Sufism and Philosophy: Historical Interactions and Crosspollinations

University of Birmingham
Friday 26 April (09:00) - Saturday 27 April 2019 (17:00)

For further information about the conference, please contact Dr Sophia Vasalou at or Dr Richard Todd at

Islamic Ar. 1221 fol 33 (4) - Cadbury Research Library
Diagram from an eighth/fourteenth-century manuscript of Ibn ʿArabī’s al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya. MS Mingana Islamic Arabic 1221, fol. 33a. Reproduced by permission of the Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections, University of Birmingham

The intellectual history of Sufism is intertwined with that of philosophy in the Islamic world. 

From the mystical strains in the writings of Avicenna and Ibn Ṭufayl to the philosophical Sufism of Ibn ʿArabī’s school, the encounter between Islamic mysticism and philosophy has produced a rich nexus of mutual influence and rapprochement, as well as polemical engagement and debate. Despite the extent and significance of such interactions, modern scholars in the fields of Sufism and Islamic philosophy alike have often been reluctant to venture beyond the conventional boundaries of their respective disciplines and investigate the links that tie Sufi thought to the philosophical traditions of the Muslim world.

The aim of this conference is to provide a forum for a cross-disciplinary exploration and re-examination of the relationship between Sufism and philosophy. 

Conference programme

Friday 26 April

Registration 09:00 - 10:00


10.00 – 10.15  Sophia Vasalou (Birmingham) and Richard Todd (Birmingham)

Session 1: Early Philosophical Sufism

10.15 – 11.00  Joseph Lumbard (Doha), “Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī and the Art of Knowing”

11.30 – 12.15  Mohammed Rustom (Abu Dhabi), “Devil’s Advocate: 'Ayn al-Quḍāt’s Satanology as Metaphilosophy'”

Session 2: Philosophy and Sufism in Muslim Spain

13.45 – 14.30  Bethany Somma (Munich), “Andalusī Philosophers on Sufism and Not Living Like an Animal”

14.30 – 15.15  Maribel Fierro (Madrid), “Ibn Ṭufayl’s Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān: An Almohad Reading”

Session 3: Sufism and the Avicennan Tradition

15.45 – 16.30  Cyrus Ali Zargar (Florida), “Mystical Union in a Rational Universe: The Incoherence, Avicennan Psychology, and ʿAṭṭār's Muṣībat-nāma

16.30 – 17.15  Giovanni Martini (Bonn), “(Fictionally) Debating with Avicenna on the Role of the Intellect: ʿAlāʾ al-Dawla al-Simnānī’s Criticism of Philosophy and Rational Thinking in Context”

Saturday 27 April

Session 4: Philosophical Sufism beyond the Classical Muslim World

9.30 – 10.15    Shankar Nair (Virginia), “‘Brahman Was a Hidden Treasure, Who Loved to Be Known…’: Philosophical Sufism and the Encounter with Sanskrit Non-Dualism”

10.45 – 11.30  Muhammad Umar Faruque (New York), “Sufism and Philosophy in the Mughal-Safavid Era: Consciousness and First-Person Subjectivity in Mullā Ṣadrā and Shāh Walī Allāh”

11.30 – 12.15  Oludamini Ogunnaike (Virginia), “Philosophical Sufism in the Sokoto Caliphate: The Case of Shaykh Dan Tafa”

Session 5: Philosophy and the School of Ibn ʿArabī

13.45 – 14.30  Eric van Lit (Utrecht), “The Imagination According to Ibn ʿArabī and his Commentators: Between Sufism and Philosophy”

14.30 – 15.15  Gregory Vandamme (Louvain), “Towards a Correlative Ontology: A New Approach to the Notions of “Being” (Wujūd) and “Fixity” (Thubūt) in Ibn ʿArabī (d. 638/1240), Through his Epistemology of ‘Perplexity’ (ayra)”

Final Discussion

15.15 – 15.45 (Chair: Sophia Vasalou and Richard Todd)


Attendance of this event is free though prior registration is required.