Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms

“Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms – Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East” is a 2014 book by Gerard Russell.

The Yazidi Peacock Angel (c) Tawûsê Melek

Rory Stewart provides the foreword. Like Rory, Gerard was a British officer and diplomat in the region and, like T E Lawrence before them, their knowledge comes not just from scholarly research but also from living, working and empathising with the locals in their own languages and geographies. My interest in Lawrence and “The Middle East” is one that pre-dates this knowledge blogging project and I often find myself relating my epistemological interests – what, why and how we believe what we think we know – to traditions of belief and action exposed in such accounts. All belief traditions – including science – are effectively religions in this sense and, even as an atheist, theology is an important perspective beyond disembodied logic and dehumanised science. It’s a consistent theme. Pirsig and the American pragmatists draw on native Amerindians, north and south as well as Eastern traditions. Rushdie mines south-America as well as his native Indian sub-continent.

I’m probably not going to find space for a complete read and review, and will consign it to my library of unread books (after Eco) for now, so this is really just a placeholder for the resource:

From Rory Stewart’s introduction to Gerard Russell’s work:

“The combination of linguistic skill, deep cultural understanding, courage, classical scholarship, and profound love of foreign cultures was once more common. Russell is in the direct tradition of British scholars / imperial officers such as Mountstuart, Elphinstone, Macaulay, or even T E Lawrence. But it is now very rare. It is not an accident that Russell has now moved on from the British diplomatic service and Harvard University. Academics seem to be absorbed in ever more intricate internal arguments, which leave little space or possibility for a [book] project of this ambition and scope. Foreign services and policy makers now want ‘management competency’ – slick and articulate plans, not nuance, deep knowledge and complexity.”

That final sentence pretty much drove my own Systems Thinking focus. Forgotten kingdoms represent forgotten knowledge, forgotten ways of knowing. [Hold for later – nuance / detail – complexity / abstraction …]

Hat tip Dennis Finlayson for the book itself. Any book recommended by Rory Stewart and Tom Holland is OK by me.


3 thoughts on “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms”

  1. I agree with the overall sentiment. Mention of Tom Holland prompts me to say how much I’m enjoying his translation of Herodotus’ Histories. The plural is important. Long one of my favourite books, and overdue a re-read, Holland makes it zip along smoothly. Herodotus seems to by your style. He is generous rather than judgemental, fascinated rather than prescriptive. If there is a method to it all, he gives it on page 501: “Although it is incumbent on me to state what I am told, I am under no obligation to believe it entirely – something that is true for the whole of my narrative.” And so her relates everything he hears, the events, the stories, the myths, the explanations. He leaves it to the reader to judge. And he delights in local detail, recoding every fact and observation he can gather, and everything of note he has seen in compiling his book.

    I’m sure you have, but if you haven’t I’m sure you’d revel in it, and Holland is an excellent place to start or reacquaint yourself.

  2. Thanks Mark. Yes, I can imagine liking Holland on Heraclitus, but so far I’ve not.
    Like Dennis with the Gerrard Russell book, I say to you that I’ll add it to my library of unread books for now, until my current writing projects achieve some progress. No more reading until I can achieve some worthwhile writing.

    Telling that you overall agreed with that post, given that it includes yet another reference to Pirsig (around whom I’ve been “housekeeping” recently). Zen and the Art (ZMM) came out of his psycho-therapist’s advice to …

    “stop reading and just write something” 🙂

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