Friday, 23 November 2018

Sirāj al-Dīn al-Sakkākī’s Complete Book and a Fragment of Spells

Thursday, 29 November, 2018 – 17:15 to 18:45 at Cambridge University, rooms 8 & 9, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies.

Dr. Emily Selove, "Literature as Magic, Magic as Literature: Sirāj al-Dīn al-Sakkākī’s Complete Book and a Fragment of Spells."

Handbooks like that ascribed to the famous 13th-century scholar of language and magic, Sirāj al-Dīn al-Sakkākī’s Kitāb al-Shāmil wa-baḥr al-kāmil, do not themselves invite literary readings. This grimoire often displays all the literary charms of an ungrammatical cookbook; it is a technical manual—a mixed collection of magical recipes and rituals. It includes instructions for creating talismans, for contacting both jinn and devils, for causing hatred and sickness, for curing such magically caused afflictions, and for calling upon the power of each of the planets. As for previous research on Sakkaki, such studies tend to center on his influential book on language and rhetoric, Miftāḥ al-‘ulūm (The Key to the Sciences), often ignoring his reputation as a magician. Nevertheless, early biographical literature credited him with the power to, for example, strike cranes down in mid flight with a magical inscription. I will argue that both Sakkaki’s linguistic and magical interests show his fascination with the power of language. The power of language to alter the mind or create effects in the physical world is described as a kind of bewitchment in occult literature as well as in studies of language, not to mention in love poetry, and my own strategy in approaching magical texts is to read them with the techniques applied to poetry. I will also discuss some evidence of the practise of magic today, focusing on a mysterious 6-folio fragment of spells in Yale’s Beinecke library.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Friday, 17 August 2018

ENSIE at ESSWE 7: reminder

ENSIE is again organising panels for the biannual conference of ESSWE, which in 2019 will be in Amsterdam, 2-4 July 2019. The theme of the conference is "Western Esotericism and Consciousness: Visions, Voices, Altered States" (read more on the ESSWE website​), and while the ESSWE Call says that the objective is "a large and inclusive conference,"  it also says that "paper and session proposals will go through a careful selection procedure so as to make sure that the final program will have a sharp focus on the conference theme."

Proposals are therefore invited for papers dealing with any aspect of Islam, esotericism and consciousness.
​In particular, proposed topics include:
  • Conceptualisations of consciousness
  • Intoxication
  • Demon possession
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Gendered consciousness
  • Individuation and consciousness.
Papers with a. comparative perspective, for example treating Western or Jewish esotericism as well as Islam, are welcome, but for an ENSIE panel, there must always be a clear Islamic element.
Paper proposals of max 300 words should be submitted in English by 1 September 2018 to Mark Sedgwick, The ESSWE deadline is 1 October 2018, and the ENSIE deadline is designed to allow time to meet this. ENSIE will assemble proposals into proposals for sessions, and forward these to ESSWE. Each session will have four papers.

We welcome submissions from graduate and post-graduate students as well as more experienced or established scholars.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Exorcism and Non-Voluntary Spirit Possession: Call for Papers

“Embodying Modern ‘Scientific’ Medicine and ‘Religious/Spiritual’ Healing: A Comparative Perspective on Exorcism and Non-Voluntary Spirit Possession”

International Conference, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice, 13-14-15 December 2018

This conference will propose a comparative and cross-cultural perspective on spirit possession and exorcism, with a particular focus on the interactions with medical practice and practitioners. We invite contributions that focus on one or more of the following points: experiences of people who are affected by non-voluntary spirit possession and their case histories; experiences of possessed people in their interaction with medical practice; interactions between exorcists and medical practitioners; experiences of possession and bodily perceptions as emerging through practice, rather than their symbolism, meaning making and cognition; and interactions between humans and non-humans.

The full Call is available here.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

ENSIE 2018--and 2020

The inaugural ENSIE conference, held at the Cini Foundation in Venice June 12-14, 2018, has finished. Plans were made for the 2020 ENSIE conference, which is to be held in Marseille, probably also in June.
Participants at the ENSIE conference in Venice

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Sorgenfrei on Sufism and Islamic Esotericism

A new article, “Hidden or Forbidden, Elected or Rejected: Sufism as ‘Islamic Esotericism’?,” has been published by Simon Sorgenfrei in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (29:2, 2018, pp. 145-165). Sorgenfrei asks two major questions. He first investigates to what extent Sufism can be identified with “Islamic Esotericism,” and argues that this identification is problematic. Why, then, he asks, is a problematic identification so widespread?

Sorgenfrei starts by discussing alternative conceptions of esotericism, focusing on the work of Wouter J. Hanegraaff and Kocku von Stuckrad. He argues that it is easier to apply von Stuckrad’s typological conception in the case of Islam than to apply Hanegraaff’s historical conception. Yet Sufism does not really fit von Stuckrad’s typology: it has not generally been secret, and has only occasionally been in any sense rejected knowledge. Although “claims to access to higher knowledge” are indeed the basis of a Sufi shaykh’s authority, there is much that Sufi tariqas do that is in no way esoteric.

That Sufism is, despite this, understood as esotericism can be explained in terms of the Western construction of the concept of “Sufism.” Sorgenfrei traces this from the early work of William Jones and John Malcolm through William James and the Traditionalists (whose take on Sufism he finds echoed in John L. Esposito’s Islam: The Straight Path), and Eranos. He also suggests that the rejection of Sufism by nineteenth-century Islamic reformists may have fed into this process.

Sorgenfrei’s article is timely. I think he is right about the Western construction of Sufism, and his arguments are confirmed by my own work in my recent Western Sufism. He is also absolutely right that Sufism has not generally been secret or rejected, and therefore does not fit that particular topological definition of esotericism. It may, however, still fit other definitions, as I intend to argue in a forthcoming article.

Mark Sedgwick