Cultural Crossroads

During his lifetime Idries Shah promoted contacts and connections between different traditions around the world, believing this to be an important element in the advancement of human culture.

In this spirit, The Idries Shah Foundation has created ‘Cultural Crossroads’, a website forum where people from many walks of life are invited to talk about their own experiences crossing cultural boundaries, and the lessons that they have learned as a result.

You can find the full series here:

Julian BagginiAbout Dr Julian Baggini

Dr Julian Baggini is a leading British philosopher, and the author of many books about philosophy written for a general audience. He is co-founder of The Philosophers’ Magazine. His latest book, How the World Thinks takes a new look at different ways of thinking around the globe.

How the World Thinks: A Global History of Philosophy on


Q1: Can the origin of philosophy be found in storytelling?

In a way, philosophy began when people started to realise that storytelling wasn’t enough. The story needed to be based on facts, not just heresay and tradition. In other words, philosophy demanded that the stories we tell ourselves answer to reason as well as imagination and emotion. When they started to demand this they did not give up their old stories, they simply started to make them more compatible with what the evidence of their senses and their reason told them. Of course, this meant that philosophers had started to tell a new story, one of an escape from myth and superstition towards a world of science and reason. That story generated its own myths too, so it seems we cannot entirely escape form storytelling.

Q2: Is Scientism a kind of pseudo religion or something different?

It’s hard to answer that question without deciding what makes anything a religion. Comparative studies suggest that it is a very broad term. Religions have aspects of belief, community and practice, in different proportions. Part of what makes them religious is, I think, that they entail a kind of faith, meaning trust or commitment.

Scientism is the belief that all genuine intellectual problems are scientific problems, the only true accounts scientific ones. Everything else might help us to feel better or give some other kind of satisfaction, but it’s not in the business of truth-telling.

Scientism looks religious in some respects because it does not seems to be founded on evidence and reason. You cannot establish by scientific means the belief that only scientific methods yield important truths. So there does seem to be a non-rational commitment, a kind of faith, at the heart of scientism. Like religion at its worst, it gives people a reassuring sense that they can neatly and clearly distinguish between true and false. Unlike religion, however, many proponents of scientism believe it makes the whole idea of right and wrong redundant.

Q3: Are there any aspects of Oriental Philosophy (for want of a better term) that the West seems to be adopting?

The aspects it is adopting are in the process being adapted. Mindfulness and yoga, for example, have become fully secularised, stripped of their ethical content. They are just tools for enhancing well-being. In general I fear that the embrace of so-called eastern “spirituality” is often little more than the adding of new items to the list of things an individual consumer can choose in order to further their own well-being.

Q4: From your look at Philosophy from a global perspective have you changed in the way you think?

In many ways, many quite subtle. The main one is hard to convey. From Japanese philosophy I have deepened my appreciation of how thinking is not just about constructing arguments in language but about careful attendimg, trying to get a real feel for how things are. This would have sounded woolly to me a few years ago and in summary it probably still does. But I hope in the book I make more sense of it and convey some of its attractions.