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TantraSex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religion$
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Hugh Urban

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780520230620

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520230620.001.0001

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Religion for the Age of Darkness

Religion for the Age of Darkness

Tantra and the History of Religions in the Twentieth Century

(p.165) Chapter 5 Religion for the Age of Darkness

Hugh B. Urban

University of California Press

This chapter looks at the “revalorized” place of Tantra—and perhaps even Tantro-centrism—in the work of twentieth-century historians of religions, such as Mircea Eliade, Heinrich Zimmer, and Julius Evola. It shows that there were often many political—and in Evola' case, explicitly fascist—ramifications in their scholarly reconstructions of Tantrism. However, it also examines the role of Tantra in modern Indian scholarship, where it likewise has become a key part of various cultural and political discourses surrounding Indian national identity and even the rise of communism in regions like West Bengal. Zimmer, Evola, and Eliade have had a formative impact on the fields of Indology (in the case of Zimmer), esotericism and right-wing politics (Evola), and comparative religions (Eliade). And all three felt a strong attraction to Tantra, a tradition that they defined as the culmination of all Indian thought: the most radical form of spirituality and the archaic heart of aboriginal India. In what they described as this modern “age of darkness,” they felt an intense sense of dislocation and a longing for an idyllic traditional past.

Keywords:   Tantra, esotericism, Mircea Eliade, Heinrich Zimmer, Julius Evola, Tantrism, Indian scholarship, India, national identity, right-wing politics

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