The Inner Journey of the Gnostic Self: Ethics and Politics

  • Joel S. Kahn


We have already had occasion to cite Jürgen Habermas’s remarks on the “new, deinstitutionalized forms of a fickle religiosity that [have] withdrawn entirely into the subjective” (cited in Mendieta 2010), a jibe that seems to have been prompted by the “growth and increasing visibility of a demographic identifying as ‘spiritual-not-religious [SPNR]’ in North America,”1 including its embrace of Eastern spirituality. In this, Habermas gives voice to a view that is quite common among Western intellectuals, namely that what they like to call “New Age” spirituality is both morally and politically bankrupt. And this stems from the judgment that all such modern/postmodern forms of spirituality involve a selfish, egocentric pursuit of authenticity on the part of individualized, New Age selves.


Spiritual Practice Mystical Experience Postwar Period Pure Consciousness Western Intellectual 
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  1. 2.
    Although there is no evidence that Hesse read him, it is interesting to compare this assessment with Max Weber’s who contrasted the religions of India and China in very similar terms, a parallel that probably springs from the fact that they were reading the same sources. The original versions of Weber The Religion of China and The Religion of India appeared in 1915 and 1916 respectively. See Max Weber. 1958. The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism. Glencoe, IL: Free Press; and Max Weber. 1964. The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism, trans. Hans H. Gerth (ed.), with an introduction by C. K. Yang. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    This distinction is the subject of some debate among scholars of Buddhism and existentialism. The position adopted here is influenced by the writings of a number of the contributors to a volume on Buddhisms and Deconstructions (Jin Y. Park, ed. 2006. Buddhisms and Deconstructions. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield), particularly those by Mabbet and Magliola.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    See Jay L. Garfield. 1995. The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakāri. New York: Oxford University Press; and Teed Rockwell. 2009. “Minds, Intrinsic Properties and Madhyamaka Buddhism.” Zygon(r) 44(3): 659–674.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    See Schwartz’s two volume “autobiography” (Alvin Schwartz. 2006. An Unlikely Prophet: A Metaphysical Memoir by the Legendary Writer of Superman and Batman. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books; and Alvin Schwartz. 2007. A Gathering of Selves: The Spiritual Journey of the Legendary Writer of Superman and Batman. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books).Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Cited in the author’s introduction to the 2001 edition. See Alvin Schwartz. 2001. The Blowtop. Chicago: Olmstead Press, ix (originally published by The Dial Press, New York).Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    See Lieven Boeve. 2006. “Negative Theology and Theological Hermeneutics: The Particularity of Naming God.” Philosophy and Scripture 3(2): 1–12; Arthur Bradley. 2008. “‘Mystic Atheism’: Julia Kristeva’s Negative Theology.” Theology and Sexuality 14(3): 279–292; John D. Caputo. 2001. On Religion. New York: Routledge; Jacques Derrida and Gianni Vattimo, eds. 1998. Religion. Cambridge: Polity; John Milbank. 1991. Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell; and Gianni Vattimo. 2002. After Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar

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© Joel S. Kahn 2016

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  • Joel S. Kahn

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