Other Worlds or Ours? Sacred/Secular/Gnostic/Modern

  • Joel S. Kahn


One might be forgiven for thinking that the likes of Hermann Hesse, Erwin Schrödinger, Alexandra David-Néel, and René Guénon are of no interest today, at least to serious scholars in fields in which the study and analysis of human difference is explicitly thematized. In mainstream anthropology, one certainly gets the impression that any attempt to revive their project of Gnostic engagement with radically different “beliefs” about the nature of reality is regarded as embarrassing, if not worthy of ridicule, the example of Carlos Castaneda’s “fraudulent” claims almost inevitably being trotted out any time someone seems to be crossing the line. And they are rarely if ever included among the intellectual ancestors of contemporary students of Asian religion, being mentioned, if at all, only as purveyors of Orientalist fantasies that have long since been eradicated from the field. It would, of course, be impossible to erase Schrödinger’s name from the histories of twentieth-century physics. But metaphysical musings on the scientific relevance of Eastern philosophy, or speculations on the unitary nature of consciousness are, as we have noted, predictably dismissed as mystical by most natural scientists these days. And, as we have noted, Hermann Hesse’s Eastern writings are rarely read today by serious literary critics and theorists at least in the Anglophone world.


Mystical Experience Ontological Claim Islamic Belief Sufi Order Multilevel Marketing 
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  1. 3.
    Not unexpectedly, there are now those who are criticizing ontological anthropologists for the sin of “appropriation,” echoing that longstanding tradition of critique and countercritique that I have labeled the dialectics of authenticity (see Bonnie Glass-Coffin and Kiiskeentum. 2012. “The Future of a Discipline: Considering the Ontological/Methodological Future of the Anthropology of Consciousness, Part IV: Ontological Relativism or Ontological Relevance: An Essay in Honor of Michael Harner,” Anthropology of Consciousness 23(2): 113–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 4.
    For discussion and analysis of these new forms of Western spirituality, see “Spirituality, Political Engagement and Public Life,” Accessed August 25, 2011. For some of the, mainly North America-based, research on the phenomenon see P. Heelas and L. Woodhead. 2005. The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion Is Giving Way to Spirituality. Malden, MA: Blackwell; Robert C. Fuller. 2001. Spiritual, but Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press; Ruth Frankenberg. 2004. Living Spirit, Living Practice: Poetics, Politics, Epistemology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press; Courtney Bender. 2010. The New Metaphysicals. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press; and Laura R. Olson. 2010. “Who Are the ‘Spiritual but Not Religious,’” Accessed August 25, 2011.Google Scholar

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© Joel S. Kahn 2016

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  • Joel S. Kahn

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