Spring 2014 REL 277 Islamic Mysticism
This course surveys Islamic spirituality, the varieties of Islamic mystical traditions and conceptual framework that could navigate and make sense of this diversity. In summary, this course is a thematic and conceptual introduction to the “inner Islam” and its numerous manifestations (history of Islamic mysticism will be discussed only in relation to this conceptual study). We will begin with a discussion of the key terms and concepts, ‘inner’, ‘spiritual’, ‘religious’, ‘esoteric’ and ‘mystical’ (and how these will be employed throughout the course), review the history of the study of Islamic mysticism in the West and a very basic introduction to the Islamic tradition. Then through a conceptual framework of “action- love-knowledge” centered forms of spiritual orientations, we will survey the various forms of Islamic spirituality. These include general spiritual doctrines and practices shared by all Muslims, Sufism – the most popular and influential mystical tradition of Islam – and its diverse manifestations, Shi‘ite spirituality in its Twelver and Sevener varieties, Islamic mystical philosophy and philosophical mysticism. Our method of study will include primary sources, secondary scholarship, multimedia material, and perhaps field trips and interviews with the practitioners of Islamic spirituality. In the process, we will cover historical origins of the varieties of Islamic mysticism, their development, key figures, doctrines and spiritual practices and influence within Islamic societies and beyond. Depending upon the time in hand, we may also examine the doctrinal and historical overlaps among these spiritual traditions, and their attitude towards one another, from mutual respect and acceptance to polemical rejection. Finally, we will reflect on the cultural and intellectual significance of Islamic mysticism for Islamic civilization and challenges faced by Islamic mystical traditions in the contemporary world.