Dilatato Corde 8:1
January – June, 2018

Richard Hartz

Nalanda International & D.K. Printworld

Richard Hartz is a scholar, teacher, and archivist at the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. A resident of India for forty years, he has immersed himself in Sanskrit texts and the teachings of Aurobindo Ghose. In light of his study and experience as a Westerner in India, he wrote The Clasp of Civilizations as a reflection on the state of the world today, and possible directions for the future.
The title of this book is a play on Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations. Huntington argued that the differences between cultures are much more fundamental than many political and religious liberals would like to believe, and that differing civilizations cannot coexist easily. He refers to the boundaries between coexisting cultures as “fault lines.” The fault lines may be regional, but they involve religion, and religious identities transcend regional boundaries and identities. Thereby, a conflict at a local fault line can assume a global magnitude.
Huntington’s views are popular in America among Christians who are suspicious of other religions, especially Islam. Huntington’s views also resonate with the views of those who reject religion entirely, believing it to be inherently divisive and violent. There are ideological currents which shape Huntington’s book, but it is a significant analysis of world politics. To some degree, it has accurately predicted history in the decades which followed its publication in 1996. It is a book that should be taken seriously regardless of one’s ideological persuasions.
Hartz takes Huntington seriously, but questions whether there will necessarily be a “clash” of civilizations, and if a “clasp” is possible instead. Hartz asks what must be done for there to be a clasp. He agrees with Huntington that religion can be divisive. As he explains, “When our own beliefs and practices are thought to have a unique divine sanction, departures from them may seem not merely incorrect or misguided, but sinful and evil. Demonization of the other follows logically from religious exclusivism” (87). However, Hartz identifies a different trend in religion, a trend away from such divisiveness. It is a trend towards “self-transcendence, enlightenment or liberation to which each individual is invited to aspire” (30). The question, according to Hartz, is “whether the unifying potential of religion can prevail over its divisive tendencies. Its power to sanctify irrationality points in one direction, the spiritual urge toward self-discovery and transcendence in the other” (126).
Key to Hartz’s arguments that religion can play a unifying role in today’s encounter of civilizations, is that religion has an “ultrarational” element. Religion is often accused of being irrational and thus leading to violence. However, Hartz argues that the “ultrational” aspect of religion transcends reason but is not inherently opposed to reason. Further, he argues that reason itself is not adequate to solve the world’s problems, that the ultrational has important contributions to make. Hartz builds his case in the introductory section and the first four chapters. The fifth chapter is a comparison of Aurobindo and Jawaharlal Nehru. The two men had widely differing stances on the existence of supernatural realities, but there are nevertheless some strong similarities between them; they were men of the same milieu. The sixth chapter shows some surprising similarities between Aurobindo and Reinhold Niebuhr.
The final chapter returns to the issue of religion, reason, and the ultrarational. This time, the arena of consideration is not the diversity of civilizations, but modern science. There is a common belief today that religion is the domain of the irrational, science is the domain of the rational, and that religion and science are inherently opposed. Hartz considers several twentieth century physicists, and shows how the ultrational, and exposure to Eastern religions, played a role in some of their discoveries.
Hartz brings a fresh approach to various issues. For instance, rather than labeling Huntington he wrestles with Huntington. Also, rather than arguing that the essential teachings of science and religion do not conflict, he shows the role that the ultrarational played in modern physics. As a devotee of Aurobindo, he brings Aurobindo into dialogue with other, major figures. This approached is not common among devotees, for they tend to focus on Aurobindo alone. This book is appropriate for those interested in Aurobindo, the encounter of civilizations, issues of science and religion, and defenses of religion and spirituality.




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