Rory Dickson, "Living Sufism in North America: Tradition and Transformation" (SUNY Press, 2015)


Rory Dickson's Living Sufism in North America: Between Tradition and Transformation (SUNY Press, 2015) is the first monograph in English to focus on Sufism in North America. On this note, Dickson takes a risk by marking himself as a trendsetter in this emerging field, and he succeeds admirably. The book offers a fine balance of historical analysis, ethnographic fieldwork, and theoretical frameworks, which can help inform future studies of Sufism in North America as well as Western Sufism more broadly. Although there are a few edited volumes that explore Sufism in the West, Dickson's single-author voice gives continuity to his study and narrative in an important and unique way. One of the elephants in the room, moreover, that he tackles head on is in response to the question: What's the relationship between Islam and Sufism? In a way, responses to this question are what produced the phenomenon of Western Sufism in the first place, and the cacophony of voices that continue to address this question animates much of Dickson's book. He treats a number of "Islamic" as well as "non-Islamic" Sufi orders and remains in conversation with the various time periods and influences that inform his topic throughout his well-written and fascinating book; thus although he focuses on North America, the reader is frequently reminded that Europe, South Asia, and other places are also an important part of the conversation. On top of Dickson's careful attention to detail, extensive footnotes, and thoughtful placement of excerpts from the many interviews he conducted, he writes in a very inviting and accessible manner, which will likely draw broad readership ranging from scholars of Sufism and American religion to journalists and lay readers wishing to know more about America's layered interactions with spirituality, Islam, and religion in general.
Elliott Bazzano is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Le Moyne College. His research and teaching interests include theory and methodology in the study of religion, Islamic studies, Quranic studies, mysticism, religion and media, and religion and drugs. His academic publications are available here. He can be reached at ( Listener feedback is most welcome.

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