SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Sufism: Texts and History

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2018/2019
Year of study:
Year 4
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

By the end of this module, students: 

  1. should have a critical understanding of the salient features of Sufism,
  2. should have an understanding of the historical background, emergence and development of Sufism,
  3. should be familiar with the foremost personalities and literary genres of the tradition, and have an understanding of the primary concepts, doctrines, trends and practices of Sufism within their appropriate religio-intellectual and social contexts,
  4. should be acquainted with the style and language of some types of primary Sufi texts both in their original Arabic and in translation,
  5. should be able critically to examine, contextualise and interpret historical materials, and
  6. should have competence in analysing medieval mystical and intellectual notions.


This module is taught over 22 weeks with 2 hours classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

Taking a historical, analytical and textual approach to the subject, this module will chart and contextualise the development of Sufism from the earliest phase of Islamic history up to and including the development of the Sufi orders. It will concentrate on representative figures and themes, including the central doctrines, concepts and practices of Sufism, and will introduce some primary texts representing a range of literary genres. Attention will be given to some of the controversies and debates that surrounded specific figures, doctrines or practices, or the Sufi tradition as a whole.

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (50%); an essay of 2,500 - 3,000 words to be submitted on day 1, term 2 (25%); an essay of 2,500 - 3,000 words to be submitted on day 1, term 3 (25%).

Suggested reading

  • Addas, Claude. Quest for the Red Sulphur: The Life of Ibn ʿArabī, Cambridge, 1993.
  • Baldick, Julian. Mystical Islam, London, 1989.
  • Chittick, William C. The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi, Albany, NY, 1983.
  • Chittick, William. Sufism: A Short Introduction, Oxford, 2000.
  • Chodkiewicz, M. An Ocean Without Shore: Ibn Arabi, the Book and the Law, Albany, NY, 1993.
  • Cornell, Vincent. The Way of Abu Madyan, Cambridge, 1996.
  • Ernst, Carl. Rūzbihān Baqlī: Mysticism and the Rhetoric of Sainthood in Persian Sufism, Richmond, 1994.
  • Ernst, Carl. The Shambhala Guide to Sufism, Boston, 1997.
  • Izutsu, T. Sufism and Taoism, Berkeley, 1984.
  • Karamustafa, Ahmet. Sufism: The Formative Period, Edinburgh, 2007.
  • Knysh, Alexander. Islamic Mysticism: A Short History, Leiden, 1999.
  • Lewisohn, Leonard (ed.). The Heritage of Sufism, 3 vols, Oxford, 1999.
  • Lings, Martin. A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century, Berkeley, 1971.
  • Massignon, L. The Passion of al-Ḥallāj: Mystic and Martyr of Islam, 4 vols, Princeton, NJ, 1982.
  • Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam, Chapel Hill, 1975.
  • Sells, Michael. Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Qur’an, Mi‘raj, Poetic and Theological Writings, New York, 1996.
  • Trimingham, J. Spencer. The Sufi Orders of Islam, Oxford, 1971.
  • Valiuddin, Mir. Contemplative Disciplines in Sufism, London, 1980.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules