Sufism and Philosophy: Historical Interactions and Crosspollinations

University of Birmingham
Arts and Law, Lectures Talks and Workshops, Research
Friday 26th (09:00) - Saturday 27th April 2019 (17:00)
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For further information about the conference, please contact Dr Sophia Vasalou at or Dr Richard Todd at

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. This conference will explore and re-examine the relationship between Sufism and philosophy.

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. Key discussion-points include: A) Sufism’s reception of ancient and late antique philosophical traditions. When did this process begin, how did it manifest itself, and through which channels did it occur? B) Falsafa’s interaction with classical Sufism. What impact did the mystical aspects of Avicenna’s thought have on the subsequent development of Islamic philosophy? Have such aspects been over-emphasized or under-estimated? C) ‘Philosophical Sufism’ in the post-classical era. How apt is this label? To what extent did the members of Ibn ʿArabī’s school adopt or engage with theories propounded by al-Fārābī, Avicenna, Suhrawardī or the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ?

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Mohammed Rustom (Carleton University/New York University Abu Dhabi)
  • Cyrus Ali Zargar (University of Central Florida).

Call for papers

We invite abstracts for short papers on any aspect of the historical relationship between Sufism and philosophy. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Epistemology
  • Metaphysics
  • Noetics and the topos of conjunction with the active intellect
  • Psychology
  • Ethics
  • Cosmology and physics
  • Sufism in the thought of Avicenna and Ibn Ṭufayl
  • Sufism and the legacy of Greek/Hellenistic philosophy
  • Polemical encounters and debates
  • Sufism and Hermetic philosophy
  • Ghazālī and philosophical Sufism
  • Sufism and Suhrawardī’s Illuminationist school
  • Sufism and Indian philosophy
  • Philosophical Sufism in the Ottoman era
  • Safavid philosophy and Sufi thought

Please submit a 300-word abstract to Dr Sophia Vasalou at and Dr Richard Todd at on 15 November 2018 by 17.00 GMT.

Selected participants will be informed by 15 December 2018. Costs for travel and accommodation will be covered.

Proposals should include the following information:

  • Full name
  • Institutional affiliation
  • Career stage

Please indicate whether you would like your paper to be considered for inclusion in a volume of the conference proceedings.