Sufism and the Body: International Conference, University of Utrecht, 12-13 September 2019

Eyad Abuali's picture
Call for Papers
September 12, 2019 to September 13, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Islamic History / Studies, Religious Studies and Theology, Middle East History / Studies

Hosted by the ERC Project, “The Senses of Islam” (SENSIS), Dpt. of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Utrecht University

Drawing on recent literature regarding sensation, embodiment, and the material turn in the study of religion, this conference assesses the role of the human body in Sufism. Sufism can often seem ambivalent with regard to the human body. Iconoclastic notions such as the inexplicable annihilation of the Sufi in God, as well as the need to subdue the body under the authority of the soul and detach oneself from worldly concerns, sit side by side with a rich repertoire of bodily practices (including techniques to deny and enjoy bodily pleasures) and a complex body-related material culture. This divide is mirrored in scholarship too, as the theoretical and corporeal are not always treated together. This conference attempts to bridge this gap between the study of the spiritual and corporeal in Sufism by focusing on the place of the body in Sufi thought, practice, literature, and art.

Papers are invited for one of the following three areas:

(1) Theoretical understandings of the body in Sufism

We welcome papers on one or more of the following topics: The creation of the body, its composition, as well as its death (or transformation into another body). The organs of the body, including the internal and sensory organs, as well as the spiritual organs (laṭāʾif) which may correspond to them. The relation between the body and soul. Sufi anthropology, physiology, and phenomenology. The body as a microcosm, and the interrelation between the gender and micro-cosmology of the body in Sufism.

(2) The body in Sufi praxis

We welcome papers on one or more of the following topics: The role that disciplining and regulating the body plays in Sufi praxis. Gendered and sexual practices in Sufism. How the body is thought of as a medium for the expression of spiritual experiences, truths, or the attributes of God himself. How the body is understood as a marker of belonging to a particular institution or community. The gratification and denial of bodily pleasures, including bodily mortification and practices involving endurance. The Sufi sensorium; Sufi modes of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching.

(3) Representations of the body in Sufism

We welcome papers on one or more of the following topics: How the body is represented by Sufis in various media, including art, literature, poetry, architecture, reliquaries and dream narratives. Depictions of gender and sexuality within these mediums. The significance of such images in Sufi publics and wider society. The socio-political significance of bodies and their images in Sufism, and how they may be used in order to negotiate political power.

The topics listed above are not prescriptive. Contributors are invited to consider them as initial starting points for their presentations. We look forward to receiving any original ideas contributors may have.

Please address your paper submission to including an abstract of max. 250 words. Deadline: 1 May, 9am CET. Applicants will be notified by mid-May. A limited amount of funds is available to help with participants’ travel and accommodation costs.

Contact Info: 

Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies

Janskerkhof 13, 3512 BL Utrecht, The Netherlands

Contact Email: