Laurent Mignon (University of Oxford)
Fellow in Research Area 3: "Future Perfect"
October – November 2023
Reading René Guénon in Turkey
When Nabi Avcı, an academic and a prolific writer, became Minister of National Education in the Republic of Turkey in 2013, he was known as the translator of René Guénon’s influential La crise du monde moderne (1927). Avcı's 1979 translation had been one of the earliest translations into Turkish from the Guénonian canon and remained for some time one of the only ones. However, Avcı's appointment was indicative of the influence exerted by the writings of the French metaphysician and traditionalist thinker in Turkish religious-conservative circles.
Indeed, from the 1990s onwards, a heightened curiosity for Guénon's works in Turkey could be observed, reflected in a steady rise in the number of translations of his work. Most of those translations were published by publishing houses with an outspoken Islamic identity. While Guénon's initiation into the Shadhiliyya order certainly played a role in this, his anti-modernist agenda was easily appropriated by parts of the conservative Islamic intelligentsia.
Yet in the context of the rising attention for new religions and alternative spiritualities witnessed in Turkey since the 1990s, there has also been a notable interest among secular publishers and esotericists who tried to reclaim Guénon's traditionalist and anti-modernist thought. Here Guénon was read in conjunction with Indian thinkers such as Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Surendranath Dasgupta, as well as French philosophers such as Henri Bergson and Gabriel Marcel.
This project focuses on the "non-Islamic" reception of Guénon in Turkey, while also exploring intersections with the Islamic milieu in the highly divided Turkish literary and publishing world. It will also look for traces of Guénonian ideas and concepts in modern Turkish literature as part of Mignon's ongoing book project about the literary engagement with esotericism and eastern religions in Ottoman and republican Turkey in the 20th century.
Laurent Mignon is Professor of Turkish Literature at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of St Antony's College. His research focuses on the minor literatures of Ottoman and republican Turkey, in particular Jewish literatures, as well as on the literary engagement with non-Abrahamic religions, alternative spiritualities and esotericism in Turkey. He is the author of, among others, Hüzünlü Özgürlük: Yahudi Edebiyatı ve Düşüncesi Üzerine Yazılar [A Sad State of Freedom: Writings on Jewish Literature and Thought] (Istanbul, 2014) and Uncoupling Language and Religion: An Exploration into the Margins of Turkish Literature (Boston, 2021). With Alberto Ambrosio, he co-edited the volume Penser l’islam en Europe: Perspectives du Luxembourg et d’ailleurs (Paris, 2021).