This article provides an overview of the history and current situation of the academic study of Sufism (Islamic mysticism) at American universities. It examines Sufism’s place within the
broader curriculum of Islamic studies as well as some of the main themes and approaches employed by American scholars. In addition, it explains both the academic context in which Sufi studies are located and the role of contemporary positions in Islamic and western thought in shaping its academic study.
Topics and issues of particular interest to a Muslim audience, as well as strictly academic observations, will be raised.
In comparison to its role at academic institutions in the traditional Muslim world, Sufi studies has played a larger role within the western academic study of Islam during the twentieth century, especially the later decades. I will discuss the numerous reasons for this in the sections on the institutional, intellectual, and pedagogical contexts.
1. The Institutional Context
- Language Training and Its Role
2. The Intellectual Context
noted historian John Voll noted 3 major movements in theory of the study of Islam during the latter part of the 20-th century:
--- a. An initial post-WWII War phase, dominated by modernization theory,
which postulated a diminishing public role for religion. According to modernization theory, such vestigial Islamic behaviors as Sufism represented no more than a fading and temporary resistance to the inevitable process of secularization.
--- b. A period of revisionism that entailed the recognition that religion remains important.
However, at this point religion is studied in its exotic or extreme forms, such as new religious movements and cults or fundamentalist and extremist movements.
--- c. Finally, there emerged an appreciation for the normalcy
and persistence of certain aspects of religion, such as its role in conveying meaning and embodiment and expressing emotion
- Sufi Studies and Scholarly Debates
- The “Politics” of Sufi Studies
- Approaches to Sufism: Discipline or Discipleship
3. The Pedagogical Context: Teaching Sufism
Marcia Hermansen is a professor in the Theology Department, Loyola University Chicago,