This article examines the conceptions of Sufism and mysticism by the influential Iranian intellectual, Abdolkarim Soroush (b.1945). It situates the academic and intellectual products of Soroush in the context of Islamic modernism to study him within the discipline of religious studies in general, and Islamic studies in particular. It traces the evolution of his attitude through two relatively distinct and concurrently interconnected periods of his intellectual development. We argue that the concept of ‘Sufism’ emerged in his thought in the late 1980s as an ideal type that allowed Soroush to pursue multi-layered projects. These projects include a liberal Islam where the privatisation of religion through mysticism plays a key role, and a mild nationalist project where the concept of ‘mysticism’ is universalised in order to imagine an Iranian community that is in conversation with mysticisms of other religious traditions. We also observe that his reading of Sufism suffers from a chronic essentialism, which is exercised through ideal types. His understanding of mysticism also follows a version of experientialism in its early twentieth-century Jamesian fashion. Accordingly, the politicised demarcations of mysticism in his intellectual project are crystallised.
- Abdolkarim Soroush
- Modern Islamic thought