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citizen philosophy

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.

Philosophy of Culture

By Bertrand Russell, Cambridge University Library, citizen philosophy, Islamic falasifa, Meaning in Anthropos, minority repertories

Cambridge University Library

The citizen version of analytical philosophy does not necessarily converge in all respects with the academic equivalent. The former  may occasionally sound a note of innovation.

Contemporary academic philosophy was not sufficient to contain my interest during the 1970s and 1980s. In my own citizen instance, an investigation of interdisciplinary matters soon developed, while retaining a close interest in “philosophical problems” and innovative analytical formats. The social sciences and the history of religions now furnish so much data that to ignore these is a mistake.

Further, the history of religions to some extent converges with the history of philosophy, in that certain minority repertories (e.g., the Islamic falasifa) are closely related to (though not by any means identical with) religious sociocultures. The same considerations apply to Jewish philosophers of the medieval era, a category who frequently lived in Islam-dominated environments.

In my own case, the field of philosophy is not limited to modern Western philosophy (and the preceding Schoolmen), but extends to the more inclusive panorama of classical Greek and Islamic phases of the phenomenon. There is a basic three tier cross-cultural investigation involved, becoming rather more complex when various extensions are admitted. In this inclusive approach, there is ample room for the “problems” and “language” factors, not always arising in the format anticipated by contemporaries.

Three tier presentation is conventionally credited, a well known instance being Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy (1946). Russell covered the Greeks, Christian exponents and Schoolmen, and the moderns. There was only a brief chapter on the Muslim counterparts and a fleeting reference to the medieval Jewish contribution. Scholarship in such neglected fields has grown substantially since the 1940s; the history of philosophy has to some extent changed contour.

The inclusive approach does require some basic study. When I commenced this form of “doing philosophy,” I did not grasp the extent of the study materials involved. That emerging problem caused me to undertake private research at Cambridge University Library. My preliminary work Meaning in Anthropos (1991) was composed in 1984. Conventional philosophy was there juxtaposed alongside data from social science, the history of science, and the history of religions.

I do not claim to have charted anything definitive, only to have pursued a strong interest anchored in library studies undertaken at my own expense in Cambridge over a twelve year period. There was no official grant available for such an unorthodox interdisciplinary project.

I have described my early Cambridge endeavour as interdisciplinary anthropography, a cumbersome phrase which I prefer to abbreviate. The endeavour is distinct from ethnography. I have also referred to the ongoing approach under discussion in terms of a philosophy of culture, a more readily assimilable concept, even though it may comprise a simplification of the project denoted. See also my web article Aspects of Citizen Philosophy (2009).

Standards of culture are diversely reflected in religious, political, and educational formats, for better or for worse. Definitions of culture have varied in social science. Philosophical definition is still in the offing. I believe that culture is a more pressing yardstick than society or language, despite the relevance of the latter terms.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd
January 26th 2010

ENTRY no. 10

Copyright © 2010 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Citizen Philosophy

By citizen philosophy, David Hume, Karl Marx, Spinoza

I have described myself as a citizen philosopher. Some people wish to know more about that theme. Perhaps this theme could be successfully adapted in a blog format. I am now willing to try this resort, which I formerly resisted, despite the advice of some acquaintances. The criterion is that of an intellectual blog, as distinct from the more popular versions.

Some people understood what I meant by citizen philosophy. Yet others did not, querying in the vein of: “I have never heard of that; so what on earth is it ?” Their response made me smile. I will here attempt to explain why. Please note that humour is one ingredient of contemporary citizen philosophy in the intellectual mode.

Readers noticed that David Hume and Spinoza were represented in my “citizen philosopher” book Pointed Observations (2005). In their own respective ways, both of these thinkers were citizen philosophers, neither of them possessing an academic role. Spinoza actually refused an academic appointment. I do not agree with all the views of those two thinkers, and indeed am very critical of Hume on many points. I do not share his tendency to extreme scepticism.

Other citizen philosophers were Descartes, Leibniz, John Locke, Denis Diderot (the encyclopaedist), Rousseau, and Schopenhauer. That list is not exhaustive. These entities varied enormously in their output and outlook. I do not agree with all their views. Many other Western philosophers were academics such as Kant and Hegel, Russell and Wittgenstein, Foucault and Derrida. These academic celebrities generally had the upper hand in gaining attention, having the benefit of prestigious identity and formal recommendations. The majority of canonical philosophers in the last two centuries have been thinkers situated in an academic role.

The trend in academic philosophy has generally been one of insulation from the citizen sector. Yet anomalously, academics have elevated antique citizen philosophers to celebrity. University students can now write prestigious doctoral theses on citizen thinkers who could not understand why their works were ignored during their own lifetime. Early works of Hume and Schopenhauer were a total failure when first published. The struggle that Spinoza had in gaining recognition is surely memorable. Spinoza was defamed as an atheist for many years after his death. He was definitely not an atheist; he may be described as a freethinker.

Karl Marx really was an atheist; he is generally ascribed to the annals of sociology. However,  some academics have insisted that he should be regarded as a philosopher. He was definitely one of the most influential thinkers in recent times, despite the fact that he early lost an academic career and chose to live in virtual poverty, while furthering his studies at the British Library. One of his well known assertions is: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the real task is to change it.” Marx apparently did not regard himself as a philosopher, but as a communist revolutionary. Like many other influential thinkers, he was little known during his lifetime.

For those who desire a testimony of intellectual orientation, I can here state that I am not, e.g., a Spinozan, a Marxist, a Humean sceptic, or a Cartesian. I do fundamentally regard myself as a philosopher. However,  my output has extended into other fields also, a tendency denoted by the adventurous word anthropography, which in my case refers to a philosophy of culture and not to ethnography.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd
November 12th, 2009

ENTRY no. 1

Copyright © 2009 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All rights Reserved.