Sufism: The Formative Period

Sufism: The Formative Period

Sufism: The Formative Period

Sufism: The Formative Period

Synopsis

This book is a comprehensive historical overview of the formative period of Sufism, the major mystical tradition in Islam, from the ninth to the twelfth century CE. Based on a fresh reading of the primary sources and integrating the findings of recent scholarship on the subject, the author presents a unified narrative of Sufism's historical development within an innovative analytical framework. Karamustafa gives a new account of the emergence of mystical currents in Islam during the ninth century and traces the rapid spread of Iraq-based Sufism to other regions of the Islamic world and its fusion with indigenous mystical movements elsewhere, most notably the Malr cultural context

Excerpt

'Mysticism' has been a highly popular category in the academic study of religion since the beginning of the twentieth century. During the last few decades, however, the category has come under widespread criticism for its essentialist assumptions. The claim that mystical experiences are at once private, unmediated and ineffable yet universally present in all human religiosity has been exposed as a modern Euro-American construction with a peculiar history of its own, and 'mysticism was returned to the conditioning webs of history, culture, and language' by its new critics. More recently, the same criticism was also extended to 'spirituality', the category that has come to enjoy widespread popularity during the last quarter-century. As a result, any historically uncontextualised use of mysticism or spirituality as if these were self-evident, uncontested, and universally applicable categories now appears problematic and even unwarranted, if not downright naive.

But if it is no longer possible to view mysticism and spirituality as general analytical categories abstracted from historical and cultural context, what can be said about the study of the 'mystical and spiritual dimensions' of individual religious traditions? What is the relevance of the historicist criticism for the academic scrutiny of religion-specific mysticisms and spiritualities? The answer lies in acknowledging the primacy of the 'conditioning webs' of history and culture also at this level. Each religious tradition can certainly be said to contain mystical and spiritual dimensions, yet the exact content and meaning of these dimensions should not be conceived as unchanging essences; instead, the mystical and the spiritual need to be discovered, described and analysed in particular contexts.

In the study of Sufism, often described as the major mystical tradition within Islam, essentialising approaches that postulate an unchanging core to all Sufi phenomena have certainly occupied a prominent place, yet historical and philological approaches that direct proper attention to historical context have been in place long before the onset of historicist and constructivist criticism and can hardly be characterised as marginal. In other words, while some trends in existing scholarship on Sufism certainly remain vulnerable to charges . . .

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