TEACHING

THE PERENNIAL PHILOSOPHY

One sometimes hears it said that the religions of the world are like different paths up the same mountain or different colors of the spectrum, or like the various dialects of a single language.

At first glance this claim appears to be contradicted by the often widely divergent formulations of doctrine that are to be found in the different traditions. What could be further apart, for example, than Hinduism, which includes many Gods; Islam, which insists on one God; and Theravada Buddhism, which believes in no God? There are nonetheless those who contend that behind such outward differences there exists an inward or esoteric core of common spiritual Truth, unanimously attested to by the sages and mystics of the several religions. This truth has been called the sophia perennis or “perennial wisdom”, and those who espouse and defend it are often referred to as perennialists or perennial philosophers.

The aim of this seminar is to introduce students to the perennialist—also known as the traditionalist—school of comparative religious thought. Readings have been chosen from perennialist authors representing a variety of religious traditions, and the aim is to exhibit their characteristic approach both to specific religions and to various methodological, philosophical, historical, and aesthetic issues important to the contemporary study of religion. The work of Frithjof Schuon, widely regarded as the leading exponent of the school, has been highlighted throughout the course.

Method

The course is conducted as a Socratic discussion. The authors are our teachers and the readings our lectures. Each class begins with the posing of questions based upon the assignments for the day, and it is expected that students will join with the instructor in a shared conversational inquiry. The emphasis throughout the seminar is on active engagement and conversation, not the passive taking of notes, a premium being placed on precision, explanation, and defense. Students are held doubly accountable: for courteously listening to the contributions of others and for patiently justifying their own observations.

Requirements
  1. Reading. The assigned texts—to say the least of it—are exceptionally dense and demanding. In the time they might have spent preparing much longer assignments or doing extensive research in the library, students are expected to read the selections closely and carefully so as to be well prepared for every class.
  2. Attendance, both prompt and regular. Although attendance is not taken, the student who expects to do well without coming to class will be gravely disappointed. And attendance means punctuality; tardy arrivals and seminars are a disastrous mix.
  3. Constructive participation. For obvious reasons, this course is not for students who prefer an education they can simply ingest as the passive takers of notes. It is for those who enjoy the acts of thinking, reflection, and argument. Frequent contributions to class discussion are not merely desirable. They are essential. One-third of the final course grade will be based on class participation.
  4. Essays. Students will write three essays, two of 6-8 pages each and a third of 10-15 pages. Neither book reports nor research papers, these essays should be viewed instead as continuing conversations in which their authors wrestle in writing with the ideas opened up by the assigned readings. The third essay should present a well informed and carefully considered assessment of the perennialist perspective as a whole. Professor Cutsinger’s Breviary of English Usage, which can be found on his website under “Teaching”, will be used in his grading and commentary. Grades received on the better of the two shorter essays and on the third essay will be used in calculating the final course grade (one-third each).
Readings

A single text is required: The Perennial Philosophy, a compilation of readings selected and edited by Professor Cutsinger, with articles and chapters drawn from a number of leading perennialist authors and organized as follows:

The Study of Religions

  • Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “The Philosophia Perennis and the Study of Religion”
  • Huston Smith, “Is There a Perennial Philosophy?”
  • Frithjof Schuon, “The Sense of the Absolute in Religions”

Hinduism

  • Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, “The Vedânta and Western Tradition”
  • Frithjof Schuon, “The Vedânta”

Orthodoxy and Tradition

  • Whitall N. Perry, “Revelation-Authority-Infallibility”
  • Philip Sherrard, “The Meaning and Necessity of Sacred Tradition”
  • Frithjof Schuon, “Naiveté”

Metaphysics and Epistemology

  • René Guénon, “Oriental Metaphysics”
  • James S. Cutsinger, “A Knowledge That Wounds Our Nature”
  • Frithjof Schuon, “Axioms of the Sophia Perennis

Buddhism

  • Marco Pallis, “Is There Room for Grace in Buddhism?”
  • Frithjof Schuon, “Mystery of the Bodhisattva”

Religion and Science

  • René Guénon, “Sacred and Profane Science”
  • Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “The Cosmos as Theophany”
  • Frithjof Schuon, “The Veil of Isis”

The Exoteric and the Esoteric

  • Kenneth Oldmeadow, “The Transcendent Unity of Religions”
  • Whitall N. Perry, “Mysterium Magnum”
  • Frithjof Schuon, “The Ambiguity of Exoterism”, “Two Esoterisms”

Christianity

  • Philip Sherrard, “Christianity and Other Sacred Traditions”
  • James S. Cutsinger, “Hesychia: An Orthodox Opening to Esoteric Ecumenism”
  • Frithjof Schuon, “Some Observations”, “The Cross”

Art and Symbolism

  • Titus Burckhardt, “The Genesis of the Hindu Temple”
  • Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, “The Christian and Oriental, or True, Philosophy of Art”
  • Frithjof Schuon, “Foundations of an Integral Aesthetics”

Spirituality

  • Marco Pallis, “On Soliciting and Imparting Spiritual Counsel”
  • Whitall N. Perry, “Orthodoxy-Ritual-Method”
  • Frithjof Schuon, “The Nature and Function of the Spiritual Master”

Islam

  • Martin Lings, “The Doctrine”, “The Method”
  • Frithjof Schuon, “The Quran”

Eschatology

  • René Guénon, “The Dark Age”
  • Gai Eaton, “What We Are and Where We Are”
  • Frithjof Schuon, “Universal Eschatology”

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