Medieval Egypt had a rapid influx of Sufis, which has previously been explained through reactionary models of analysis. It was argued that the widespread popularity of Sufism was marked by a public adoption of practices that satisfied the masses in ways the religious elite were not fully addressing. In The Popularisation of Sufism in Ayyubid and Mamluk Egypt, 1173-1325
(Edinburgh University Press, 2015), Nathan Hofer
, Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri, critiques the social binary that these assumptions create, as well as, rethinks the mechanisms within the social production of Sufi culture. He explores these concerns in the context of the Ayyubid and Mamluk states and their relationships with Sufi masters and communities. First, a state-sponsored Sufi lodge serves as the site for professionalization of Sufis and the public consumption of Sufi culture that aligns with state objectives. The emergence of the Shādhilīya sufi order serves as a case of the textualization of an idealized sufi identity, and its subsequent popularization through the production of a collective community. Finally, Hofer explores the unique context of Upper-Egyptian Sufism, which relied on charismatic authority and miraculous work in the creation of a community. In our conversation we discussed the notion of Popular Culture in the medieval world, hagiography and biography, miracles, the khanqah of Cairo, state religious sponsorship, professional sufis, and contemporary methods for investigating the past.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha. His research and teaching interests include Theory and Methodology in the Study of Religion, Islamic Studies, Chinese Religions, Human Rights, and Media Studies. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.