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Publisher: www.giffordlectures.org
ISBN: 10:0791401766

This book is corrected and edited by Al-Hassanain (p) Institue for Islamic Heritage and Thought


We have taken this book from the giffordlectures.org, and set it as it would be easy readable in several formats, while we rechechked it through its pdf file taken from libgen.org.



State University of New York Press, 1989


Table of Contents

Summary. 4

Preface 7

Chapter One: Knowledge and Its Desacralization  10

Notes 46

Chapter Two: What Is Tradition?. 61

Notes 78

Chapter Three: The Rediscovery of the Sacred: The Revival of Tradition  84

Notes 106

Chapter Four: Scientia Sacra. 114

Notes 133

Chapter Five: Man, Pontifical and Promethean  138

Notes 156

Chapter Six: The Cosmos as Theophany  161

Notes 180

Chapter Seven: Eternity and the Temporal Order 186

Notes 205

Chapter Eight: Traditional Art as Fountain of Knowledge and Grace 212

Notes 229

Chapter Nine: Principal Knowledge and the Multiplicity of Sacred Forms 233

Notes 251

Chapter Ten: Knowledge of the Sacred as Deliverance 256

Notes 271

Ya Maryamu ‘alayka’l-salam

Bismi’Llah al-rahman al-rahım


In Knowledge and the Sacred Nasr analyzes humanity’s pursuit of knowledge and proposes that in every culture throughout human history humanity’s quest for knowledge has been a sacred activity as men and women seek to discover the Divine. Drawing from many traditions including philosophy, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Zoroastrianism, Nasr explores humanity’s quest for knowledge and quest for the Divine and how these quests relate to one another throughout history.

KEY WORDS: Islam, Iran, Sacred, Secular, Tradition, Knowledge, Science, History, Oriental, Philosophy

• • • • •

In Knowledge and the Sacred Nasr explores the human quest for knowledge and proposes that throughout human history men and women have searched for knowledge which through time and in various cultures has been a sacred activity to discover the Divine. In chapter 1Knowledge and Desacralization Nasr explores human knowledge and how modern women and men have lost the sense of awe, wonder and the sacred. “Today modern man has lost the sense of wonder, which results from his loss of the sense of the sacred, to such a degree that he is hardly aware how miraculous is the mystery of intelligence, of human subjectivity as well as the power of objectivity and the possibility of knowing objectively.” He argues that every human has the ability to know the sacred because “consciousness is itself proof of the primacy of the Spirit or Divine Consciousness of which human consciousness is a reflection and echo. Nasr traces the historical process of the desacralization of knowledge and language and how the separation of the sacred and the profane has influenced modern humanity.

In chapter 2What is Tradition? Nasr explains the impact of the desacralization of knowledge had on human knowledge. “Truth had to be stated anew and reformulated in the name of tradition precisely because of the nearly total eclipse and loss of that reality which has constituted the matrix of life of normal humanity over the ages.” He states, “Tradition, like religion, is at once truth and presence. It concerns the subject which knows and the object which is known. It comes from the Source from which everything originates and to which everything returns.”

In chapter 3The Rediscovery of the Sacred: The Revival of Tradition Nasr explores the recent return to humanity’s understanding the sacred by returning to tradition. “The overall harmony and equilibrium of the cosmos required a movement within the heart and soul of at least a number of contemporary men to rediscover the sacred at the very moment when the process of secularization seemed to be reaching its logical conclusion in removing the presence of the sacred altogether from all aspects of human life and thought.”

Chapter 4Scientia Sacra describes the sacred knowledge that humanity from various faith communities has rediscovered by returning to their traditional teachings. “Scientia sacra is not the fruit of human intelligence speculating upon or reasoning about the content of an inspiration or a spiritual experience which itself is not of an intellectual character. Rather,

what is received through inspiration is itself of an intellectual nature; it is sacred knowledge.” Nasr explores human knowledge gained by the texts from various religions, and explores how human cognition is influenced by philosophy and science.

In chapter 5Man, Pontifical and Promethean Nasr investigates the concept of men and women being pontiffs or bridges between heaven and earth against the concept of men and women being Promethean creatures who rebel against heaven and earth. By looking at historical developments in several faith traditions, Nasr traces the development of humanity’s self awareness from being a pontifical creature to rebelling against humanity’s role as a bridge between the sacred and the profane. Nasr argues that men and women need to regain their sense of pontifical calling because “man is fully man only when he realizes who he is and in doing so fulfills not only his own destiny and reaches his entelechy but also illuminates the world about him.”

In chapter 6The Cosmos as Theophany Nasr explores the natural world (and the fields of natural sciences) and its significant role in human knowledge of the Divine in many cultures. The cosmos and cosmic laws throughout history have had corresponded to humanity’s quest for the Divine, until recent attempts to divorce natural science from metaphysics and religious understanding. Nasr urges men and women to view the cosmos as a theophany to understand their role as pontiffs serving to bridge heaven and earth as we see the manifestation of God’s presence around us.

Chapter 7 Eternity and the Temporal Order seeks to understand humanity within the vertical and horizontal axes of existence by drawing upon the concepts of eternity and time found in many faith traditions.

In chapter 8Traditional Art as the Fountain of Knowledge and Grace Nasr explores various forms of art (including liturgical acts, created pieces for contemplation and education, verbal art of music and poetry, buildings and places of worship, and written texts) of both traditional and sacred character. He states that “traditional art is inseparable from sacred knowledge because it is based upon a science of the cosmic which is of a sacred and inward character and in turn is the vehicle for the transmission of a knowledge which is of a sacred nature.” Sacred art “has a sacramental function and is, like religion itself, at once truth and presence…” Nasr understands that art transmits knowledge and grace because men and women serve as artistic creators that create art through the revelation of divine inspiration.

Chapter 9Principal Knowledge and the Multiplicity of Sacred Forms explores how the various religions of the world relate to each other through the concept of “sacred forms.” Historically religions have conflicted with each other rather than compliment one another. Nasr seeks to articulate how the common and unique elements of various faith traditions can be understood to relate to each other in complimentary ways. “Each revelation is in fact the manifestation of an archetype which represents some aspect of the Divine Nature.” He explains, “although one religion may emphasize love, another knowledge, one mercy and the other self-sacrifice, all the major elements of religion must in one way or another manifest themselves

in an integral tradition.” Understanding how various religions each contain truth and seek knowledge of the Divine while at the same time acknowledging the differences among faiths allows people of various religious communities to firmly advocate their own doctrinal truths while respecting the teachings and traditions of others.

In the final chapter,Knowledge of the Sacred as Deliverance , Nasr discusses how knowledge of the sacred leads to freedom and deliverance from bondage and limitation. By overcoming ignorance and understanding our role within history and within the cosmos men and women gain knowledge of the sacred. “The goal of sacred knowledge is deliverance and union, its instrument the whole being of man and its meaning the fulfillment of the end for which man and in fact the cosmos were created.” Nasr explains, “Through this sacred knowledge man becomes aware of the purpose for which he was created and gains that illimitable spiritual freedom and liberation which alone is worthy of man if only he were to realize who he is.”

Heather McDivitt, University of Edinburgh


Since the Gifford Lectures were first delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 1889, they have been associated with the names of some of the most celebrated theologians, philosophers, and scientists of Europe and America, and have resulted in books which have wielded extensive influence in the modern world. Moreover, most of these works have been associated with specifically modern ideas which have characterized the Western world since the Renaissance and which have been also spreading into the East since the last century. When, therefore, some four years ago we were invited to deliver these prestigious lectures, it marked for us not only a singular honor but also an occasion to present the traditional perspective of the millennial civilizations of the Orient where we first received and accepted the invitation to deliver them. Being the first Muslim and in fact the first Oriental to have the occasion to deliver the Gifford Lectures since their inception at the University of Edinburgh nearly a century ago, we felt it our duty to present to the Western audience not a secondhand version of certain modern ideas or isms in pseudo-Oriental dress as happens so often these days, but in conformity with the world view which is our own, to expound some aspect of that truth which lies at the heart of the Oriental traditions and in fact of all tradition as such whether it be of the East or the West.

In the Orient knowledge has always been related to the sacred and to spiritual perfection. To know has meant ultimately to be transformed by the very process of knowing, as the Western tradition was also to assert over the ages before it was eclipsed by the postmedieval secularization and humanism that forced the separation of knowing from being and intelligence from the sacred. The Oriental sage has always embodied spiritual perfection; intelligence has been seen ultimately as a sacrament, and knowledge has been irrevocably related to the sacred and its actualization in the being of the knower. And this relation continues wherever and whenever tradition still survives despite all the vicissitudes of the modern world.

During the past two centuries, countless Western students of the Orient have been, whether intentionally or unintentionally, instrumental in the process of the secularization of the East through the destruction of its traditions by interpreting its sacred teachings through historicism, evolutionism, scientism, and the many other means whereby the sacred is reduced to the profane. The study of the East by the majority of those so-called orientalists who have been themselves influenced by the various waves of secularism in the West, far from being simply a harmless, objective exercise in scholarship, has played no small role in the transformation of the subject of their studies. Moreover, these scholarly efforts have hardly been carried out through either love for the subject or charity, despite many notable and honorable exceptions which have been labors of love and which have produced valuable studies of various aspects of Oriental civilization. Most modern scholarly works concerned with the East are in fact the fruit of a secularized reason analyzing and studying traditions of a sacred character.

In the present study our aim has been in a sense the reverse of this process. It has been to aid in the resuscitation of the sacred quality of knowledge and the revival of the veritable intellectual tradition of the West with the aid of the still living traditions of the Orient where knowledge has never become divorced from the sacred. Our aim has been to deal first of all with an aspect of the truth as such which resides in the very nature of intelligence and secondarily with the revival of the sapiential perspective in the West, without which no civilization worthy of the name can survive. If in the process we have been severely critical of many aspects of things Western, our view has not been based on disdain and hatred or a kind of “occidentalism” which would simply reverse the role of a certain type of orientalism that has studied the Orient with the hope of transforming its sacred patterns of life, if not totally destroying all that has characterized the Orient as such over the ages. In criticizing what from the traditional point of view is pure and simple error, we have also tried to defend the millennial tradition of the West itself and to bring to light once again that perennial wisdom, or sophia perennis, which is both perennial and universal and which is neither exclusively Eastern nor Western.

When the invitation to deliver the Gifford Lectures first reached us, we were living in the shades of the southern slopes of the majestic Alborz Mountains. Little did we imagine then that the text of the lectures themselves would be written not in the proximity of those exalted peaks but in sight of the green forests and blue seas of the eastern coast of the United States. But man lives in the spirit and not in space and time so that despite all the unbelievable dislocations and turmoil in our personal life during this period, including the loss of our library and the preliminary notes for this work, what appears in the following pages has grown out of the seed originally conceived when we accepted to deliver the lectures and represents a continuity of thought with the intellectual genesis of this work even if the material and human conditions altered markedly during the period of the realization of its original idea.

Since this work seeks to be at once metaphysical and based on scholarship, it consists of a text upon which the actually delivered lectures were based as well as extensive footnotes which both complement the text and serve as a guide for further research for those who are attracted to the arguments and theses presented in the text. Upon delivering the lectures in the stately capital of Scotland during the spring when the city of Edinburgh blooms with flowers of great beauty, we became convinced even more than before of the necessity of these rather extensive footnotes. The lively reaction of the audience and many meetings with its members after the lectures brought to light the keen interest displayed by many of them in pursuing the arguments presented in this work despite the fact that its point of view is that of tradition and different from most of what has been the concern of most of the other Gifford lecturers over the years.

In preparing this work we are indebted most of all to all of our traditional masters in both East and West who over the years have guided us to the fountainhead of sacred knowledge. We wish to express our gratitude especially to Frithjof Schuon whose unparalleled exposition of traditional

teachings is reflected, albeit imperfectly, upon many of the pages which follow. We also wish to thank Miss Kathleen O'Brien who aided us in many ways in preparing the manuscript for publication.