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Religion Library: Sufism

Historical Perspectives

Written by: Nancy Khalek

Similarly, in the field of studies on Al-Ghazali, which according to scholar Kujiro Nakamura has been flourishing since the middle of the 20th century, "there were several attempts to verify al-Ghazali's authentic works through textual criticism," while "the new trend in the study of al-Ghazali is to re-examine his relation to philosophy." The availability of texts in translation has also greatly aided the expansion of Sufi studies in relation to medieval western philosophy.

Perhaps the most telling example of the state of Sufi studies in the contemporary period is the recent book by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Garden of Truth, published in 2007. In the introduction, the author explains his rationale and intention in writing the work, which is subtitled "The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam's Mystical Tradition." Nasr sees the work as the result of fifty years' worth of scholarly and "existential participation" in Sufism. It is, unlike most other studies by academics, a Sufi work originally composed in English (as opposed to an English work about Sufism, but based primarily on texts in another language.) This hybridization—of western communication of what is traditionally seen as an eastern tradition—symbolizes the ultimate reconciliation between the realms of academic theology and engaged Sufism.

What Nasr's book represents is a culminating piece in a decades-long study of Sufism in the academy. There have been, especially in recent decades, introductory books about Sufism by many scholars, but Nasr's work represents a Sufi text "in the manner of classical Sufi works but in a contemporary language" (Garden, p. xiv). Therefore, in its form as much as in its content, this most recent example of Sufi studies embodies the global if not universalizing impulse that underwrites much of the historical development of Sufism itself.