The Sacred Patrimony of Sufism: Architecture, Objects and Symbols from the Maghreb to Asia

The Sacred Patrimony of Sufism: Architecture, Objects and Symbols from the Maghreb to Asia

The Sacred Patrimony of Sufism: Architecture, Objects and Symbols from the Maghreb to Asia

Organized by Alexandre Papas (CNRS/Cetobac), Thierry Zarcone (CNRS/Gsrl)
In cooperation with Bayram Balcı, Director of IFEA

Islamic mysticism expresses itself not only by writings, speeches, and body gestures, but also by means of material elements. Among them, the most evident are specific buildings, such as the dance room, and distinctive clothes, such as the cloak. Many other elements could be mentioned, especially what is called “dervish paraphernalia”, i.e. the staff, the begging bowl, the animal skin, etc., which compose the material culture of Sufism. Neglected in Islamic studies or regarded as exotic curiosa by the majority of scholars in the field, except, perhaps, experts of Islamic art, the architecture and objects peculiar to Sufis have a lot to say about the practice as well as the theory of the ascetic-mystical stream of Islam. Despite the lack of interest in it on the part of Islamologies, as well as Sufis themselves, material culture deserves the attention of scholars from different disciplines in so far as it opens fresh perspectives on classical topics. For example, as is well known, the cloak (khirqa in Arabic) manifests materially the initiation of the disciple, similarly to other spiritual traditions, and has been theorized according to the normative distinction between the “cloak of aspiration” (khirqat al-irāda), which marks the inner commitment of the true aspirant, and the “cloak of benediction” (khirqat al-tabarruk), which symbolized only the benediction of a Sufi master. But there is more. Questions arise about the colours, the types of fabric and the sewing methods, about the symbolic meaning attached to them, about the myths of the origin of the habit, etc.

The goal of the editors is three fold. First, we hope to examine in the most comprehensive manner possible the items of the material patrimony of Sufism. While a few prior studies have dealt with this or that element individually, there is simply no publication that would bring them together under the same cover. Second, in order to avoid both prescriptive and reductionist approaches, which tend to consider Sufi material culture as a superficial if not charlatan aspect of “the authentic” Sufism, we will strive to understand the materiality of spirituality and the spirituality of materiality, that is, correspondences between the outer and inner dimensions of Islamic mystical traditions. Lastly, we wish to start a dialogue between two research domains, namely material and symbolic history, on the one hand, and the Islamic art history, on the other. In a sense, our proposed volume will serve as a continuation of the seminal, though now seriously out-dated, study of the Ottoman dervish culture published by John P. Brown in 1868 under the title The Dervishes, or Oriental Spiritualism, as well as of the more recent pioneering works by Juergen Frembgen, Kleidung und Ausrüstung islamischer Gottsucher. Ein Beitrag zur materiellen Kultur der Derwischwesens (Wiesbaden, 2000), and Ekrem Işın’s Hoş gör yâ hû. Osmanlı kültüründe mistik semboller nesneler (Istanbul, 1999).

The first research domain is mainly represented by Michel Pastoureau and its path-breaking book Une histoire symbolique du Moyen Âge occidental (Paris, 2004), which focused on cultural objects such as heraldry, artifacts, and symbols of colors to bring out social and political phenomena. Arguing that the analogical way of thinking specific to medieval societies attributed a hidden meaning to any apparent object (either natural or fabricated), Pastoureau has argued that, for example, the wood was considered alive, almost like animals; thus, religious wooden statues were surrounded by legends about their virtues and the services they rendered, as opposed to stone works which were perceived as inactive and inert. Not only medievalists but also historians of modern religions have become interested in material culture, as is shown by two recent issues of the Archives de sciences sociales des religions (n° 174, 2016, and n° 183, 2018) entitled respectively “La force des objets” and “Façonner l’objet de dévotion chrétien” (shaping the object of Christian devotion). In the first issue, following the leads opened by Birgit Meyer, David Morgan and Webb Keane in a special issue of the journal Material Religion (n° 4/2, 2008), authors strove to answer the question: how does belief become a concrete experience (through rituals using material items in particular) by incorporating itself into specific objects? In the second, contributors described the various facets of the “façonnement” (shaping) – i.e. craft techniques, sales and distribution practices, gestures of piety – in order to cast new light on the constant evolution of the objects of devotion, in their form as well as in the interpretations that are given to them. The second field, which inspired our volume, includes authors like Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani who showed that not only images but also material items as diverse as Savafid metalwork, Khorasanian bronzes, and lamps in Sufi shrines, can be valuable sources for religious history. In particular, Melikian-Chirvani used the material features of the dervish’s begging bowl (kashkūl) and the inscriptions engraved on it to analyse the evolution of the bowls towards boat-shaped objects (known as kishtī) bearing a mystical meaning: the vessel as a means of transportation in one’s quest for God. Again, a scholarly journal issue, n° 6 of the Journal d’histoire du soufisme (2015), has continued the efforts of Islamic art historians to explore the complex relations between Sufism and symbols by analysing various objects, e.g. Mevlevī clothes, Khāksār coat of arms, Zülfikar (the famed sword of ʿAlī) among Bektāşīs.


Date de l'événement 17/10/2019 9:30 am
Date de fin 18/10/2019 5:15 pm
Places 60
Inscrit.e.s 49
Places disponibles 11
Date limite d'inscription 16/10/2019 11:55 am


Thursday 17 October 9:30-14:00

Session 1. Sufi architecture and other traditions - Chair: Robert Langer

9h30-10h00 Introduction - Bayram Balcı, Raoul Motika, Alexandre Papas, Thierry Zarcone

10h00-10h30 Sufi architecture: dance rooms and retreat cells - Baha Tanman

10h30-10h45 Q&A

10h45-11h15 Coffee Break

11h15 About a common patrimony shared between Sufism and Centrasian Shamanism - Patrick Garrone

11h45 Trousers and Sufism - Lloyd Ridgeon

12h15-12h30 Q&A

12h30-14h Lunch

Thursday 17 October 14:00-17:30

Session 2. Dervish paraphernalia - Chair: Yasushi Tonaga

14h-14h30 ‘The nasf as a rosary and Koran in its right hand’: the Sufi use of the rosary - Rachida Chih

14h30-15h The staff in Sufism - Thierry Zarcone

15h-15h30 The begging bowl - Alexandre Papas

15h30-15h45 Q&A

15h45-16h15 Coffee Break

16h15-16h45 The horn - Shahrokh Raei

16h45-17h15 Mevlevi objects among Neo-Mevlevis - Ayse Akyürek

17h15-17h30 Q&A

17h30 Closing


Friday 18 October 09:30 - 12:00

Session 3. The clothes of the Sufi - Chair: Jürgen Frembgen

9h30-10h The khirqa - Paul Ballanfat

10h-10h45 The tac in Ottoman Sufi culture: literature, design, symbolism and ritual - Semih Ceyhan & Esther Voswinckel Filiz

10h45-11h15 The skirt - Mehran Afshari

11h15-11h30 Q&A

11h30-12h Coffee Break

Friday 18 October 12:00 - 15:00

Session 4. Iron items - Chair: Thierry Zarcone

12h-12h45 Ring stones and necklaces - Jürgen Frembgen & Ute Falasch

12h45-13h15 The sword of ‘Ali in Sufi culture - Robert Langer

13h15-13h30 Q&A

13h30-15h Lunch

Friday 18 October 15:00 - 17:00

Session 5. From material to mystical - Chair: Alexandre Papas

15h-15h30 Sufi material culture in miniatures - Hümeyra Uludağ

15h30-16h Seals of approval: Sufi talismanic stamps - Francesca Leoni

16h-16h30 Tanking-off shoes according to Bosnevi - Yasushi Tonaga

16h30-16h45 Q&A

17h Closing


Alexandre Papas



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