Kevin  R. D. Shepherd

I am a British author, born in 1950 (more specifically, I am half-Irish, half-English). I have composed fourteen books, including Meaning in Anthropos (1991) and Minds and Sociocultures: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (1995). I undertook private research at Cambridge University Library during 1981-1993. My basic commitment is to a philosophy of culture, which I call anthropography. I also regard history and biography as a priority. See my profile and bibliography. I maintain seven other websites:







Analysis of a Cultist Defamation

The present website comprises the following entries:

Zarathushtra  (Zoroaster)  and  Zoroastrianism

This overview was originally composed in the late 1990s, soon after my phase of private research at Cambridge University Library. The text and notes have been revised and updated. The initial chapters devote attention to the Iranian prophet Zarathushtra, of legendary profile. There is an extensive amount of scholarly argument relating to his Gathas, a complex verse text in Avestan of uncertain date. The present treatment surveys various theories and themes exhibited in the scholarly literature.

The account moves on to describe events and complexities in the more tangible historical vistas of Zoroastrianism, starting with the Achaemenian era associated with Persepolis. The subsequent Sassanian era is much more detailed in specialist sources; this period is given some attention, including profiles of the Gnostic leader Mani and the conservative Mazdean high priest Kirder. Also outlined is the heretical situation of Mazdak and his followers, a scenario that requires careful probing in the face of some simplistic general statements made in this direction. Another feature is the offshoot and hybrid trend known as NeoMazdakite, operative in early Islamic times. The fate of the Iranian Zoroastrians during the Islamic centuries is also detailed. The survey finishes with the subject of religious reformism in the Parsi Zoroastrian milieu of India.

Early  Sufism  in  Iran  and  Central  Asia

The formative development of Sufism occurred over a wide geographical area from Syria and Egypt to Central Asia. The Iraqi tradition, based at Baghdad, was very influential in later centuries. A focus is here attempted upon the complementary Iranian events occurring in Khurasan, a sprawling province which once encompassed territories in Central Asia. The malamati phenomenon of Nishapur is described, along with the ascetic Karrami movement, and also the trend known as Sufiyyat al-Mutazila. The early Sufi annalists like Hujwiri and Qushayri are profiled. Reference is made to many figures such as Ibrahim ibn Adham, Abu Hafs al-Haddad, and Hakim Tirmidhi. The hagiology attaching to Abu Yazid al-Bistami is of interest, in relation to the contested theory of Vedantic influence and other factors. The geographical zone from Nishapur and Tus to Balkh and Bukhara is the basic background for this article. However, developments to the west are also mentioned, as in the instances of Junayd and Hallaj.

Al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi

The ninth century Islamic mystic al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi lived in Central Asia, composing many works in Arabic. His output is considered by specialist scholars to be significant for the period generally known in terms of early Sufism. However, Tirmidhi himself did not use the word Sufi. His recovered major treatise Sirat al-Awliya outlines his version of wilaya (saintship), later adapted by the influential Sufi exponent Ibn al-Arabi (d.1240).

The Egyptian Sufi Dhu'l Nun al-Misri

Born at Akhmim (Panopolis) in Upper Egypt, the ninth century gnostic Dhu'l Nun al-Misri (died circa 860) is one of the most enigmatic figures of early Sufism. Sufi literature, and the non-Sufi accounts by Muslim historians and bibliographers, furnish details that are contradictory. Reputedly an alchemist, Dhu'l Nun is associated with the version of Hermetic philosophy revived by early Muslims. More controversially, he was believed to possess a knowledge of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Becoming a Sufi gnostic and heretic, Dhu'l Nun also lived at Fustat (Old Cairo) and Giza in Lower Egypt. This critical coverage engages with different interpretations of the subject.

Al-Hallaj, Islamic  Mystic  and  Heretic

Born in the Fars province of Iran, the grandson of a Zoroastrian, Hallaj (d.922) became associated with the Sufis of Baghdad, though moving at a tangent to formal Sufism. An unusual preacher, he moved over a wide area, from Iraq and Arabia to India and Central Asia. The last phase of his life occurred at Baghdad, capital of the Abbasid empire. There he came into friction with influential courtiers, being detained in the palace of al-Muqtadir for nine years. His eventual trial was a suspect manoeuvre of his opponents, who succeeded in certifying him as a heretic and causing his execution. The French scholar Louis Massignon (d.1962) industriously researched Hallaj, awarding him a new profile. The significances attaching to Hallaj are investigated in this article, with an emphasis upon social and political problems causing the decline of the Abbasid empire.

Suhrawardi  and  Ishraqi  Philosophy

An overview of the eclectic philosopher Shihab al-Din Yahya Suhrawardi (d.1191), who taught the theme of ishraq (illumination). An Iranian by birth, his conceptual axis has been diversely argued. A critic of the Peripatetic methodology of Ibn Sina, he nevertheless employed a logical approach in his major works, composed in Arabic. His Hikmat al-Ishraq (Philosophy of Illumination) is an unusual combination of logical and intuitive approaches. A Sufi in basic aspects of his lifestyle, he has also been described as a Muslim Neoplatonist, an orientation explaining various features of his exegesis. Suhrawardi recommended the ancient sages, his universalist approach including Greek philosophy, Hermetic lore, and an independent form of Sufism. His teachings incorporate reference to themes like tanasukh (reincarnation) and the "subtle world." The controversial "metahistorical" approach of Henry Corbin is also mentioned.

Azar  Kaivan  and  the  Zoroastrian  Ishraqis

Describes the phenomenon of Zoroastrian ishraqi philosophy, associated with the figure of Azar Kaivan (d.1618), who emigrated with his disciples to Mughal India, in flight from the religious intolerance of Safavid Iran. The subsequent Kaivan school created an inter-religious attitude extending to Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity. The controversial text known as Desatir is associated with this school, and likewise the Dabistan, a work of some ecumenical significance. Related figures appearing in the Dabistan include the heretical Sarmad, a Jewish convert to Islam who resisted the fundamentalism of Aurangzeb's court. The Muslim savants Mir Findiriski and Baha al-Din Amili are also implicated in the train of events.

Sheriar  Mundegar  Irani  and  Zoroastrianism

A biography of an Irani Zoroastrian born on the Yazd plain at the village of Khorramshah. The subject is introduced via an overview of harassing events afflicting the Zoroastrian population of the Yazd locale. His early life was centred at a dakhma or burial site near Yazd, as a consequence of his father's occupation. He subsequently left home to become a wandering dervish; however, he remained a Zoroastrian. After travelling through Iran, he emigrated to India, where he continued his ascetic life. A crisis caused him to sojourn at Poona, where he afterwards settled and married. He mastered different languages and read many books. He was the father of Meher Baba, and in close contact with Hazrat Babajan. Sheriar Mundegar Irani (1853-1932) is the focus for an investigation of Zoroastrian mysticism, primarily the trend associated with the Kaivan school.

Hazrat  Babajan, Faqir  of  Poona

Overview of an unusual female faqir who lived at Poona (Pune) from circa 1905. Hazrat Babajan (d.1931) was a Pathan ascetic from the Afghan territories. Her early life is obscure. After her pilgrimage to Mecca in 1903, she moved to Poona and continued a renunciate lifestyle. Eventually selecting a site in Char Bawdi, she gained numerous devotees, including Muslims, Zoroastrians, and Hindus. This article discusses sources and biographical complexities, providing a complement to my earlier online article Hazrat Babajan, a Pathan (Pashtun) Sufi.

Investigating  Meher  Baba  in  "Secret  India"

A critical assessment of Paul Brunton's popular book A Search in Secret India (1934). This probe reveals the distortion and lack of context which Brunton applied to his chapters on Meher Baba (1894-1969), a failing which can also be detected throughout the book. Brunton's relationship with Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) is also analysed.

Mongol  Empire, Tibetan  Buddhism, Communist  Suppression

Coverage of Mongol Empire events in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, from China and Central Asia to Iran and Russia. Details follow of the Mongolian conversion to Buddhism from the sixteenth century. A critical description ensues of Soviet and Chinese Communist oppression in Mongolia and Tibet. The article ends with reference to the Muslim Uighur detention camps at Xinjiang and the persecution of Falun Gong believers in China.

Upasani  Maharaj  the  Radical  Rishi, Biography  Part  One

The most comprehensive biography of the subject, in four parts. This treatment employs a due range of published sources, including some which have been neglected. Part One details the early life of Upasani, plus his contact with Sai Baba at Shirdi.

Upasani  Maharaj  the  Radical  Rishi, Biography  Part  Two

Continues description of the contact between Upasani and Shirdi Sai Baba. The sojourn of Upasani at Kharagpur in 1914-15 was a very unusual event, extending to intimate association with the sweepers and scavengers known as bhangis, meaning Dalits.

Upasani  Maharaj  the  Radical  Rishi, Biography  Part  Three

Upasani leaves Kharagpur in the face of high caste opposition. He thereafter stays at many places, including Nagpur, Shirdi, Kolhapur, Bombay, and Varanasi. In 1918, he settled at rural Sakori, near Shirdi, where he established an ashram. Here he confined himself in a cage (pinjra) for many months. Part Three closes with a sample of the published Talks dating to the years 1923-25.

Upasani  Maharaj  the  Radical  Rishi, Biography  Part  Four

A visitor to 1920s Sakori ashram was Mahatma Gandhi, the episode being reported in different versions. At Sakori, Upasani established the Kanya Kumari Sthan, a unique project elevating nuns (kanyas). This activity defied orthodox strictures on women. Godavari Mataji became the leader of the Sakori nuns. An influential libel created by Divekar Shastri was offset during court action. The critic B. V. Narasimhaswami failed to portray events in due perspective. The last years of Upasani included a secretive meeting with Meher Baba.


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