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Knysh, Alexander

Alexander Knysh

Abstract

"We shall not return to the state anterior to discourse—in which nothing has yet been said, and in which things are only just beginning to emerge out of the grey light; and we shall not pass beyond discourse in order to rediscover the forms that it has created and left behind it; we shall remain, or try to remain, at the level of discourse itself…A task consists of not—of no longer—treating discourses as groups of signs (signifying elements referring to contents or representations) but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak."

Series:

Alexander Knysh

Abstract

This chapter addresses various iterations of the term “Sufism” (tasawwuf) in modern-day academic and non-academic discourses. Because all scholarship begins and ends with definitions of the subject(s) explored, the very category “Sufism” can easily turn into a site of heated ideological debates and politically and theologically driven contractions and expansions. Definitions of Sufism being legion, the chapter focuses on the reasons and dynamics of inclusion in or exclusion from this notion of certain characteristics, individuals or phenomena. The process of defining and redefining reflects both obvious and not-so-obvious ideological and intellectual predilections of defining subjects. Obviously, ideologically driven constructions and adaptations of the object(s) defined are not unique to Sufism. They are, for example, abundantly attested for the notion of “Islam,” beginning with a very pertinent and hotly disputed issue of whether Sufism should be considered to be part of it. Without passing a final judgment on the validity or lack thereof of certain definitions of Sufism, the chapter emphasizes inclusion over against exclusion. Events, personalities and practices that various observers associate with Sufism should be included into it unless there are compelling and clearly established reasons not to do so. The “expansive definition” advocated in the chapter does do not necessarily outweigh or overrule more narrowly focused normative definitions as long as they are viewed as such, that is, attempts by a given party to legitimize and valorize a certain understanding of Sufism and Islam generally.

Islamic Mysticism

A Short History

Series:

Alexander Knysh

The book provides a general survey of the history of Islamic mysticism (Sufism) since its inception up to the modern time. It combines chronological and personality-based approaches to the subject with a thematic discussion of principal Sufi notions and institutions. Sufism is examined from a variety of different perspectives: as a vibrant social institution, a specific form of artistic expression (mainly poetic), an ascetic and contemplative practice, and a distinctive intellectual tradition that derived its vitality from a dialogue with other strands of Islamic thought. The book emphasizes the wide variety of Sufism's interactions with the society and its institutions from an ascetic withdrawal from the world to an active involvement in its affairs by individual Sufi masters and organizations.

Islamic Mysticism by Knysh is a comprehensive survey of the interesting and fascinating world of Islamic Mysticism.