The Highest Common Factor: Heterodox Archaeology and the Perennialist Milieu

Author(s): Kevin Whitesides

Year: 2017


Introducing a 1944 translation of the Bhagavad Gita, Aldous Huxley concisely described what he called The Perennial Philosophy. Despite the apparently distinct cultures of the world, he said, "beneath the confusion of tongues and myths, of local histories and particularist doctrines, there remains a Highest Common Factor." This perception of an underlying unity among the "higher religions" of the world has led Perennialists to feel a greater sense of ownership and hence freedom in interpreting the significance of major archaeological sites the world over. Unlike alternative archaeological narratives that focus on particular geographical and cultural identities, Perennialism opens the doors to all cultures and all times, though there is a strong tendency toward reverence for the past (or contemporary "shamanic" cultures deemed to model the past). This Perennialist stance undergirds much of contemporary alternative spirituality and, although it claims a timeless authority it is, itself, a temporally located and particularist set of religious positions that can be historically and socioculturally contextualized. It is, in fact, the broader "cultic milieu" in which all of these heterodox themes circulate that can allow us to make sense of the cognitive and social contexts in which the impulses to create alternative archaeological narratives arise.

Cite this Record

The Highest Common Factor: Heterodox Archaeology and the Perennialist Milieu. Kevin Whitesides. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431722)

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 16545