January 28, 2006

Scholars as Gnostic Diplomats

Kripal, Jeffrey John 1962- "Comparative Mystics: Scholars as Gnostic Diplomats" Common Knowledge - Volume 10, Issue 3, Fall 2004, pp. 485-517 Duke University Press Excerpt Common Knowledge 10.3 (2004) 485-517 [Access article in PDF] Scholars as Gnostic Diplomats Jeffrey J. Kripal Project MUSE See How Do I Get This Article?
It is not difficult to see why Ulrich Beck's cosmopolitan viewpoint would inspire dissent. In a time of religious violence, fundamentalist politics, and attempts to erase historical memory on behalf of ethnic self-interest, it is easy to forget that, not so long ago, intelligent and pragmatic people could hope for a global worldview and even a global spirituality to emerge. It is worth remembering. It is worthwhile resisting the cynicism that comes from knowing that cosmopolitan hopes were at their highest during the colonial era. But however unwelcome the contact (unwelcome, often, on both sides), colonialism brought divergent cultures into intimate relationships whose results were not wholly or finally negative. One result was that brave souls around the planet came to believe that the conflicts among cultures, religions, and "final vocabularies" could eventually be transcended.
The positive results tended to be scholarly and to center on religion. In 1950, the postcolonial turning point, Raymond Schwab argued that the human venture had been ennobled and transformed during an "Oriental Renaissance" (1680-1880) when scholars labored diligently, if imperfectly, at the project of translation and religious interpretation. "Few people today," Schwab wrote, "seem to have heard of Anquetil-Duperron or Sir William Jones or what they set out to accomplish in India in the eighteenth century, but they have drastically altered our ways of thinking nonetheless. Why, then, is the fact generally unknown?"

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