Western Sufism: From the Abbasids to the New Age

From Wikivahdat

The title is a book by Barbara Freyer and published by Oxford University Press. The following is a report of the book.[1]

Mark Sedgwick • Examines the deep roots of Western Sufism, commonly thought to be a relatively recent phenomenon

• The first complete history of the Western relationship with Sufism

• Presents a portrait of a long-established relationship between Western thought and Islam that is productive and collaborative, rather than discordant


Western Sufism is sometimes dismissed as a relatively recent "new age" phenomenon, but in this book, Mark Sedgwick argues that it actually has very deep roots, both in the Muslim world and in the West. In fact, although the first significant Western Sufi organization was not established until 1915, the first Western discussion of Sufism was printed in 1480, and Western interest in some of the ideas that are central to Sufi thought goes back to the thirteenth century. Sedgwick starts with the earliest origins of Western Sufism in late antique Neoplatonism and early Arab philosophy, and traces later origins in repeated intercultural transfers from the Muslim world to the West, in the thought of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment, and in the intellectual and religious ferment of the nineteenth century. He then follows the development of organized Sufism in the West from 1915 until 1968, the year in which the first Western Sufi order based not on the heritage of the European Middle Ages, Renaissance and Enlightenment, but rather on purely Islamic models, was founded. Later developments in this and other orders are also covered.

Western Sufism shows the influence of these origins, of thought both familiar and less familiar: Neoplatonic emanationism, perennialism, pantheism, universalism, and esotericism. Western Sufism, then, is the product not of the new age but of Islam, the ancient world, and centuries of Western religious and intellectual history. Drawing on sources from antiquity to the internet, Mark Sedgwick demonstrates that the phenomenon of Western Sufism not only draws on centuries of intercultural transfers, but is also part of a long-established relationship between Western thought and Islam that can be productive, not confrontational.

Table of Contents


Part I Mystics, 833-1328

1. Neoplatonism and Emanationism

2. Arab Neoplatonism to Ibn Arabi

3. Jewish and Christian Neoplatonism to Meister Eckhart

Part II Dervishes, 1480-1899

4. Dervishes as Angels, Deviants, and Mystics

5. Deism and Pantheism

6. Universalist Sufism

7. Dervishes as Epicurean and Fanatical

Part III The Establishment of Sufism in the West, 1910-33

8. Transcendentalism, Theosophy and Sufism

9. Towards the One: Inayat Khan and the Sufi Movement

10. Tradition and Consciousness

Part IV The Development of Sufism in the West, 1950-68

11. Polarization

12. Idries Shah and Sufi Psychology

13. Sufism in the New Age

14. Islamic Sufism

15. Conclusion


Selected Bibliography


Author Information

Mark Sedgwick, Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies and Coordinator of the Islamic Cultures and Societies Research Unit (ICSRU), Aarhus University Mark Sedgwick is Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies and Coordinator of the Islamic Cultures and Societies Research Unit (ICSRU) at Aarhus University in Denmark.

Reviews and Awards

"No more comprehensive a study of the phenomenon of Sufism outside of Muslim-majority countries has been undertaken prior to Sedgwick's" - Hunter C. Bandy, Religious Studies Review

"Western Sufism stands on its own as a model intellectual history of a significant stream of global spirituality. It is a major contribution to our understanding of the inevitable distortions, compromises, revisions, and entrepreneurism that accompany any attempt at transnational transmission of spiritual traditions from one culture to another." - Phillip Charles Lucas, Nova Religio "[E]rudite and informative." - Alexander Knysh, American Historical Review