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International Angles

By anthropography, Meaning in Anthropos, Western Philosophy

Zoroastrian iconography at Persepolis

International assessments of Western philosophy differ enormously. That is surely an understatement. Diligent readers know that my own perspective is intercultural. I have paid deference to philosophy (equivalent to anthropography in my case) in a broader context than is often found. For instance, on my websites I have incorporated some detailed reference to Zoroastrianism, Islamic Sufism, Islamic philosophy, and Hinduism. Those subjects are not popular with many Western readers. When the focus turns to modern Western philosophy, there are some international reactions to the European dimensions of that subject.

My own endeavour to escape the confines of any Eurocentric landscape was formulated in my early work Meaning in Anthropos (1991), composed in 1984. This presentation of citizen anthropography attempted a more global axis than is customarily found in academic philosophy.

I have noticed, with some fascination, that both the Asiatic and the Western responses to philosophy contain marked variations. I should perhaps state my own instance. During my early years of study, I veered strongly away from British entities in philosophy. For many years I resisted the elevation of David Hume, whom I associated with a “British Empire” mode of thought and a quasi-nihilistic temperament anticipating Nietzsche. I much preferred Plato, Plotinus, Farabi, Suhrawardi, Spinoza, and the Eastern affinities (erratic and circumscribed) of Schopenhauer.

The literati in India, China, and Japan have frequently been generous with regard to Western philosophy, acknowledging empiricism, also the relevance of rationalism and implicit affinity with scientific objectives. Islamic countries have sometimes resisted Western influences, perhaps not surprisingly. However, the literati in those countries are quite capable of recognising the value of intercultural approaches.

The subject of “Western philosophy” basically extends to ancient Greek, Roman, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic dimensions, a phenomenon of cultural linkages and ramifications occurring in distant centuries. However, when one talks of modern philosophy, the orbit is very often European, with Germany and Britain gaining a fairly substantial tally of famous names. Everyone has heard of philosophers like Kant, Hegel, Locke, and Hume. Not everyone has studied those entities in any detail.

The study of philosophy has notably spread to America, Canada, and Australia. Both the academic and popular reception of that subject require some due appraisal. American academics have investigated the subject intensively. In contrast, the public climate of American opinion is generally indifferent, indeed frequently tending to categorical dismissal in favour of “new age” alternatives.

At this juncture, it seems appropriate for me, before proceeding any further to describe European figures in the history of modern philosophy, to alight upon some Asian and contemporary topics in a spirit of citizen investigation. In view of factors indicated above, I have decided to include on this site numerous entries concerning subjects not appearing in conventional philosophy contents.

Postscript 2020:

I have since created the extensions mentioned in the last paragraph above. I have included on this site classical Greek, Islamic, Christian, Hindu, and other subjects to complement an East-West focus. Due critical assessment has also been a resort in some directions.

Kevin R.D. Shepherd
July 14th 2010 (modified 2020)

ENTRY no. 25

Copyright © 2020 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Persian Dervishes and Indian Faqirs

By anthropography, citizen philosophy, Indian Faqirs, Persian Dervishes, Sufism

Persian Dervishes

This site has been commenting on diverse angles of analytical academic philosophy and the unofficial conceptualism of citizen philosophy. The Cambridge and Oxford traditions were profiled (entries 2-8), with some Continental extensions in logical positivism.

My own angle has been broached, in the form known as interdisciplinary anthropography, or philosophy of culture. The distinction between different forms of independent philosophy requires recognition, contrasting with the frequent enclosed preferences for Nietzsche.

Factors involved in controversy about the influential integral theory of Ken Wilber are relevant. Reservations are expressed about contemporary mindset in the commercial guise of Mind, Body, Spirit, a phenomenon contributing to the decline in literature. Manifestations of contemporary pseudomysticism are repudiated, including the symptoms of “cult” thinking that have become notorious.

The citizen way forward must be far more disciplined than panaceas offered by the commercial mindset of pop-mysticism. For instance, in referring to the history of religion, due critical ballast should be provided by recourse to specialist sources.

The history of philosophy is not popular today. No apology need be offered for approaching that subject in a more rigorous sense than is evidenced by new age dismissals, often promoting so-called “holistic” conveniences omitting analysis in favour of fantasy.

With regard to the history of religion, I have proffered the online article Early Sufism in Iran and Central Asia (2010). The subject here is distanced from the field of conventional philosophy, but does not comprise an insurmountable problem for the independent thinker. One may emphasise the relevance of investigating an international phenomenon extending from the Near East to Central Asia (and India in later centuries). Analysis of the topographical and conceptual features of the early Islamic cultural landscape is a challenge.  There are varied explanations for Iranian mystical religion (now known as Sufism) amongst Islamicist scholars. The “Persian dervishes” are a subject evidencing a wide variety of temperaments and teachings over many centuries.

Sheriar Mundegar Irani

An unusual instance of the “Persian dervish” was Sheriar Mundegar Irani (1853-1932), a Zoroastrian of Yazd who became a mendicant at an early age. His distressed  community on the Yazd plain was afflicted by Islamic prejudice. Although Sheriar is often described as a dervish, he remained a Zoroastrian. He eventually emigrated to India, where after further wanderings, he settled at Poona. See further Shepherd, From Oppression to Freedom; A Study of the Kaivani Gnostics (1988).

Shirdi Sai Baba

The equivalent “dervish” population in India included the diverse categories of faqir, a word that became largely meaningless in British colonial usage. The term is frequently associated with snake charmers and exhibitionists lying on a bed of nails. I have contributed studies of two faqir entities in Indian environments. Hazrat Babajan (d.1931) was a distinctive Pathan female mystic of Maharashtra (Shepherd, Hazrat Babajan: A Pathan Sufi of Poona, 2014). Sai Baba of Shirdi (d.1918) is to some extent obscured by hagiology, but sufficient detail exists to profile a liberal Sufi faqir who notably avoided any religious dogmatism. This tendency accommodated a predominantly Hindu following, despite some Muslim characteristics in evidence (Shepherd, Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Biographical Investigation, 2015; Shepherd, Sai Baba: Faqir of Shirdi, 2017).

With regard to the history of philosophy, one should continue to be broad-ranging rather than unduly selective. Thinkers like Bertrand Russell and Kant do not exhaust the scope for potential insights. Plato, al-Farabi, Ibn Rushd, Suhrawardi, and many others of more distant centuries can still be honoured, doubtless with some surprises in store around committed corners of the mentation effort.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd
March 13th 2010, modified December 2018

ENTRY no. 15

Copyright © 2018 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.