As Talcott Parsons’s beloved student at the Department of Social Relations at Harvard in the 1950s, Bellah was subject to high expectations… From the point of view of the sociology of ideas, this strategy might be seen as both a homage to a venerable sociological tradition—going all the way back to Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer and the incredibly vast array of interests of 19th-century sociology—and as an attempt to bring Talcott Parsons’s work to a higher level of complexity and explicative power. Many may not know, but Parsons was a biology major and remained a voracious reader all his life, eager to make almost everything fit inside his signature “theory of social action.” …
Luhmann’s, as well as Bellah’s, silence about historical change in general should not be mistaken for lack of scholarship or courage: on the contrary, it comes from a lucid understanding of the promises and the limits of theory vis-à-vis the study of individual historical facts and processes that takes Parsons’s tendency to over-theorize seriously and tries to find a way to transcend its shortcomings.
The story of Robert Bellah and Religion in Human Evolution can thus be told as the quest a hero had to bring to an end against all odds and impediments, and as the dutiful effort of a metaphorical son to resume and further the work of his metaphorical father within a long line of ancestors—even putting the clear Weberian inspiration aside, Bellah’s decision to go back to pre-axial and axial-age civilizations after a life of work on modernity and modernization might be read as parallel to Durkheim’s decision to focus on Australian aboriginals after The Division of Labor in Society and Suicide, a choice that Bellah himself once interpreted as a journey into the unconscious sources of social existence analogous to Freud’s work on dreams…
I would make a fool of myself by saying that the main thrust beyond Bellah’s latest work is the resentment of the unappreciated intellectual. No need to call Nietzsche into question: I am just saying that besides the aspiration to bring his self-assigned life plan of research to an end, Bellah might have had another, all too human, desire to fulfill.
Perhaps more importantly the author does not write to simply address followers of Sri Aurobindo but has done an even greater service by attempting to make the Record available to a wider audience by drawing comparisons with the work of several of the most renown philosophers of the late 20th Century including Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and especially Gilles Deleuze who figures most prominently in his analysis of the Record of Yoga.
Contemporary philosophy or theory is now in a post-metaphysical stage given the myriad of problems associated with ideologies that have been spun from worn out metaphysical creeds throughout the 20th century. It is a stroke of genius to analyze Sri Aurobindo’s yoga by employing the language of Gilles Deleuze because of its relevance to contemporary thought. Given the fact that The Record of Yoga and Sri Aurobindo’s many other important texts were written close to 1o0 years ago and thus are cloaked in the language of metaphysical idealism, that although appropriate for the times, now represent a discourse largely removed from the necessities of our Post-Metaphysical Age, Banerji has performed an invaluable service for contemporary scholars, theologians as well as followers of integral yoga. Because of the seemingly incommensurable discursive gap between Aurobindo and Deleuze one would never gleam the similarities if someone as skilled as Banerji has not attempted his comparison.
Reading them today I can not help to smile because language – as we know from Future Poetry – charts the leading edge of our evolutionary turn. So for example to read these words in the 21st century well after the intuitive poetic vision that inspired their first utterance has passed, I can only wonder what the signifier psychicization differs and defers to? If one takes SA seriously about the infinite expressive potentialities of the Divine then one would be real surprised if this did not also correspond to an equally expressive ever-evolving language.
Therefore it seems to me rather unlikely that what Sri Aurobindo may have first gleamed in language from an intuitive vision over 75 years ago would in fact be the very same language he would cloak his “guru english” in today. Over time sublime experience becomes reified in language, inspirational poetry quickly becomes stale ideology. While one can memorize his system and learn to parrot Sri Aurobindo’s words mapping his experience onto the countless differences that shape the experiences and inner topography of each one of us is a whole other enchilada.