which there floats a dust of differing, fragmented, and provisory

Ngation triadique, parole fonctionnant daprs la logique aristotlicienne o-i, pense de

signe, sujet parlant; voil les termes corrlatifs et complices de cet univers du Logos,
Kristeva, Posie et ngativit, 59-60.


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The Fundamentalist Solidification

On another level, while consumerist and technology-oriented globalism has
resulted in both a materialistic and uniform solidification of lifestyles, and an
individualistic dissolution that cannot but eventually destroy the last qualitative elements of collective identity, another major aspect of the contemporary
solidification has appeared, by way of reaction, in the formal hardening of
religious sensitivities most often designated, not without ambiguity, by the
pejorative terms of fundamentalism and integralism. To be fair, it is appropriate to remember that these two terms, which originated in Christianity, are
in fact unsuitable to account for the complexity of religious phenomena which
the contemporary media are used to classify under these designations. The first
term, having issued from Anglo-Saxon Protestantism, was originally defined in
reaction to modernism as a restatement of the fundamental principles of the
Christian faith, whose five major constituents are identified, in this context, as
the Divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the virginal birth of Christ,
his expiating redemption of sin, his miracles, and his resurrection. As for the
term integralism, in French intgrisme, it refers rather to the anti-modernist
forces that have defended, within the Catholic Church, an integralist vision of
the Catholic doctrine and liturgy, which they deem threatened by the relativist
influences of the modern world, and the modernist aggiornamento flowing from
the Second Vatican Council, perceived as deviating from the traditional theocentric vision as well as destructive of the forms inherited from the ecclesiastical
Indeed, although most contemporary conservative religious currents are
characterized by exclusivist and literalist tendencies, the ideas of fundamentals
and integrity which they evoke should by no means be reflexologically associated with the phenomena of literalist exclusivism tainted with socio-political
ideology which is routinely referred to by the reductionist shortcut label of
fundamentalism. In some liberal and academic circles, indeed, the label fundamentalism seems to be a facile way to dismiss any religious conviction or
fervor. However, if one examines more closely contemporary fundamentalism,
one will discover that it essentially results from an encounter and fusion of two
movements that are specifically representative of the modern and postmodern
The first can be equated with a religious identitarian solidification in the
form of a defensive response to global hegemonies, which is no different, as far
as its function is concerned, from ideological claims of national and cultural
identity. Religious affiliation is thus formally defined as a means of preserving a
collective and individual identity which is perceived as being corroded by the
homogenizing tendencies of globalization. This adherence to identity reinforces,

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in religious thought and practice, all that defines most formally, distinctly, and
outwardly the most discernible and incontrovertible difference and exclusivity.
Hence the insistence on all that marks religious identity within the social space,
in an ostensible, if not ostentatious, manner. The increased popularity of the
hijab in Muslim milieus is, in this respect, a most eloquent example of such
trends. Moreover, this declaration of identity is most often loaded with ideological contents which substitute, most often subtly and as it were unconsciously,
the external system of formal religion to the metaphysical and spiritual realities
to which it points. Thus, the religious system becomes inherently bound with
political and social demands and goals which provide it with an operational
energy in circles that feel besieged or alienated by the globalist hegemony.
Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly for superficially liberal analysts, these
ideological finalities are most often not incompatible with the scientific and
technological paradigm of modernity, quite the contrary, since religious forms
no longer function, in most cases, as supports for a genuinely traditional metaphysical or aesthetic consciousness. This explains, for example, why fundamentalist movements are generally dismissive of the traditional cosmological models
and unaware of the import of symbolical and aesthetic forms which have constituted the concrete framework of established spiritual traditions. Their view of
the universe, therefore, hardly differs from the modern quantitative paradigm,
with the exception, needless to say, of the position of a Supreme Being understood in the most exclusively anthropomorphic forms derived from Scriptures,
while their aesthetic sensibility, or lack thereof, is not different from modern
norms, aside from moralist censure, as testified by their desacralizing use of
mass media, and the artistic indigence of their aesthetic choices. Far from being
remnants of medieval thought and practice, as claimed by their modern critics, these fundamentalist movements are nothing but hybrids of practical
modernity and formal tradition, around which sociopolitical objectives and collective identitarian passions have sedimented. Thus, the economical and technological homogenization of globalism incites by way of reaction an identitarian spirit that finds a fitting support in the formal and politicized shell of
religious identity, one which is at once a principle of formal solidification and
a vector of chaotic dissolution by way of a religious tribalism impervious to
any sense of universality. While closing itself to modern uniformity, fundamentalism also closes itself, and this is its greatest tragedy, to the horizon of
universality that used to guarantee, implicitly and essentially, the spiritual vigor
of tradition.
In contemporary Islam, by way of a pervasive puritanization of hearts and
minds, the tendencies sketched above manifest most emphatically in that the
affirmation of Divine Unity turns very often into a rigid monomania of abstract
unity set up as a mental idol, while a pedantic legalism with no spiritual horizon

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patrick laude

functions as the foundation of numerous ideological platforms. The all-embracing totality of the tradition, a quasi-maternal mercy that used to enable traditional Muslims to orient their existence in accordance with the One on the basis
of a spiritual realism open to the human integrality of existence, is increasingly
being reduced to the status of a stifling and artificial formal system, when it is
not pharisaic and policing; to the extent that a foremost contemporary commentator has spoken, in such cases, of truth without presence.12 While being
mindful of not oversimplifying or caricaturing the contemporary situation of
Islam, which indeed reveals an extreme complexity through the diversity of its
components and contexts, one must recognize that a certain ideological, puritanical and legalistic rationalization has gradually imposed itself as normative,
including in many milieus that cannot be considered as fundamentalist in the
ordinary sense of the term.
The narrowing of intellectual and spiritual perspective that has ensued has
also contributed to deprive Muslims of references and models that would allow
them to tackle modern predicaments with more discernment and penetration,
and from a higher vantage point. Although it is true that the combative faith of
Islam rests upon a metaphysical discernment that has nothing superficially
inclusive about it, since it rejects illusion and error, it is equally true that this
exclusivism is essentially based on an implacable sense of the Divine Reality,
and not on the formal limits of an identity exacerbated by its own exclusivist
self-reduction. While an acute sense of the Divine demands on mankind should
follow, in different degrees and in more or less direct modes, from a clear sense
of the absoluteness of the Divine Object, this should not veil the principle that
the sharah has its raison dtre only in view of ones return to God. The phenomena of a formal hardening and spiritual shrinking of Islam, to which too
many segments of the ummah bear witness, result in losing sight of this distinction: Islam, or rather a certain reductionist idea of Islam, has been de facto and
as if unconsciously substituted to God. Similarly, some of the most visible and
vocal manifestations of the attachment to the formal traditions of Judaism contribute to an interpretation of the concept of the elect people in terms of an
ethnic nationalism with no transcendent horizon. This hypertrophy of identity
cannot but lead to a lack of concrete recognition of the principle of justice vis-vis the other. The Eternal Covenant has often ceased to be the source of a
universal mission of testifying to the One and turned into an ideological pretext
for a carnal idolatry that is easily manipulated by militant and political passions, as well as by socio-economical interests.

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We prefer to speak, paraphrasing Ghazal, of a mould of truth without presence, for truth as
such is always presence in some way.

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The Flattening of Religious Consciousness

The solidifying tendencies of the identity-related forms of fundamentalism
do not only stem from a reaction against the relativist dissemination of the
postmodern world and the quantifying uniformity of globalism, but also from
a response to the fading and dilution brought out by liberal or modernist
segments of the religious universe, particularly in the West, during the last decades. In other terms, formal hardening and spiritual flattening nourish each
other. One must note that this erosion manifests almost always in the form of
a most often unconscious subversion of that which constitutes the normative
spiritual axis of the tradition, in a way that is inversely analogous to the Islamic
and Jewish fundamentalist tendencies to which we alluded earlier, since it
involves dissolving rather than solidifying trends. To the extent that the spiritual axis of the tradition is no longer understood or lived in its dimension of
spiritual transparency vis--vis metaphysical realities, it gradually shrinks into a
mere moral or psychological concept, thereby blurring or altogether effacing its
transcendent referent. It is thus that Jean Borella has been able to argue against
a profanation of charity which, in his view of the Christian world, has taken
the form of a humanitarianism whose references to transcendence are increasingly less marked and more drowned in an anthropocentric and humanistic
It has been sometimes suggested that, in response to its marginalization in
relation to a world mostly busy with exploiting nature and exploring the outward, the post-conciliar Church has resolved to exteriorize itself by laying
stress upon a pastoral discourse that is confusing the world as a mode of being
impervious to the Spirit with the world as Gods creation. The outcome is a
discourse that is most often out of plumb, neither worldly nor godly, and the
inclusivism which might be deemed to be a result of ones powerlessness vis-vis the modern world, rather than the expression of a spiritual vigor in a position to assimilate the positive messages of the world of creation. Likewise, in
Buddhism, especially as it is understood and lived in the Western world, one
witnesses an analogous phenomenon of dilution of the metaphysical and spiritual substance of the tradition to the benefit of a secularized and individualistic
psychology, or a spiritual materialism to make use of Chgyam Trungpas

Il fut enseign autrefois que lamour du prochain passait par lamour de Dieu. La ranon du
rejet de Dieu et des vertus naturelles, cest lalination structurale. La charit du chrtien
moderne, ce nest pas lamour des hommes, cest lamour dune construction abstraite qui doit
rendre les hommes heureux. Jean Borella, La charit profane, subversion de lme chrtienne,
Paris: Cdre, 1979, 99.


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suggestive concept.14 The non-objectifying and non-reifying silence of the Buddha on the question of God is most often translated in terms of a rejection of
the Abrahamic theistic model. Freed from metaphysical dogmas and therefore deprived from any concrete recognition of the dimension of transcendence,
a Buddhicized secular psychology has thereby crept in on the margins of the
fundamentally ascetic and impersonal teachings of Buddhist orthodoxy. It is
undeniable that this spirituality without religion and without God corresponds
to some inner needs on the part of a contemporary individualism that has been
exhausted by mechanized and artificial lifestyles. In a parallel way, one witnesses the emergence of a neo-Vedanta, a neo-Sufism, and a neo-Kabbalah severed from their respective traditional framework.
The emphasis on individual freedom, the distrust towards institutional forms
deemed outdated and unduly repressive, and the allure of forms of meditational
practice tailored to fit the constraints of modern life, all these elements militate
toward the appearance of a new spirituality that would distill the practical
sap of the spiritual wisdoms of the world without entailing the compromises
and dullness of so-called organized religions. In addition, two apparently independent phenomena that are perhaps more related than would appear prima
facie i.e. the spiritual exhaustion of religious traditions and the global diffusion of sapiental and mystical writings heretofore reserved to a small number of
initiates, have thus opened the path of a new inner quest that challenges the
inherited spiritual norms of the tradition. It is also in this context that some
spiritual authorities have gone so far as to announce the end of esoterism. This
is a startling way to refer to the contemporary phenomenon of a universal
access, by way of diverse media, to the spiritual arcane lying below the formal
surface that used to imply a polarity, or complementarity, between exoterism
and esoterism. In other words, the decay of the various forms of exoterism, and
the putative advent of a new global consciousness attuned to inner knowledge
through mediatic relays and inter-religious exchanges, would cancel out the
very notion of a distinction between exoterism and esoterism.
A number of neo-spiritual movements do not hesitate to move even further
in that direction by postulating a collective spiritual maturity that would render mankind as a whole receptive to the ultimate message of esoteric teachings entered into the public domain. In this logic, it is as if the tragic experiences of the last centuries and the acceleration of history characterizing the
last decades had been leading, as a reaction, to a global awareness intent on
restoring a collective primacy of transcendence beyond the traditional forms
that had been its vehicles heretofore. In actuality, upon monitoring the modern world, it is difficult to ignore an utter intellectual and spiritual confusion,

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Chgyam Trungpa, Cutting through spiritual materialism, Boston: Shambala, 1973.

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the raging of inter-religious and inter-sectarian violence, and the increasingly

delusive and superficial character of most contents of consciousness at least
collective ones, as evidenced, for example, in the virtual and electronic hypertrophy of media, the superficiality and unpredictability of mass responses, the
growing artificiality and disconnection of lifestyles, and the rise of desperate
ideological violence, all phenomena that hardly herald the emergence of a
high spiritual consciousness likely to influence positively the course of collective history.
It is also important to bear in mind that collectivities, especially as masses,
are quite incapable of serving as an active support for any spiritual revolution.
As Simone Weil put it, No crowd can conceive relationship. This is good or
bad in relation to., in so far as That escapes the crowd. A crowd cannot
add things together.15 This incapacity to think relationships, in the sense of
aspects, points-of-view and proportions, is moreover connected to an incapacity
to exercise attention, which would amount to a full recognition of the being of
the object, that is true spiritual objectivity. Thus, spiritual realization is never a
collective phenomenon, it is always as it were situated within an individual
consciousness that surrenders and abandons itself, and thereby transcends itself.
Despite these fundamental and intrinsic obstacles and the spiritual unrealism of
the perspectives ignoring them, one must nevertheless acknowledge that the
contemporary context reveals a specificity that cannot be without effects on the
concrete ways of spiritual realization through a contemplative path.
Rising to Contemporary Challenges A Few Traditional
First of all, we live in a time when a measure of essentialisation of religious life
seems necessary given that it is no longer possible to benefit from an integral
traditional framework. Religions, or rather the civilizations they inform, were
characterized by their capacity to offer a traditional framework which, though
essentially oriented toward the spiritual goals issuing from the original revelation, did nevertheless assume all the complexities and ambiguities inherent to
historical and socio-political realities. The approximate constitution inherent to
traditional realities, a state of affairs that can no doubt be deemed to be a lesser
good if not a lesser evil, is moreover subject to a cycle of growth and corruption which, on the one hand, tends to refine, but also harden, theological positions and institutional structures, and, on the other hand, leads to a process of
Simone Weil, Gravity and grace (trans. Emma Crawford & Mario von der Ruhr), London:
Routledge, 2002, 165.


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solidification and thickening that makes it a prey of time, human abuse, as well
as social and historical law of gravity.
It must be considered, furthermore, that the context of the modern world
adds a particularly problematic dimension to the situation of religions, in that
it compels them to define themselves and to operate in a world which, for the
first time since the outset of civilization, is based upon foundations that are
fundamentally alien, and indeed contrary, to the traditional religious vision.
Thus, religions, or rather their official representatives, but also their followers,
are summoned to discern the nature of the modern world in its principles or
lack thereof as well as in its manifestations, and to assume a spiritual and
ethical position towards it while functioning therein. In this respect, Gunons
work offers fundamental keys for such a discernment by emphasizing the
anomalous character of the modern world, and by suggesting, more or less
explicitly, a witnessing duty and an action of presence on the part of those
who are conscious of its monstrous characterin the etymological sense, but
also perhaps at times in a literal one.16 The extraordinary conditions of modernity, which are intrinsically connected to the destruction of traditional universes, the secularization of the ways of living, and the implementation of a
type of society which the Catholic writer Georges Bernanos considered, already
in the mid-twentieth-century, as a gigantic conspiracy against any sort of inner
life, call for a need to focus on the spiritual essentiality of the religious message,
the only component thereof likely to withstand centrifugal forces.
Such need for a cultivation of the essentials originates in two sets of constraints: on the one hand, the fact that the psychological and social conditions
of the time do not lend themselves to an analytical deployment of all the formal
richness of traditional realities in their outward dimension of formal framework
and support, and on the other hand, more fundamentally, because the spiritual
urgency of our times reminds us constantly of the essential finality of religious
phenomena. However, such a reduction presupposes that we be in a position to
discern this essential finality in a way other than through circumstantial and
accidental criteria. Therefore, it requires a penetrating consciousness of the
meaning and principles of religion, an ability to discern the means of its manifestation and permanence in the modern world without betraying its transcendent character and spiritual integrity. Such a discernment seems hardly accessible, not to say quite impossible, without a sufficient degree of spiritual and
contemplative interiorization of the tradition.


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[T]he modern world considered in itself is an anomaly and even a sort of monstrosity. Gunon, The reign of quantity and the signs of times, 8.

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As Gershom Scholem put it in his study of the Hebrew Kabbalah,17 the

mystic, or more generally one who has interiorized and actualized to some
meaningful degree the transcendent ideals of his religion, may be considered at
once as conservative and revolutionary. Revolutionary in that the contemplative jostles the habits and prejudices sedimented by a conventional understanding and practice of religion, but conservative in that the criterion and the
guarantees of this challenge are precisely based on a direct experience of the
source of tradition itself. The key to the essentialization to which we referred
earlier may be deemed to reside in this distinction. Indeed, this essentialization,
or more precisely this focus on the ultimate finality of religion and on the central means of realizing it, does not reappraise in any way tradition itself but
only suggests the possibility of a renewed synthesis and mindful application of
its most central components. It can nevertheless aim at purifying it and at
revivifying the modes of manifestation and of practice in the spirit of the spiritual simplicity of the origin and we have in mind here more particularly the
ontological origin than the strictly historical origin, for the latter can be interpreted in formalist terms which obstruct the access to living sources.
It goes without saying, however, that such an essentialization also presupposes, on top of a sufficient degree of spiritual interiorization, a traditional
framework which is still sufficiently intact to guarantee its validity and efficacy.
In particular, it bears distinguishing such a return to the essentials from some
modern pretenses at extracting, in an artificial and idiosyncratic manner, the
spiritual sap of ancestral spiritual traditions in conjunction with a flippant disposal of the orthodox supports that have flown from the very roots of Revelation or archetypical Enlightenment. Neo-Sufism, new Kabbalah, and neoVedanta cannot in this sense meet in any way the minimal requirements of an
authentic spiritual essentialization. One must add that the access to the diversity of religious and spiritual traditions, if not under the form of a plethora of
texts placed at the disposal of everyone, presents itself in this context as a double-edged sword. This access can indeed very easily nourish a relativization of
the traditional dispensation if not a rejection thereof, in the name of an abstract
universalism with no living relationship to the spiritual influence of religion.
For others, but this is doubtless only a small minority, this access may signify
the recognition of a transcendent unity of religions, to use the title of the classic work by Frithjof Schuon,18 or more or less a spiritual enriching of our faith
by meeting the other. In the latter case, the diversity of contemplative and
mystical forms and the recognition of their convergences could constitute a
most precious tool in the refining of the spiritual discernment with a view to
Gershom Scholem, La Kabbale et sa symbolique, Paris: Payot, 1975, 14-15.
De lUnit transcendante des religions, Paris: Gallimard, 1948.


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the essential to which we referred earlier. It is also on this plane that the distinction between exoterism and esoterism, based on a supple and subtle understanding of the complex play of relationships between form and essence
could prove most fertile, and the most useful one, by providing the inner keys
of a discernment of spirits, or a spiritual ijtihd.
The Inner and Outer Permanence and Exile
It is to be noted that the relationship between essence and form, or between
spiritual content and formal transmission, comprises a historical and eschatological dimension of much importance. It appears, for example, in a rather
suggestive way in the epilogue of the Gospel according to Saint John. Therein
is staged the complex and subtle relationship between two Churches, one corresponding to the ecclesial institution crystallized in history, while the other
represents the inner tradition that distills the spiritual essence of the message.
The relationship between these two Churches is presented in a somewhat
enigmatic form:
Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which
also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth
thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus
saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow
thou me. (Jn 21:20-22)

Whereas the Church of John drinks from the heart of the spiritual teachings of
Jesus under the sign of love, the Church of Peter can but follow Christ. There
is, therefore, implicit in this duality a certain contrast between direct inspiration gushing from the heart of the revelation and horizontal transmission by
virtue of a line of outward traditional authority. What is striking in this passage
is the contrast between the allusive character of the words of Jesus concerning
John, who is however never designated by name, and the direct and imperative
evidence of words addressed to Peter. In other terms the earthy destiny of the
esoteric and spiritual dimension of tradition remains efficacious albeit
enshrouded in secrecy and discretion (do not throw your pearls before swine)
whereas the destiny of the earthly Church is limited to a duty of unequivocal
obedience: Follow though me. The inner dimension remains impenetrable for
the representative of the outward authority, and Jesus asks the latter not to
concern itself with the former.19 But a last point must be emphasized: the

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A sign of excellence in ones Islam is leaving what does not concern one. (Hadth related by
Ahmad, Malik and Tirmidhi)

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becoming of the inner tradition seems to be linked to the eschatological mystery of the second coming: If I will that he tarry till I come, whatis thatto
thee? and it is in this sense that the contemplative and esoteric dimension
acquires a completely particular privilege in our crepuscular world.
Concluding Remarks
We would like to conclude by pursuing the preceding reflections within the
more exclusive framework of Islam by meditating upon the possible implications of a hadth that is not uncommonly quoted in contemporary discourses
about Islam: Islam started as an exile, and it shall return in exile, blessed are
those whose faith leads it on exile. The Arabic word translated by exile is
gharban which implies a sense of being foreign, or being like a stranger. As it
appears quite plainly, this hadth suggests an eschatological situation of Islam
which is at once problematic and providential. For a tradition which is so
rooted in the sociopolitical reality as Islam, exile undeniably represents an
abnormal situation in the sense that it implies a failure of the formal supports needed to sustain the equilibrium and permanence of the tradition.
Islam is a sacred law, and as a consequence a sociopolitical order derived, in
different degrees, from this law and its historical developments. In other
words, primordial and normative Islam, that is, the surrender of the human
will to the Divine Will, is also manifested in and through the formal complex
that integrates the human will into the multiplicity of earthly norms and
While Christianity may appear to us in many aspects as a tradition intrinsically in exile, my kingdom is not of this world, Islam is, by contrast, characterized by an individual and collective earthly balance which integrates and coordinates the world and earthly experiences in view of its soteriological goal. The
Islamic civilization, from its highest spiritual, intellectual, and artistic output
down to its most pragmatic and approximate not to say ambivalent social
and psychological manifestations, is indeed a kind of religious homeland. It
encompasses not only a formal and legal system guaranteeing happiness in this
life and the next, but also a wealth of cultural treasures that makes of our
earthly existence a sort of anticipation or anti-chamber of the hereafter. If the
elect of paradise are said to hear but one word, peace, peace (illa qlan salman
salman) (( ) Quran, 56: 26), this peace is already prefigured by
the practice of Islam as repose in the effort to use Frithjof Schuons suggestive expression. The homeland of integral Islam is therefore this earthly foundation with an already paradisial perfume, this City of God founded upon the
revealed Law.

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Thus, to speak of an exile of Islam may amount to hinting at the possibility, suggested by some, that the values of this faith could very well be manifested mainly, in our times, outside of the traditional zone of influence of the
sharah where the ummah is a majority, but also more profoundly beyond the
strictly earthly order as such. Institutional, communal, and visible Islam has
indeed been largely eroded, to say the least, by the combined effects of time, an
increasing narrowing of understanding, and the irruption of modernity, to the
point that one is not unfounded to wonder whether the very idea of its outward
reaffirmation is not one of the most dangerous utopia. Indeed, the outward
attempts to affirm or reassert the sociopolitical authority of the Islamic framework, which is everywhere confronted to modernity and the secularization of
ways of life and mentalities, have clashed with most of the human crystallizations of modern and post-modern tendencies, hence, as a reaction, a formal
hardening of the religious consciousness that remains furiously powerless in its
attempts at filling in the cracks of the Islamic edifice.
Between formal routine, socio-psychological constraint, and political oppression, the ossified and largely reified external remnants of the traditional universe are most often quite incapable of satisfying the most profound and
demanding needs of the Muslim soul. Thus, some would dare suggesting that
Islam is no longer in Islam, if one may allow oneself this inevitably schematic
but nonetheless suggestive shortcut. At any rate, such a paradoxical observation
brings out rich implications when one considers that the growing presence of
Muslims in non-Muslim lands, and particularly in the West, as well as the
emergence of new half-heartedly Westernized generation of Muslims in the
East, represents, according to the reflections of a number of present day Muslim thinkers, a most fertile occasion. Indeed, this Islam in exile is provided with
the spiritual opportunity to resource itself in a more profound zone of the
Islamic identity, independently from the psychological, cultural and historical
limitations of Muslim societies. Beyond the specifically acute predicament of
Islam, one may wonder whether this exile may not refer, more generally and
by way of symbolic allusion, to the challenging rigors of the contemporary destiny of all believers, irrespective of their specific creeds, but also to the blessings
and inner compensations that it carries in its fold.

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