This July 22, 2021, event featured scholars from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, including philosophy, sociology, theology, and history. The participating scholars were the following: Syed Farid Alatas (Singapore), Dustin J. Byrd (USA), Mehdi Shariati (USA), Rudolf J. Siebert (USA), Michael Naughton (UK), and Seyed Javad Miri (Iran). In the discourse, the participants discussed the challenges humans have faced in the past, are facing in the present, and are likely to struggle with in the future, including problem that are political, ecological, economic, and cultural in nature. This event was co-sponsored by the Global Center for Inter-Civilizational Dialogue. The entire discourse can be found on Ekpyrosis Press YouTube channel, which can be found by the link below:
On June 17th, 2021, Ekpyrosis Press sponsored the global roundtable on the revolutionary Iranian sociologist, Ali Shariati. Recently, Ekpyrosis Press published Seyed Javad Miri’s collection of essays entitled, Ali Shariati: Expanding the Sociological Canon, which highlight the continual important of Shariati’s work in the field of sociology, intellectual history, Iranian thought, and contemporary political Islamic thought. Dr. Miri joined the discussion on June 17th.
The discourse is divided into a morning and afternoon session.
Why did I write this book for a non-Iranian global audience? I think this is a very cogent question. Why should an Iranian thinker who died fifty years ago be of significance for a global audience today? The first thing I can say is that Shariati is not well known outside of Iran and a broader discovery of his work is in order. Why? Because he is one of the most significant sociologists outside of the European and American context, who can enhance our global understanding of the future of humanity as a species.
Secondly, I think he belongs to a wider tradition of critical social theory that so far has been conceptualized in a Eurocentric frame of reference. In other words, critical social theory needs to be reconceptualized in non-Eurocentric terms, and once this has been done, then Ali Shariati will be one of its global pioneers.
Another important reason that I think this book could be of importance to scholars is the question of the “sociological canon,” which is defined in a fashion wherein sociologist of non-Western origins fall outside its expansive walls. This book challenges this view and also provides a concrete alternative in this regard.
The fourth reason that I think shariat is of importance for the global audience is the way in which he reconstructs “religion” and the concept of Islam specifically. In Shariati’s perspective, religion is not solely a sacred taboo, but it could also be stupefying. In this context, the question becomes: how to emancipate stupefied individuals and societies. Shariati is not passé, but rather he must be studied along side critical theorist such as Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Jürgen Habermas, Rudolf J. Siebert, and Herbert Marcuse, and other critical theorist as well as existential philosophers.
~ Seyed Javad Miri, Ph.D.
Seyed Javad Miri’s book, Ali Shariati: Expanding the Sociological Canon, is available through Amazon.com: Here
The first book published by Ekpyrosis Press, Dustin J Byrd’s Critical Theory of Religion: From the Frankfurt School to Emancipatory Islamic Thought, was featured in Iran’s Javan Newspaper. In the article, Dr. Byrd discusses his work on the Iranian thinker and revolutionary Ali Shariati, and his enduring influence on critical and emancipatory thought, both in the Muslim world and outside of it. Within the book, Byrd argues for a dialectical approach to “authenticity,” as it was understood by Ali Shariati, especially for an authenticity-from-below, which struggles against the imposition of a false-identity on an oppressed people by their oppressors.
The book, Critical Theory of Religion: From the Frankfurt School to Emancipatory Thought is now available on Amazon.com: Critical-Religion ($28 USD paperback; $39 USD hardcover)
Why the name “Ekpyrosis Press”?
The Greek term “ekpyrosis” (ἐκπύρωσις) comes from the Stoic beliefs concerning the periodic destruction of the cosmos. It serves as a “dialectical image” for the mission of Ekpyrosis Press. Mythologically, ekpyrosis is a “conflagration” that occurs when Zeus’ consciousness retracts back into himself, thus annihilating all that depends on his exteriorized conscious. In this great contraction, the cosmos – the existing reality – is thoroughly destroyed, but not entirely. Dialectically, this destruction is the precondition for a “rebirth” (palingenesis) of the cosmos from the erasure of the previous cosmos. The new cosmos is created when Zeus’ consciousness again moves outward, creating a new reality that has both preserved some aspects of the old while creating the new. This restoration of the old through the production of the new is an “apocatastasis” (ἀποκατάστᾰσις) – a dialectical preservation of that which came before within the “fresh idea” as the philosopher Georg W.F. Hegel called it. From the perspective of Ekpyrosis Press, in order to bring out a new society, one firmly rooted within the seedbed societies of the West – Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome – while furthering the work of the Enlightenment, a political, economic, and cultural ekpyrosis of the West must occur if it is to survive the 21stcentury. It is done partially via the humanization of the “consciousness of Zeus,” i.e. a transformation of the consciousness of humanity, wherein recognition of the importance of the past in married to a striving for a new and more emancipatory future. Ekpyrosis press is dedicated to this dialectical transformation.
Why the slogan “Forward from the Roots”?
According to the ancient Greek historian Xenophon, Socrates often invoked the phrase “know thyself” (γνῶθι σεαυτόν) as being a foundation of knowledge. Yet today, we live in a time wherein the foundations of the West are often either unknown or are undermined in favor of an ever-more amorphous and disconnected future. We no longer know ourselves, and as such, we no longer know who we are or where we came from. This rootlessness, this being untethered from our historical moorings, produces an anxiety within Western societies. Because we have lost sight of our roots, we become increasingly anxious about new identities within our secular societies. When we have a strong, but not authoritarian, attachment to our own historical and cultural resources, we do not fear others, nor do we dehumanize them. It is only when we no longer know who we are, where we’ve come from, what has made us into what we are, that we engage in what Zygmunt Bauman calls “adiaphorization” – the “othering” of the non-identical in our societies. Such adiaphorization separates the “others” from our ethical and moral consideration and gives legitimation to the cruelest of human cruelties. Therefore, in order to move forward and create the conditions for a more inclusive yet diverse reality, we have to paradoxically return to our roots, for it is in those roots that we find stability and the capabilities to become a society welcoming of necessary change.
Doesn’t the far-right also invoke ekpyrosis as an important concept in their philosophies?
Yet, they do, but in their positivism, they horribly misread and therefore distort the concept. For them, their “conflagration” is a form of ethno-nationalist politics. It is a “purification” of the European or “white” ethnosphere of all of what Theodor W. Adorno calls the “non-identical,” i.e. those elements which appear “foreign” to the “authentic” (eigentlich) culture and people. The Far-Right, or Alt-Fascism, calls for a rebirth (palingenesis) of the West as a return to a previous idealized state, before the advent of our dysgenic modernity. This can be described as “peripeteic-dialectics” – or “dialectics in reverse.” It is an attempt to restore all that which has been previously negated by cultural modernity in an effort to bring about a future society that is as close to cultural pre-modernity as possible. Ekpyrosis Press is opposed to this kind of racial and cultural politics. It wants to advance those aspects of modernity that have been beneficial to humanity while calling into question those aspects that have harmed, distorted, and crippled humanity, including racism, class oppression, misogyny, gender domination, inter-religious warfare, etc.
Unfortunately, today’s Far-Right has been given by the secular Left a powerful tool: the monopoly of Western history and culture, i.e. our Western inheritance. As many progressives and those of the political Left continue to abandon our traditional and historic literary, cultural, religious, and philosophical inheritance for our ever-increasing new identities, post-modernism, and the vacuousness of nihilism, they cede it to the Far-Right, who then present themselves as the sole defenders of traditional Western identity. This is a mistake by many on the Left that Ekpyrosis Press is opposed to. The cultural inheritance of the West does not belong only to the Far-Right; it belongs to all Westerners, including those Westerners whose origins are located outside of the traditional Western “ethnosphere.” They too are Westerners, even if their identities remain firmly attached to a non-Western culture. The critical theorist Herbert Marcuse, by no means a conservative, often affirmed the importance of studying Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, Kwame Nkrumah, and other “non-Western” theorist, but it was equally important to study Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and the rest of the Western philosophical, religious, and literary pantheon. If this intellectual and cultural rootedness in the West is abandoned by Western progressives, the Western inheritance will continue to be appropriated by the Far-Right and falsely nationalized, wherein it will continue to be used a weapon against all those whom they view as “non-identical” to the West. It is time for progressives to reclaim the Western inheritance.
What does “inter-civilizational discourse” mean for Ekpyrosis Press?
Being secure within one’s own cultural and historical identity, means that one can reach out to others without fearing them. It would be a historical mistake to believe that the West has not be beneficially influenced by other cultures, especially the Islamic world and the Middle East. Yet today, there is a prevailing narrative that the West and the Muslim world are unavoidably antagonistic. Ekpyrosis Press stands against this geo-political and cultural “fatalism,” which is often peddled by those who are politically, economically, and/or culturally invested in Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis. Ekpyrosis Press will publish books dedicated to inter-civilizational discourse, inter-religious discourse, and inter-cultural discourse, while remaining appreciative of each cultures’ “right to difference” and their desires to determine their own future. This “right to difference” extents also to the West and being so Ekpyrosis Press will also publish works that are important to the preservation and rebirth of Western culture and history.
Why the need for another progressive press?
It is true that there are many quality progressive presses in the West, and Ekpyrosis Press does not see them as competitors, but rather as collaborators in our attempt to create a more justice-filled society. What makes Ekpyrosis Press different is its concern for the preservation of the Western inheritance in addition to its movement toward a more reconciled revolutionary society. Unfortunately, many in the Left completely dismiss the “conservative impulse,” which states that there are things in the world that are worthy of conservation, and therefore must be conserved, while at the same time aggressively pursuing transformative change. Ekpyrosis Press is dedicated to both sides of this dialectic – negation and preservation – in equal fashion. Therefore, it puts itself outside of the Left-Right spectrum of politics, and focuses on truth and ideology critique, no matter how painful it is for both sides of the spectrum.
What disciplines will Ekpyrosis Press concentrate on?
Since the struggle to bring about a renewed West and peaceful relations with the “Rest” takes place in a variety of fields and disciplines, the subjects we intend to publish are wide and varied. Being a peer-reviewed academic publishing house, we are especially interested in the fields of philosophy, religion, theology, sociology, history, literature, anthropology, political science, cultural studies – both Western and non-Western, as well as economics and post-colonial theory. Ekpyrosis Press is currently accepting manuscript proposals from a variety of scholars in multiple disciplines, from various parts of the world.
How does Walter Benjamin’s “Hope for the Hopeless” guide Ekpyrosis Press?
It is clear that the class domination that remains the current hegemonic condition within the world determined by aggressive transnational capitalism is the most pressing form of domination that we currently contend with. Such class domination determines the continue destruction of the world’s eco-systems; it determines the intrenchment and growth of poverty and “wretchedness” in all nations; it determines the crippling divisions within the working classes; it determines the continual production of “surplus humanity” (as Alain Badiou calls them), the “replaceables” who live only to serve as sources of surplus value extraction; it determines the anxiety-ridden nature of the precariat; it determines the ever-increasing production of petit-dictators in “democratic” nations; it determines the continual reproduction of racism and racist policies; it determines the continual entrenchment of neo-imperialism via finance capitalism, and so on. We are in a umsturzsituation: a revolutionary situation that calls for immediate and radical theory and praxis. As such, the remembrance of the hopeless, both living today and the hopeless now buried and gone – the victim of the past injustices – impels us with the “weak messianic power” we possess to create a future that may, at least in theory, give meaning to the victims of history. We clearly cannot redeem the dead, only the messiah, as Walter Benjamin said, can do that, but we can honor their struggle by continuing their struggle. That is the “hope for the hopeless” that Ekpyrosis Press intends to pursue.
Dustin J. Byrd, Ph.D.