Louis Dupré: The DharmaCafé Interview
DharmaCafé interviews Louis Dupré, a brilliant and enormously learned Catholic cultural historian and philosopher of religion with a soul deep enough to write respectfully on the likes of Marx and the Romantics and to conclude his anthology of Christian mysticism, “Light from Light”, with selections from a monk named “Abhishiktananda”.by William Stranger
If I were to teach a general humanities course to college freshman I would anchor it around Louis Dupré’s two great historical meditations on the development of Western philosophy, religion and culture, “Passage to Modernity” and “The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of Western Culture”. The usual academic surveys of Western culture, trying as they do to compress two plus millenia into a few hundred pages, are almost always futile efforts to force feed us an overwhelming and ultimately indigestible blend of facts subsumed under the standard (and unilluminating) conventions of historical scholarship. But Dupré—a Catholic philosopher of religion with a soul deep enough to write respectfully on the likes of Marx, Kierkegaard, and the Romantics—brings together an acute philosophical temperament, vast learning, and the instincts of a composer to takes the weight and measure of his themes deep in his psyche, not merely in the forebrain. I would have loved to have spent time in his classes at Yale where he taught for 25 years. Where was the Teaching Company when we really needed it?
His work is academically impeccable, but there is nothing of the musty scholar on academic retreat about him. Louis Dupré is a lucid, graceful writer who clearly picks his topics because of their cultural importance. What other Catholic philosopher has written appreciatively of Marx and then gone on to edit a, well, luminous anthology of Christian mysticism (“Light from Light”)? One feels his investment in what he writes, his desire to laminate and bring to the surface the themes that have done the most to awaken his own intuition. This why his books are such a service to his readers. They are intended to deliver us whole the rich insights and intelligence that the various subjects of his study produced for our benefit.
Accompanied by Eliot Hurwitz, I interviewed Louis Dupré on the Yale University campus in September, 2008. We both felt it was one of the best interviews DharmaCafé has done.