The Academic Study of Sufism at American Universities

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Marcia Hermansen



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.1 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,2 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.

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