The Perennial Solidarity of the East: René Guénon, Sufism and Easternist Anti-Colonialism in Early Twentieth-Century Egypt

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Abstract

While the intertwinement of Indian anti-colonial politics and Theosophy is well-known, the entanglement of esotericism and anti-colonial endeavors in the modern Arab world remains understudied. The article contributes to this area of research by demonstrating how certain strands of “Western” and “Eastern” esotericisms found resonance among early twentieth-century Arab intelligentsia and provided a useful global ideational backdrop for anti-colonial politics. Focusing on “Easternist” Egyptian intellectuals and their engagement with the French esotericist René Guénon, Theosophy, Sufism and Vedanta, the article shows how these esotericisms – and René Guénon’s in particular – provided valuable ammunition to the anti-colonial Easternist construction of a perennially united East. In doing so, the article proposes to nuance the existing interpretation of Guénon (living in Cairo from 1930) as “on the margins” of the Egyptian scene and, on a general level, to reevaluate the position of global esotericism in modern Arab thought.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAries
ISSN1567-9896
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024

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