February 23, 2015

Gurdjieff and the Study of Contemporary Religion

gurdjieffGeorge Ivanovich Gurdjieff was born around 1866 in Russia and came to prominence in the inter-war years in Europe and the US as a “spiritual teacher” or proto-New Age guru. As well as a complex cosmology, Gurdjieff taught that the average human being was literally asleep, and that “waking up” required a great deal of work and “conscious suffering” His work was continued by his pupils following his death in 1949, and a number of books on his teachings remain in print today. To discuss his importance to the study of religion, David Robertson speaks to two remarkable scholars, Carole Cusack of the University of Sydney, and Steven Sutcliffe of the University of Edinburgh.

We discuss Gurdjieff’s image as a “guru”; how deliberate was it, and where did he learn about the Eastern teachers he modelled himself upon? We discuss how much we should treat Gurdjieff as a sui generis “special case”, as Gurdjieffian scholars have tended to, or whether we would be better to treat him as a type, like Blavatksy, Steiner, Crowley and others. This then turns the discussion to the issues of researching figures like Gurdjieff whose legacies (and archives) are tightly controlled by their followers, and who often aren’t seen as worthy of study by the academy and publishers. We conclude with a consideration of Gurdjieff’s importance (or lack thereof) on the later New Age milieu, and popular culture more broadly.

And did Robert Fripp hire Toy Levin for King Crimson because he looks like Gurdjieff?

You may enjoy our previous interviews with Carole Cusack on “Cultural Production” and “Invented Religions”.

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Discussion


1 reply to “Gurdjieff and the Study of Contemporary Religion

  1. Therion

    Gurdjieff was a fraud. He acquired/stole wisdom and various techniques from esoteric sources i.e. Dervish and Sufi sources, and had a species of “power” – a strong magnetic center as most men of this type do, but in other respects he was a hypocrite and a cad. He claimed to teach “real Christianity” and higher morality even as he was having sex with the wives of his followers and other female students – impregnating a number of them since he didn’t believe in abortion – or birth control presumably. He had an enormous father complex and was deeply conditioned with the macho attitudes of his culture. He probably thought he had died and gone to heaven when he ended up in Paris and realized he could pretty much bed any women he fancied without being either disgraced, punished or burned out of his home which is what would have happened in his homeland where such behaviour wasn’t tolerated. Meanwhile he terrorized students and used the psycho drama of his tawdry bag of tricks i.e. toast to the idiots and other psycholical games to expose and control the impressionable – while he fleeced money from the wealthy and got into the pants of their wives and daughters. All in all a horrible little man who still continues to mezmerise the gullible many years after his death.

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