Alexander Knysh is a professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Middle East Studies at the University of Michigan. He discusses his new book, Sufism: A New History of Islamic Mysticism, below:
My new book Sufism: A New History of Islamic Mysticism was commissioned from me by the acquisition editor of Princeton University Press, Fred Appel, back in 2008. The initial title was Sufism in the Modern World, but it underwent several changes as my work on the book progressed. My preferred title was Sufism Reimagined, because in this book I reassess approaches to Sufism espoused not only by my fellow “Sufiologists,” but also by myself in my earlier book Islamic Mysticism: A Short History (originally published by E.J. Brill in 2000 and released in a paperback edition with minor revisions in 2010). Eventually, the publisher prevailed on me to give the book its present title (for better or worse).
In my new book, I abandon the chronological principle of presenting Sufism’s evolution in time and space that I pursued my first book. Instead, I discuss Sufism under a number of topical rubrics that focus on Sufi teachings (discourses), practices, institutions, communities, and leaders. The last chapter of the book discusses the latest stage in Sufism’s history, especially the often-violent confrontation between its proponents and detractors. The latter, for the most part, but not exclusively, represent the so-called Salafi (or “fundamentalist”) interpretations of Islam that legitimize Sufism on a variety of theological and ideological grounds. The clash between the Sufis and anti-Sufis today, in my view, is important. It is a manifestation of the wider struggle among various groups of Muslims for the future directions and “soul” of their religion. In sum, my new book provides a critical reassessment of the vast field of Sufi studies today and offers new perspectives on the past, present and future of the ascetic-mystical movement in Islam. Whether I have achieved my goals, is for my readers to judge. I plan to use my new book in my course “Islamic Mysticism: Sufism in Space and Time” as a supplement to my Islamic Mysticism: A Short History. The long sixth chapter of my book will be a good fit for my discussion of the vicissitudes of “Modern Islamic Movements in Comparative Perspective,” a course that I will be teaching in the winter semester of 2018. Chapter three of my book will be assigned as a reading to the students of my “Qur’an and Its Interpretations.”
For additional information on Professor Knysh’s new book Sufism: A New History of Islamic Mysticism, please see the Princeton Press website.
Professor Knysh was also recently interviewed by several news outlets. Please see the links below for additional information: