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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: September 2012

12 - Neo-Sufism

from Part III - New religious movements


Sufism is a long-established phenomenon in the Muslim world, where Sufi orders emerged in the twelfth century, and thereafter fulfilled a range of important religious, social, political, artistic, intellectual, and economic functions. It has been present in geographical Europe – in Russia and the Balkans – for centuries, but did not attract much attention in Western Europe until the eighteenth century, or in America until the nineteenth century. At the end of that century, Sufism began to emerge in modified form in the West, as neo-Sufism. The forms that neo-Sufism have since then taken were determined partly by the forms taken by Sufism in the Muslim world, and partly by preceding developments in Western Europe.

Sufism in the Muslim world can be identified either in terms of its doctrines and religious practices (many of which are in some sense mystical and some of which go back beyond even the twelfth century), or in terms of its classic organizational structure, the tariqa or order. The Sufi order is, in a sense, the classic NRM. Every Sufi order originates with a shaykh or spiritual guide possessed of great charisma, generally claiming a privileged connection with the Prophet Muhammad or with God, to whom miracles are ascribed. The death of such a shaykh produces the classic problem of the routinization of charisma, made especially difficult by Sunni Islam's general distrust of formal hierarchical organization in religion.

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