Sufism and Society: Arrangements of the Mystical in the Muslim World, 1200-1800

By Kars, aydogan | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, July-September 2013 | Go to article overview

Sufism and Society: Arrangements of the Mystical in the Muslim World, 1200-1800


Kars, aydogan, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


Sufism and Society: Arrangements of the Mystical in the Muslim World, 1200-1800. Edited by JOHN J. CURRY and ERIK S. OHLANDER. Routledge Sufi Series, vol. 12. London: ROUTLEDGE, 2012. Pp. xiv + 281. $125.

Sufism and Society consists of a collection of papers by ten scholars, with an introduction and two papers by the editors themselves. The chapters in the book present elaborate and diverse case studies of Sufism from Middle Eastern, Turkic, Persian, and South Asian Islamic lands, and cover six centuries, from the fall of Baghdad to the colonial period at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Apposite case studies are explored to challenge the grand narratives and pre-established generalizations about Sufism and its roles in society. The book depicts the vivid practices and doctrines of Sufis within an intricate nexus of other social and political elements. The examples in the book make clear that these relations are so complex that even recognizing or defining the Sufi element within the larger social picture can be extremely difficult. This difficulty is manifested in the case studies, and an attempt to resolve it is made by analyzing the cases within their larger gestalt while avoiding the familiar meta-narratives. In addition, the methodological richness of the chapters in the book is a thought ful response to the diversity of the themes and depth of the field. The authors enlist methodological insights from other disciplines, especially anthropology, sociology, and philosophy, to respond to the difficulty of studying such an elusive but saturated phenomenon tangled within the web of social relations. The authors explicitly reflect on the theorization of Sufism in their chapters; and their case studies of Sufism also embody concrete applications of alternative methodological frames to approach a saturated phenomenon. The application of diverse theoretical tools from various disciplines to the study of Sufism is, philosophically, the most exciting facet of the book.

Covering such a vast time span and geography, the editors effectively tackle the difficulty of contextualizing the papers by thematizing them. The chapters are "organized into four key areas of inquiry according to the specific thematic thrust of each in relation to the whole" (p. 4); the four rubrics are "historiography," "landscapes," "praxis," and "negotiations." These rubrics are neither exclusive nor exhaustive, but overlap like the manifold facets of the phenomenon under consideration. The case studies present alternative and interdisciplinary possibilities for studying Sufism, and provide us with alternative points of view informed by other fields of research enriching the traditional historical approaches.

The first three chapters elaborate innovative avenues for Suli historiography, evaluating and (re-) categorizing some of the fundamental textual sources, including prosopography, didactic works, and hagiography. Blain Auer's "Intersections between Sufism and Power" examines the relationship between Sufi slzaykhs and political power in Northern India during the era of the Delhi sultanate in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. Auer challenges the separation of political and religious spheres by displaying not only the close-knit relation between political power and Sufis, but also the intertextuality between the hagiographical and historiographical literary genres. Paying attention to the authorship and audience of these works, Auer illuminates their shared discursive spaces and social functions. Erik Ohlander's "Mecca Real and Imagined" examines transregional Sufi networks, and calls for rethinking the isolated depictions of Indo-Sufi figures through the case study of Balla al-Din Zakariyya of Multan (d. 1268). "Hagiography. Court Records, and Early Modern Sufi Brotherhoods," by Sean Foley, appeals to social movement theory to enrich our understanding of Sufi organizations through a case study of Shaykh Khalid (d. …

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