KNOWLEDGE AND THE SACRED
Since 1888 the Gifford Lectureship has provided many of the world’s most distinguished and original thinkers (scientists as well as philosophers and theologians) with a public platform to express their views on ‘the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term— in other words, the knowledge of God.’ Gifford Lecturers at Edinburgh have included James, Bergson, Frazer, Eddington, Niebuhr and Bultmann. The 1981 lecturer, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, is the leading scholarly interpreter of Sufism, that manifestation of the Islamic faith that shares with Christian mysticism a common debt to Neoplatonism, and whose goal is spiritual union with God. Dr. Nasr directs his lectures precisely to Adam Gifford’s original remit— ‘the knowledge of God’. He asserts the intellectual and spiritual impoverishment of Western contemporary culture, and attributes this to the eclipse of the Sacred content of knowledge, brought about by its total secularisation. Modern man’s reduction of knowledge to what conforms to logic and to reason is contrasted, both with the medieval distinction between ratio and the higher plane of intelkctus, and with related concepts in the traditions of Christianity and Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. But since the West, he believes, has allowed its springs of Sacred Knowledge to dry up, it is to the traditions of the Orient that Western man must turn, and is turning, for enlightenment.