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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Comparative Literature

Year Degree Awarded

2016

Month Degree Awarded

February

First Advisor

EDWIN GENTZLER

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature

Abstract

RUMI, THE POET OF UNIVERSAL LOVE: THE POLITICS OF RUMI’S APPROPRIATION IN THE WEST

This project—taking the polyvalence of Rumi as a religious figure and the discursive nature of Western approach to Sufism as its premises—interrogates the ways in which Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273), a thirteenth-century Sufi poet/scholar, has been appropriated in the West. In the valorization of Rumi, the engagement of distinct discourses that emerged out of complex histories stand out. This study, accordingly, seeks to contextualize the ways in which Sufism, as well as Rumi’s works and thoughts, are being read and discussed in relation to discourses on Islam, religion, and spirituality so as to explore the “politics of representation” that is embedded in those refractions.

The dissertation analyzes the representations of Sufis, Sufism, and consequentially Rumi in a wide variety of texts, from pre-modern proto-ethnographic works to contemporary translations and novels, so as to trace the construction and engagement of discourses that engender the most significant readings of Rumi. The representation of Rumi’s “Muslimhood” constitutes the focus of analysis. For several decades, and due to a variety of reasons that are discussed in this study, Rumi was imagined merely as an incidental Muslim in the West, where the spiritual currents of the second half of the twentieth century cast him as a New Age guru with romantic sensibilities. It was only in the early twenty-first century, with the events of 9/11 and the consequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Rumi’s Muslim identity has come to be acknowledged on a popular level.

The dissertation interrogates the discursive course of the assessment of Rumi as an extra-Islamic figure and the contemporary re-evaluation as an Islamic one, and thereby sheds light on the post-9/11 discourses on Islam in the West, within which Rumi in particular has been cast as an ideal(ized) representative of “good Muslims.” It is argued that that Rumi’s “ideality” is largely an effect of the New Age reading of Rumi, which underlines, among other things, the compatibility of Rumi’s spirituality with Western values.

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