Orient your thoughts

Temenos Academy Review

May 26, 2000

Temenos Academy Review is the brainchild of the poet and Blake scholar Kathleen Raine, and although three issues have so far appeared in the past two years, its history goes back 20 years to 1981, when the first Temenos , subtitled "A Review devoted to the Arts of the Imagination", was published.Although it had no financial backing, the project was highly ambitious in its purpose: "The affirmation, at the highest level of scholarship and talent, and in terms of the contemporary situation, of the Sacred." As the arts traditionally "originated and found their highest expression within the precincts of temple or shrine", the review was called Temenos - the "sacred enclosure" ( OED ).

Raine's first collaborators were the late Greek scholar and theologian Philip Sherrard, the architect Keith Critchlow, best known for his writings on sacred architecture, and the publisher Brian Keebel. After the third issue, Raine assumed sole editorship, and despite a chronic shortage of funds she stayed the course and produced 13 issues of Temenos, maintaining its lofty objectives.

In 1990, Raine established the Temenos Academy, a teaching organisation dedicated to the dissemination of the perennial philosophy, "that has been the ground of all civilisations from time immemorial". The inspiration was the L'Universite de St Jean de Jerusaleme (USJJ), started by Henri Corbin in Paris in 1974.

Corbin was unique: a philosopher - the first to translate and disseminate Heidegger's oeuvre in France - who was also the greatest scholar of Islamic philosophy of being in the West. But while the USJJ concentrated on the Abrahamic tradition, the Temenos Academy has a more universalist approach, embracing Buddhism and Hinduism as well. Scholars from all over the world have given lectures and seminars at Temenos Academy, in a spirit of the affirmation of "the excluded knowledge" - the spiritual tradition, Platonic in the West, Vedic in India - that was once central to academic education but has now almost disappeared.

No enterprise of such scope would have got off the ground, still less survived, without the backing of dedicated patrons. That Temenos Academy has flourished is largely due to the support of the Prince of Wales. He has provided the premises for the lectures at his School of Architecture and helped with fund-raising events, notably two marvellous concerts, by John Tavener and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, at St James's Palace. And where he has led, others have followed: patronage from Europe, India, America and Russia has provided moral and material support to the Temenos enterprise.

Temenos Academy Review started two years ago to publish the best of the lectures given at the academy as well as original papers by scholars, writers and poets from East and West, so that those who could not attend the lectures could have access to them. The result is a remarkable collection of essays by authoritative scholars and poets from all over the world.

In the first issue, an editorial traces the cultural currents of this century, from modernism and surrealism to postmodernism today, through the editor's own experience (she is 92). A speech delivered by Prince Charles in 1996, "Sense of the Sacred", points to the deep echo in each of us of the notion of the sacred in a desacralised world. Corbin's "Spiritual knowledge and spiritual renaissance" is his speech at the inaugural session of the USJJ in 1974, in which he elucidates the concept of traditional knowledge, chivalry and history and their links. "Symbols of love in Rumi's work" is the text of a lecture by Anne-Marie Schimmel, the great Sufi poet's foremost western specialist, whose books and translations have been instrumental in creating the vogue for Rumi (he is even Madonna's favourite poet). Karan Singh's "Learning to live together" explains how we can create harmony between East and West in the age of globalisation, H. W. Frick's "The near realisation of the ideal state of Plato - the Republic of Bern" in the 16th century, beautiful colour plates of Thetis Blacker's Phoenix , and much beside, make up the 210 pages of this volume.

In the second issue, the editorial explores Oriental philosophy - not as in geography but as in - "any spiritual teaching which is 'oriented' to the 'inner light'", specifically Hinduism. "Memories of Henri Corbin" is a reflection on the philosopher's legacy by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Hilary Armstrong's "The bishop who obeyed Julian" tells the story of the pagan Emperor Julian's arbitration among the quarrelling Christian bishops, and the result when one of them obeyed his injunction - to practise brotherly love. Stephen Cross's "Ex Orient Lux" describes how the Upanishads came to Europe, while John Carey's "The hand and the angel" makes observations on the Holy Book in early Ireland. This issue has a substantial amount of good poetry, and colour plates of the Book of Kells .

The third Temenos Academy Review starts with "A civilised society", a concise message from the Prince of Wales, stating his resolve to apply the same principles as Temenos to his own foundation. There are ten, but they could be summed up in the Platonic trilogy of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. The editorial is by Keith Critchlow on education in the real sense, one of whose aims is the "building of good character"; the Platonic ideal of education explained in The Laws . There are poems by Paul Celan, a paper by Grevel Lindop on "Coleridge at Greta Hall", another by Jonathan Wordsworth on "The first of Wordworth's Preludes", and Howard Hull on "Ruskin on his centenary". Interestingly, there is now a link with the Russian spiritual journal Moscova , (which has a large circulation), with Vladimir Kutyrev's "Progress or return to the eternal", on "Post-everything from postmodernism to Fukuyama's The End of History ".

So far, the Temenos Academy and its journal have survived thanks to the extraordinary energy, determination and devotion of its charismatic founder. Whether they will be able to continue in the future without her is a matter of hope.

Shusha Guppy is a writer and London editor, The Paris Review .

Temenos Academy Review: (Once a year)

Editor - Kathleen Raine
ISBN - ISSN 1461 779X
Publisher - Temenos Academy, distributed by Central books
Price - £20.00 (institutions); £13.00 (individuals)
Pages - -

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