Islamic Studies Sufism in the United States
by
William Rory Dickson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0282

Introduction

Sufism in the United States is notable for its diverse origins, multiple routes of transmission, and variegated forms. West African Muslims were the first to practice Sufism in the Americas, attempting to maintain Sufi-Islamic traditions under the oppressive conditions of 17th-century plantation slavery. In the 19th century, Sufism emerged as a phenomenon with broader cultural impact in the region through American literary interest in Persian Sufi poetry. As the 19th century drew to a close, American fascination with all things occult, metaphysical, and mystical coincided with a draw toward “the wisdom of the East.” In this milieu, Sufism was embraced by small circles of seekers, frequently coming from Theosophical groups. During the 1930s and 1940s, several Black American converts to Islam joined Sufi orders and transmitted Sufi teachings to mosque communities they established in New York and Ohio. The reform of immigration laws in 1965 resulted in the establishment of immigrant Muslim communities throughout the United States. Sufi teachers from Iran, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and Turkey, among other countries, settled in America and established Sufi groups in the following decades. The second half of the 20th century witnessed the center of gravity of academic study of Sufism shift from Europe to North America, with the proliferation of Sufi works in English translation in the following decades. By the late 20th century, Sufism had matured as a multifaceted example of American religiosity, encompassing immigrant and local Muslim practice as well as esoteric or mystical teachings functioning apart from Muslim identity. Currently, Sufism in the United States can be found as a conspicuous expression of Islamic spirituality, as a spiritual path not necessarily connected to Islam, as a niche within the broader spiritual marketplace, and as a practice with a varied online presence.

General Overviews

Sufism in the United States is a relatively new subfield of Sufi studies, with the first academic overviews of the subject offered in the late 1990s and early 2000s (Hermansen 1997, Hermansen 2004). The subject is now reasonably well documented (Dickson and Xavier 2019, Dressler 2009, Hammer 2020, Hammer 2004, Hermansen 2015, Küçük 2008, Miller 2020, Schonbeck 2009, Sedgwick 2017, Sedgwick 2019, Webb 2013), though with few book-length overviews (Dickson 2015).

  • Dickson, William Rory. Living Sufism in North America: Between Tradition and Transformation. New York: State University of New York Press, 2015.

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    The first monograph on Sufism in North America, this work provides a historical overview of the subject before drawing upon interviews with Sufi leaders to consider dynamics within several orders in terms of their relationship to Islamic identity and practice and their adaptations to North American cultural norms.

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  • Dickson, William Rory, and Merin Shobhana Xavier. “Disordering and Reordering Sufism: North American Sufi Teachers and the Tariqa Model.” In Global Sufism: Boundaries, Narratives, and Practices. Edited by Francesco Piraino and Mark Sedgwick, 137–156. London: Hurst, 2019.

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    Looks at how several Sufi orders in North America shifted away from the classical tariqa model (“disordering”) between the early and late 20th century before returning to it (“reordering”) in the 21st century.

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  • Dressler, Markus. “Pluralism and Authenticity: Sufi Paths in Post 9/11 New York.” In Sufis in Western Society. Edited by Ron Greaves, Markus Dressler, and Gritt Klinkhammer, 77–96. London: Routledge, 2009.

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    Examines the ways in which several Sufi groups (including the Naqshbandi-Haqqani, Murid, and Jerrahi orders) negotiate Sufi-Muslim identity both in terms of the “secular-pluralist” context of America and in terms of post-9/11 politics in New York, with a focus on themes of legitimacy, outreach, and commodification.

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  • Geaves, Ron. “Sufism in the West.” In The Cambridge Companion to Sufism. Edited by Lloyd Ridgeon, 233–256. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

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    Traces European literary and scholarly interest in Sufism, then considers Western “universal Sufism” and Muslim Sufi communities in Europe and North America.

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  • Hammer, Juliane. “Sufism in North America.” In Routledge Handbook on Sufism. Edited by Lloyd Ridgeon, 670–691. London: Routledge, 2020.

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    A broad overview of Sufism in North America, covering Sufi practices, organizations, teachers, gender, literature, and politics in the region.

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  • Hammer, Olav. “Sufism for Westerners.” In Sufism in Europe and North America. Edited by David Westerlund, 127–143. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.

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    A historical account of Sufism in Europe and North America, with a focus on early Sufi converts, writers, and teachers, including Ivan Aguéli, René Guénon, Hazrat Inayat, and Idries Shah.

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  • Hermansen, Marcia. “In the Garden of American Sufi Movements: Hybrids and Perennials.” In New Trends and Developments in the World of Islam. Edited by Peter B. Clarke, 155–178. London: Luzac, 1997.

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    The first academic overview of Sufism in the United States, Hermansen’s pioneering article includes an often-cited typology of American Sufi movements, classifying them in terms of their relationship to Islam (“hybrids”), universalism (“perennials”), or their grounding within a particular immigrant community (“transplants”).

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  • Hermansen, Marcia. “What’s American about American Sufi Movements?” In Sufism in Europe and North America. Edited by David Westerlund, 36–63. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.

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    Examines a variety of dynamics shaping American Sufism, including conversion, the spiritual “marketplace,” psychology, and popular culture.

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  • Hermansen, Marcia. “Sufi Movements in America.” In Oxford Handbook of American Islam. Edited by Yvonne Haddad and Jane Smith, 119–136. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

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    Explores the presence and influence of Sufi movements among American Muslims, considering Shi‘a Sufism, African American Sufis, women and Sufism, and Sufi ritual practices.

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  • Küçük, Hülya. “A Brief History of Western Sufism.” Asian Journal of Social Science 36.2 (2008): 292–320.

    DOI: 10.1163/156853108X298752Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Discusses the first two Sufi orders present in Europe and North America, the Sufi Order (Inayatiyya) and Shadhiliyya (Maryamiyya), at length, before providing short summaries of several other Sufi groups that have since been established in the West.

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  • Miller, Rasul. “The Black American Sufi: A History.” Sapelo Square, 18 March 2020.

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    A pioneering historical study of Black American Sufism from the 1930s to the 1990s, highlighting Black American Sufis affiliated with the Shadhili, Chishti, Tijani, Burhani, and Qadiri orders in several American cities, including New York, Cleveland, Detroit, and Atlanta.

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  • Schonbeck, Oluf. “Sufism in the USA: Creolisation, Hybridisation, Syncretisation?” In Sufism Today: Heritage and Tradition in the Global Community. Edited by Catharina Raudvere and Leif Stenberg, 177–188. London: I. B. Tauris, 2009.

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    Summarizes some early scholarship on Sufism in America before offering a brief overview of “Islamic,” “Quasi-Islamic,” and “non-Islamic” American Sufi orders.

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  • Sedgwick, Mark. Western Sufism: Form the Abbasids to the New Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

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    A sweeping history of Western Sufism, the book highlights the role of the shared Islamic-Western Neoplatonic heritage in framing Western interest in Sufism. Later chapters focus on the intersection of transcendentalism and theosophy with Sufism, and some of the first Sufi teachers in Europe and North America.

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  • Sedgwick, Mark. “The Islamisation of Western Sufism after the Early New Age.” In Global Sufism: Boundaries, Narratives, and Practices. Edited by Francesco Piraino and Mark Sedgwick, 15–34. London: Hurst, 2019.

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    Considers several “travelling sheiks” who established Sufi groups in Europe and North America during the “early New Age” (1960s and 1970s), charting the gradual Islamization of their groups in the following decades.

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  • Webb, Gisela. “Negotiating Boundaries: American Sufis.” In Cambridge Companion to American Islam. Edited by Juliane Hammer and Omid Safi, 190–207. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

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    Provides an overview of Sufism in America in terms of three historical “waves” and then focuses on the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship as an exemplar of broader tendencies.

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Relevant Works on Islam in America

Although a substantial body of scholarly work exists on Islam in America, the studies in this section have been included here as they deal with Sufi influences, teachers, and orders within the United States in a substantial way, whether offering historical overviews (Bowen 2015, Bowen 2017, Diouf 1998) or providing analytical studies of aspects of Islam in America that include discussions of Sufism (Corbett 2017, Finnegan 2011, Grewal 2013, Howe 2018).

Works on Particular Sufi Orders in the United States

Not all Sufi orders with a presence in America have received academic study, but an increasingly comprehensive collection of studies of particular Sufi orders is available, whether focusing on a single order (Bazzano 2020, Carter 2021, Hazen 2017, Krokus 2020, Lewisohn 2006, Miller 2020, Pittman 2012, Trix 2009) or covering a defined collection of several related groups (Hermansen 2005, Hermansen 2012).

  • Bazzano, Elliott. “A Shadhiliyya Sufi Order in America: Traditional Islam Meets American Hippies.” In Varieties of American Sufism: Islam, Sufi Orders, and Authority in a Time of Transition. Edited by Elliott Bazzano and Marcia Hermansen, 85–120. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2020.

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    The first academic overview of Muhammad Sa‘id al-Jamal’s (d. 2015) branch of the Shadhilyya in America, including an account of its history, practice, and institutional presence.

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  • Carter, Youssef. “Fisibilillah: Labor as Learning on the Sufi Path.” In Special Issue: Africa, Globalization and the Muslim Worlds. Religions 12.1 (2021): 3.

    DOI: 10.3390/rel12010003Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Offers the only academic treatment of the Mustafawi Sufi order in the United States. Originating in Senegal, Youssef suggests that the order offers its predominantly African American members spiritual empowerment through West African Sufi teachings.

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  • Hazen, Julianne. The Alami Tariqa of Waterport, New York. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2017.

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    The first study of the Alami (Khalwati-Hayati) order, based on Hazen’s doctoral dissertation, this work includes a history of the order from the Balkans to the United States and considers the nature of its membership and approach to Islamic tradition.

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  • Hermansen, Marica. “The ‘Other’ Shadhilis of the West.” In Une voie soufie dans le monde: La Shâdhiliyya; Actes du Colloque, Bibliothèque d’Alexandrie, 2003. Edited by Éric Geoffroy, 481–499. Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose, 2005.

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    Discusses several branches of the Shadhiliyya, particularly in America, that have received little treatment elsewhere, including the Darqawiyya, Hashimi-Darqawiyya, Haydariyya, Battawiyya, and the Shadhili Center, highlighting their traditionalism.

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  • Hermansen, Marcia. “South Asian Sufism in the United States.” In South Asian Sufis: Devotion, Deviation and Destiny. Edited by Clinton Bennett and Charles M. Ramsey, 247–268. London: Continuum, 2012.

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    Provides short histories of several orders, including the Inayatiyya, the Golden Sufi Center, the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship, and the Chishti Order of America. Then considers smaller Sufi circles and “post-tariqa” Sufi-influenced South Asian Islamic movements, including the Barelvi, Deobandi, and Tablighi Jama‘at movements.

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  • Krokus, Melinda. “There is an ‘I’ deeper than me”: The Ansari Qadiri Rifa‘i Tariqa and Transcendence in America.” In Varieties of American Sufism: Islam, Sufi Orders, and Authority in a Time of Transition. Edited by Elliott Bazzano and Marcia Hermansen, 175–208. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2020.

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    Traces the Qadiri-Rifa‘i order from its roots in Istanbul to upstate New York, examining the group’s authority structure, global activism, and ritual practice.

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  • Lewisohn, Leonard. “Persian Sufism in the Contemporary West: Reflections on the Ni‘matu’llahi Diaspora.” In Sufism in the West. Edited by Jamal Malik and John Hinnells, 49–70. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    An overview of the branch of the Ni‘matu’llahi order in America and Europe of Javad Nurbakhsh (d. 2008), with a focus on the order’s literary output.

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  • Miller, Rasul. “When the Divine Flood Reached New York: The Tijani Sufi Order among Black American Muslims in New York City.” In Varieties of American Sufism: Islam, Sufi Orders, and Authority in a Time of Transition. Edited by Elliott Bazzano and Marcia Hermansen, 209–239. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2020.

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    Outlines the establishment of the Tijani order in New York City, beginning in the 1970s, among Black Americans, drawing upon ethnographic interviews and oral histories.

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  • Pittman, Michael S. Classical Spirituality in Contemporary America: The Confluence and Contributions of G. I. Gurdjieff and Sufism. New York: Continuum, 2012.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781472548474Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Remains the only full-length academic study exploring Sufi influences on Gurdjeiff’s teachings, with a detailed discussion of John G. Bennet’s relationship to Sufism. Concludes with a consideration of contemporary American Sufi perspectives on Gurdjieff’s teachings and Sufism.

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  • Trix, Frances. The Sufi Journey of Baba Rexheb. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.9783/9781934536544Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An in-depth biographical study of Rexheb, including an account of his Bektashi lineage, Albanian heritage, time in Egypt, and establishment of a Bektashi community in Michigan. This ethnographic work draws upon interviews, Bektashi teaching stories, and oral histories.

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Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship

Likely the most extensively studied Sufi group in the United States (Geaves 2004, Islam 2017, Korom 2011, Webb 2006), the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship, based in Philadelphia, is notable for its mazar (tomb-shrine) where founder Bawa Muhaiyaddeen (d. 1986) is buried, just outside of the city (Dickson and Xavier 2015). It is now a pilgrimage site for Bawa’s followers, alongside (primarily) South Asian Muslim communities (Xavier 2020). The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship further stands out for the diversity of membership in terms of Muslim affiliation (or not) and demographic range (Xavier 2018).

  • Dickson, William Rory, and Merin Shobhana Xavier. “Négociation du sacré à Philadelphie: Soufismes concurrents au sanctuaire de Bawa Muhaiyaddeen.” Social Compass 62.4 (2015): 584–597.

    DOI: 10.1177/0037768615601975Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Highlights negotiations taking place at Bawa Muhaiyaddeen’s shrine between his surviving disciples and (predominantly South Asian) immigrant Muslim communities.

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  • Geaves, Ron. “The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship.” In Encyclopedia of New Religions: New Religious Movements, Sects, and Alternative Spiritualitites. Edited by Christopher Partridge. Oxford: Lion Publishing, 2004.

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    Offers a brief historical overview of the movement.

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  • Islam, Saiyida. “Bawa Muhaiyaddeen: A Study of Mystical Interreligiosity.” PhD diss., Temple University, 2017.

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    Unlike much academic work on the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship, this study focuses on Bawa’s teachings, particularly on his integration of various religious perspectives within a unitive paradigm.

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  • Korom, Frank. “Charisma and Community: A Brief History of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship.” Sri Lanka Journal of Humanities 37.1–2 (2011): 19–33.

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    An ethnographic study of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen and a historical account of the development of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship.

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  • Webb, Gisella. “Third-Wave Sufism in America and the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship.” In Sufism in the West. Edited by Jamal Malik and John Hinnells, 86–102. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    Describes the origin of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship, themes of Bawa’s teachings, the construction of the fellowship mosque and mazar, and the fellowship’s local and global outreach.

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  • Xavier, Merin Shobhana. Sacred Spaces and Transnational Networks in American Sufism: Bawa Muhaiyaddeen and Contemporary Shrine Cultures. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781350026681Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An extensive ethnographic study of the religious practice of Bawa’s followers in Jaffna and Philadelphia, particularly in terms of shrines. Xavier’s book focuses on Bawa’s evolving significance for his followers and further explores questions of race, gender, and authority.

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  • Xavier, Merin Shobhana, “The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship: Diverse Identities and Negotiated Spaces.” In Varieties of American Sufism: Islam, Sufi Orders, and Authority in a Time of Transition. Edited by Elliott Bazzano and Marcia Hermansen, 55–84. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2020.

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    Drawing upon ethnographic data, the author describes the origin of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship, and then outlines the fellowship’s teachings and practices before considering questions of authority and identity in the group.

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Mevleviyya

Mevlevi Sufism in America is largely traced to Suleyman Dede (d. 1985), whose son Jelaleddin Loras currently leads the Mevlevi Order of America, while Dede’s students, Kabir and Camille Helminski, went on to establish their own branch of Mevlevli Sufism known as the Threshold Society. Although the Threshold Society is discussed in several overviews of Sufism in America, only the Mevlevi Order of America has been the subject of a PhD dissertation and article (Sorgenfrei 2013, Sorgenfrei 2020).

  • Sorgenfrei, Simon. “American Dervish: Making Mevlevism in the United States.” PhD diss., University of Gothenburg, 2013.

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    Contextualizes the Mevlevi Order of America in terms of American religion, Islam, and Sufism, before considering the order’s history and its relationship to tradition, authority, and ritual.

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  • Sorgenfrei, Simon. “The Mevlevi Order of America.” In Varieties of American Sufism: Islam, Sufi Orders, and Authority in a Time of Transition. Edited by Elliott Bazzano and Marcia Hermansen, 55–84. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2020.

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    A historical overview of the Mevlevi Order in the United States from 1977 to the present, including a discussion of the group’s structure, practice, and relationship to Mevlevis in Turkey.

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Naqshbandiyya

Although the Naqshbandiyya are one of the most widespread and historically influential Sufi orders, relatively little study of Naqshbandi groups in America has been done, with the exception of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Order (now Nazimiyya), particularly in terms of their political activism in America (Damrel 2006, Dickson 2014) and the Golden Sufi Center, notable for its largely non-Islamic approach to Naqshbandi teachings (Dickson 2020).

  • Damrel, David W. “Aspects of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Order in North America.” In Sufism in the West. Edited by Jamal Malik and John Hinnells, 115–126. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    Provides a short history of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Order and then considers its public activity, teachings, and trajectories.

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  • Dickson, William Rory. “An American Sufism: The Naqshbandi-Haqqani Order as a Public Religion.” Studies in Religion/Science Religieuses 43.3 (2014): 411–424.

    DOI: 10.1177/0008429814538229Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Studies the Naqshbandi-Haqqani Order’s political activism in America as an example of what Jose Casnova calls “public religion,” functioning as a civil society organization that embraces elements of American civil religion.

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  • Dickson, William Rory. “The Golden Sufi Center: A Non-Islamic Branch of the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi Order.” In Varieties of American Sufism: Islam, Sufi Orders, and Authority in a Time of Transition. Edited by Elliott Bazzano and Marcia Hermansen, 55–84. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2020.

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    Examines the Golden Sufi Center in terms of its lineage, heterogenous practices, and terminology as well as its relationship to traditional Naqshbandi Sufism.

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Inayatiyya

Hazrat Inayat Khan (d. 1927) was the first Sufi teacher to arrive in America, inspiring several Sufi movements in Europe and North America (Inayat Khan 2001), including the Sufi Ruhaniat International and the Sufi Order International (renamed the Inayati Order in 2017) (Genn 2007, Koszegi 1992). Inayat Khan established an avowedly universalistic Sufi teaching, though his son Vilayat Khan and grandson Zia Inayat Khan increasingly connected Inayati Sufism to its classical Chishti roots in India (Inayat Khan 2006, Mercier-Dalphond 2020).

  • Genn, Celia. “The Development of a Modern Western Sufism.” In Sufism and the “Modern” in Islam. Edited by Martin van Bruinessen and Julia Day Howell, 257–277. London: I. B. Tauris, 2007.

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    Offers a historical account of the origin and development of the Inayati Order in Europe and America, concluding with a discussion of the order’s evolution in Australia.

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  • Inayat Khan, Zia. “A Hybrid Sufi Order at the Crossroads of Modernity: The Sufi Order and Sufi Movement of Pir-o-murshid Inayat Khan.” PhD diss., Duke University, 2006.

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    This dissertation is the most extensive study of the origin and development of the Inayati movement, considering both its Chishti roots and its development as a new religious movement in Europe and the United States.

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  • Inayat Khan, Zia, ed. A Pearl in Wine: Essays on the Life, Music, and Sufism of Hazrat Inayat Khan. New Lebanon, NY: Omega, 2001.

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    A wide-ranging collection of retrospective articles on various facets of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s teachings, family, art, and the Sufi groups he established in America.

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  • Koszegi, Michael A. “The Sufi Order in the West: Sufism’s Encounter with the New Age.” In Islam in North America: A Sourcebook. Edited by Michael A. Koszegi and J. Gordon Melton, 211–222. New York: Garland, 1992.

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    Considers the Inayati Sufi Order in terms of its relationship to the New Age, arguing that the order’s eclecticism and utopian universalism dovetail with the “New Age mind-set” and that the order helped shape the New Age movement in America.

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  • Mercier-Dalphond, Genevieve. “The Message of Our Time: Changing Faces and Identities of the Inayati Order in America.” In Varieties of American Sufism: Islam, Sufi Orders, and Authority in a Time of Transition. Edited by Elliott Bazzano and Marcia Hermansen, 55–84. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2020.

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    Charts shifts in the Inayatiyya from its origins in the early 20th century to its current form, and further includes a discussion of the Inayatiyya online and in South Asia.

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Jerrahiyya

Rooted in the Khalwatiyya in Istanbul, Jerrahi Sufism was brought to America by Muzzafer Ozak (d. 1985) (Blann 2005), whose followers established two branches of the Jerrahiyya, the Jerrahi Order of America (formerly the Halveti-Jerrahi Order of Dervishes) and the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Order, the first remaining a branch of the Jerrahis in Istanbul, while the latter functions independently, making more strident adaptations to the American cultural context (Rausch 2009, Xavier and Dickson 2021).

  • Blann, Gregory. Lifting the Boundaries: Muzzafer Effendi and the Transmission of Sufism to the West. Nashville: Four Worlds, 2005.

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    The most detailed study of Muzafer Ozak’s life and his teaching of Jerrahi Sufism in America, drawing upon interviews with family members and students.

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  • Rausch, Margaret J. “Encountering Sufism on the Web: Two Halveti-Jerrahi Paths and Their Missions in the USA.” In Sufism Today: Heritage and Tradition in the Global Community. Edited by Catharina Raudvere and Leif Stenberg, 159–176. London: I. B. Tauris 2009.

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    Considers Jerrahi engagement online as a continuity of historical Sufi adaptations to local contexts and then compares the Halveti-Jerrahi Order of Dervishes (now Jerrahi Order of America) and the Nur Ashki Sufi Order in terms of their respective self-definitions, teachings, rituals, and approach to gender and hierarchy.

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  • Xavier, Merin Shobhana, and William Rory Dickson. “Between Islam and the New Age: The Jerrahi Order and Categorical Ambiguity in the Study of Sufism in North America.” Religion Compass 15 (2021): 1–10.

    DOI: 10.1111/rec3.12383Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A comparative study of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi and Jerrahi Order of America, focusing on their modes of identification with Islamic practice and pluralism, before considering the applicability of the “New Age” label to these groups.

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Sufism and Literature in America

Beginning with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s fascination with Hafiz and Sa’di (Aminrazavi 2014, Einboden 2014, Rishmawi 1995, Sedarat 2019), and continuing through to contemporary American interest in Rumi (Irwin 2019, Lewis 2000), Persian Sufi poetry has proven popular in translation, and a substantial body of work on American interest in Sufi literature now exists (Sedgwick 2009) as well as article-length treatments of American Sufi literary productions (Hermansen 2006, Hermansen 2019) and the academic study of Sufism in the United States (Hermansen 2012).

  • Aminrazavi, Mehdi, ed. Sufism and American Literary Masters. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014.

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    Examines Sufi influences on a variety of influential American writers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and Henry David Thoreau.

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  • Einboden, Jeffrey. Islam and Romanticism: Muslim Currents from Goethe to Emerson. London: Oneworld, 2014.

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    A study of Islamic and Sufi influences on literary Romanticism in Germany, Britain, and America.

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  • Hermansen, Marcia. “Literary Productions of Western Sufi Movements.” In Sufism in the West. Edited by Jamal Malik and John Hinnells, 28–48. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    Considers European and North American Sufi literature by genre, including transcribed lectures, polemics, poetry, and hagiography, and by theme, such as transformation, travel, and psychology.

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  • Hermansen, Marcia. “The Academic Studies of Sufism at American Universities.” In Observing the Observer: The State of Islamic Studies in American Universities. Edited by Mumtaz Ahmad, Zahid Bukhari, and Sulayman Nyang, 88–111. Washington, DC: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2012.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctvkc672v.11Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The only systematic overview of the academic study of Sufism in America, outlining how European scholars moved to America in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, establishing Islamic Studies departments, many of which focused on Sufism or trained scholars who did so.

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  • Hermansen, Marcia. “Beyond East Meets West: Space and Simultaneity in Post-millennial Western Sufi Auto-biographical Writings.” In Sufism East and West: Mystical Islam and Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Modern World. Edited by Jamal Malik and Saeed Zarrabi-Zadeh, 149–179. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004393929_008Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Offers an analysis of (primarily American) Sufi autobiographical writings, exploring several works not discussed elsewhere in academic studies of Sufism.

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  • Irwin, Robert. “Global Rumi.” In Global Sufism: Boundaries, Structures and Politics. Edited by Francesco Piranio and Mark Sedgwick, 15–34. London: Hurst, 2019.

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    A genealogical review of Rumi’s emergence as a popular culture phenomenon in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in the United States but also in Britain and Turkey.

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  • Lewis, Franklin D. Rumi: Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teaching, and Poetry of Jalâl al-Din Rumi. Oxford: Oneworld, 2000.

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    An exhaustive biographical study of Rumi, the influence of his poetry, and development of the Mevleviyya in the medieval period as well as a consideration of the Western translation of his poetry and its popularity in the late 20th century, particularly in America.

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  • Rishmawi, George K. “Emerson and the Sufis.” The Muslim World 85.1–2 (1995): 147–155.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1478-1913.1995.tb03614.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A pioneering study of Emerson’s engagement with Persian Sufi poetry.

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  • Sedarat, Roger. Emerson in Iran: The American Appropriation of Persian Poetry. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2019.

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    The first monograph on Emerson’s Persian influences, Sedarat offers a meticulous study of Emerson’s rhetorical embrace and appropriation of Persian Sufi poetic sensibilities in Sa’di and Hafiz.

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  • Sedgwick, Mark. “The Reception of Sufi and Neo-Sufi Literature.” In Sufis in Western Society: Global Networking and Locality. Edited by Ron Geaves, Markus Dressler, and Gritt Klinkhammer, 180–197. New York: Routledge, 2009.

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    Contextualizes the popularity of classical Sufi poetry in translation and “neo-Sufi” literature in terms of Western spirituality; uses Amazon sales data to gauge the popularity of these works.

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Ritual Practices

Sufi ritual practices are frequently discussed in studies of particular Sufi groups, though relatively little work has been done with an exclusive focus on Sufi ritual practice in the United States, with the following works considering Sufi parades (Abdullah 2009), dhikr practice (Corbett 2017), and mawlid celebrations (Howe 2019).

  • Abdullah, Zain. “Sufis on Parade: The Performance of Black, African, and Muslim Identities.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 77 (2009): 199–237.

    DOI: 10.1093/jaarel/lfp016Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study of the annual Cheikh Amadou Bamba Day parade in New York City, held by West African Muslims affiliated with the Murid Sufi Order. Unpacks the significance of this “public performance” through a discussion of the intersection of religious and ethnic identity, race, and cosmopolitanism.

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  • Corbett, Rosemary. “Dhikr: Remembering the Divine.” In The Practice of Islam in America. Edited by Edward Curtis, 36–59. New York: New York University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1pwtb7t.6Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A close, descriptive study of the dhikr practices of Jerrahi groups in New York, including both the Jerrahi Order of America and Nur Ashki Jerrahis.

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  • Howe, Justine. “Contemporary Mawlids in Chicago.” In Global Sufism: Boundaries, Structures, and Politics. Edited by Francesco Piraino and Mark Sedgwick, 119–136. London: Hurst, 2019.

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    Examines efforts by Chicago Muslim organizations to revive and promote mawlid celebrations, which are associated with Sufism, even if many participants would not identify as such.

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Sufism and Gender

A growing field of study, Sufism and gender in the United States has been studied both in terms of women practitioners of Sufism (Bakhtiar 1996, Hermansen 2009, Reinhertz 2001) and in terms of Western scholarship (much of it based in America) on the subject (Sharify-Funk 2019).

  • Bakhtiar, Laleh. Sufi Women of America: Angels in the Making. Chicago: Institute of Traditional Psychoethics and Guidance, 1996.

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    Based upon interviews with seven American Sufi women, with a particular focus on the psychological dimensions of Islamic-Sufi teachings.

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  • Hermansen, Marcia. “Neither of the East nor the West: Sufi Women in America.” In Portraits of Women in Islam: Comparative Perspectives and Challenges; conference Proceedings, November 10–11, 2006. Edited by Susan Sanders, 37–55. Chicago: St. Xavier University, 2009.

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    Offers a brief historical overview of women’s involvement in Sufism, before focusing on American women involved with the Inayatiyya, Maryamiyya, Mevleviyya, the Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi, and Shadhiliyya orders, among others.

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  • Reinhertz, Shakina. Women Called to the Path of Rumi: The Way of the Whirling Dervish. Prescott, AZ: Hohm, 2001.

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    A historical and biographical account of participating in Mevlevi Sufism, the book highlights the stories of thirty-three women involved with Mevlevi practice, including many Americans.

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  • Sharify-Funk, Meena. “Gender and Sufism in Western Scholarship: Contemporary Constructions and Contestations.” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 49.1 (2019): 50–72.

    DOI: 10.1177/0008429819854345Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Provides a retrospective study of European and American English-language scholarship on Sufism and gender, drawing out significant themes, debates, and contexts that frame this body of work.

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Sufism Online

Sufism in the United States takes a variety of digital forms, which have only recently begun to receive sustained academic attention. Sufis are using digital media for teaching, ritual, and social engagement (Rozehnal 2019, Schmidt 2004, Sijapati 2019) as well as polemics and apologetics (Bunt 2009, Schmidt 2004).

  • Bunt, Gary R. iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

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    A wide-ranging study of “cyber-Islamic environments” or “digital Islam,” including some discussion of Sufism online.

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  • Rozehnal, Rob. Cyber Sufis: Virtual Expressions of the American Muslim Experience. Oxford: Oneworld, 2019.

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    A digital ethnographic study that explores how Sufis utilize online environments for teaching, ritual practice, and social engagement. Focused on the Inayatiyya, the book contextualizes this order’s online activity in terms of “cyber Islam” and Sufism in America.

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  • Schmidt, Garbi. “Sufi Charisma on the Internet.” In Sufism in Europe and North America. Edited by David Westerlund, 109–126. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.

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    Examines several American Naqshbandi-Haqqani websites as mediators of the charisma of Naqshbandi Sufi teachers and further considers anti-Sufi online responses.

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  • Sijapati, Megan Adamson. “Sufi Remembrance Practices in the Meditation Marketplace of a Mobile App.” In Anthropological Perspectives on the Religious Use of Mobile Apps. Edited by Jacqueline H. Fewkes, 19–41. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-26376-8_2Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Studies Sufi-guided meditation practices found on the Insight Timer app, with varied relationships to Islamic tradition. Gleaning from user reviews, the article considers the implications of these guided meditations in terms of the marketplace model, Islamic and Sufi identifiers, and outsider engagement.

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Sufism and Traditionalism

The Traditionalist (also Perennialist) school of thought of René Guénon (d. 1951) has played a significant role in the transmission of Sufism within the United States. Like Guénon, the majority of his followers became Muslim and pursued the practice of Sufism within several Traditionalist Sufi orders, most prominently the Maryamiyya order of Frithjof Schuon (d. 1998), based in America beginning in the 1980s (Lipton 2018, Sedgwick 2004). Several Traditionalists, including Schuon’s successor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, have become scholars of Islam as well as Sufi leaders in the United States (Laude 2003).

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