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Sufism: History, Religion and Material Culture


Admission requirements



In this lecture series we will examine the many aspects of Sufism and its role in the Islamic world from the Maghreb to the Indian subcontinent, both from an historical and a contemporary perspective. Sufism is often understood as the mystical dimension of Islam, and equated with “mystical Islam”. An important notion in Sufism is indeed the purification of body and soul, which can be achieved, among other things, through an ascetic way of life. While the search for a personal connection with the divine is certainly an important aspect of Sufism, in the course we will see that often Sufism is anything but an individualistic affair. Sufism has played a considerable and crucial role in the political and social history of the Islamic world: for example, the fact that Iran is a Shi’i state today originates in the rise to power of a Sufi brotherhood in the 14th century, and the great Mughal political theology of “total peace” at the time of emperor Akbar was to a large extent determined by ideas connected to Sufism. The many Sufi shrine complexes scattered throughout the Islamic world are tangible evidence of the great role Sufism has played throughout the ages. To this day, these sanctuaries have an important social function as places of pilgrimage and as tourist attractions. In the Western world today, Sufism is perhaps best known in relation to iconic poets such as Jalal al-Din Rumi, whose work, in Persian or in translation, is an inspiration to many. Rumi, known as Mowlavi or Mevlevi, founded the order of the Mevleviyya in the city of Konya in Anatolia, very well-known for the ritual of the whirling dervishes. Among the Mevleviyya, but also among some other Sufi brotherhoods, music, dance and poetry are used as vehicles for Sufi concepts and ideas. This aspect of Sufism has often been a topic of discussion and in both past and present Sufis have suffered the condemnation by those who regard their ideas as problematic and even unislamic. In this course we will discuss the various religious and cultural aspects of Sufism in a diachronic perspective, with a focus on the political and social implications of Sufism, as reflected also in architecture and other forms of material culture.

Course objectives

In this course the student will acquire a thorough overview of - and insight in - the history, doctrines, rituals, textual and musical traditions of Sufism, and with the material culture connected to Sufism, especially in the so-called Persianate world, stretching from the Balkans to the Indian subcontinent.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

Written exam at the end of the course with short open questions and essay questions, 100 %
In order to pass the course, students need a passing mark (“voldoende”, i.e. “5.50” or higher) for the course as a whole.


Exam (100%)

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.

Reading list

  • Green, Nile. Sufism. A Global History. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

  • Ahmed, Shahab. What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016

  • Other literature will be listed in the course syllabus (Brightspace).


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar on the right.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office Herta Mohr.


Please note that the additional course information is an integral part of this course description.