This course is a seminar for advanced undergraduate and graduate students who wish to gain an understanding of the richness of the Sufi tradition. Sufism (Islamic “mysticism”) forms an integral part of Islam, centering on the inner, spiritual development of the believer and his attempts to draw close to God, beyond a purely outward adherence to the law (the sharī‘a). While the Sufi tradition has been incredibly diverse, it often stresses the immanent nature of the divine, which Sufis believe can be grasped through divine grace in the Here and Now. By acknowledging emotion as a legitimate source of knowledge (to be cultivated through a range of devotional exercises and meditative techniques), and by putting an emphasis on esoteric interpretations of scripture, Sufism has played a fundamental role in the negotiation of Islamic orthodoxy. Moreover, as an important manifestation of Islamic piety, it has spawned some of the greatest works of art—from poetry to music, the decorative arts and architecture. Sufi orders (ṭarīqas) have also played a crucial role in the social and economic history of Muslim societies, as guild-like institutions that often transcended ethnic, linguistic or social differences.
In this course, we will examine the historical origins, development and institutionalization of Sufism, including long-standing debates over its place within the wider Islamic tradition. We will ask, for example, why Sufism has often been described as something different from mainstream, “legalistic” Islam. We will try to untangle the complicated history of the term Sufism itself, and unpack the usefulness of categories such spirituality or mysticism. We will examine Sufi attitudes toward the body, as the interface between “exterior” and “interior,” as well as a tool for human transgression and submission. We will consider the importance of the Sufi master-disciple relationship, Sufi understandings of lineage, power and religious authority. Finally, we will explore the role of Sufism in anti-colonial resistance and its continued importance in the modern world.
By way of a close reading of a range of primary sources, including Sufi manuals of etiquette, hagiographies, Sufi creeds and poetry, we will discuss the paradox that even though Sufism initially stressed the primacy of emotions and lived experience over book-learning, its adherents and practitioners proceeded to produce an enormous body of works, both normative and descriptive, literary and practical. Our readings will be supplemented by secondary scholarship on Sufism, which has boomed in the last couple of decades in a variety of fields, including anthropology, sociology, Islamic studies and cultural history.
|RELI 4325||001/86029||Tu Th 5:30p - 8:40p|
Room TBA Building TBA