Re: religious singularity?

From: Amara Graps (
Date: Sun Oct 07 2001 - 08:30:37 MDT

From: Greg Burch (, Wed Oct 03 2001

>another, related factor, that we might call "the fallacy of the
>interface filter". By this I mean 1) that people are almost always
>only exposed to those "xenogenic" ideas that are actually carried
>across from a foreign culture into their own, 2) that the ideas that
>get carried across the boundary are the ones that "translate" the best
>into terms comprehensible in the receiving culture and 3) that the
>specific individuals who serve as vectors of cross-cultural
>communication tend to be ones who are not "centered" in their own
>culture, but rather have a more cosmopolitan view capable of
>perceiving multiple cultural viewpoints. All of these factors go
>together to make the view of some specific foreign cultural phenomenon
>more or less distorted from the reality of that phenomenon in its
>native cultural setting.

Yes, indeed, it's important to get as much information from as many
perspectives as possible when evaualting a culture/group of people.

How to learn about a culture/group of people? One can learn from
books/articles (different sources), and/or one can learn from talking
to the people (different sources), and/or one can learn from actually
going there and spending time observing and living.

To learn some things about the Sufis I've read a few hundred or so of
their stories/poetry, I spent several years around a couple of people
who were serious Sufi students, I had several conversations with a man
(who also ran a Sufi school) delivering grain seed to Afghanistan and
visited him at his home once, I spent a day with many dozens of
Afghanistans at their festival, and I met a Sufi Grand Sheikh. The
latter was while this particular Turkish holy man was visiting the US
for the first time in 25 years, and he was holding religious evening
prayers at the nearby Mosque for several hundred Sufis and Muslims (I
experienced the prayer rituals for 4 or 5 hours while segrated in the
back of the Mosque with the other ladies). I also went to the home
where the Turkish Sheikh was staying as a guest, the next morning
after the prayer ritual, in order to ask him some questions, but there
were too many people around him, and I had no opportunities to speak
further with him.

I agree with you that, to some extent, my information is filtered, but
I've done almost everything short of actually travelling to and living
in the places where Sufis and Muslims live.

Another factor regarding the Sufi ideas, is that they don't place
strong emphasis on academic/book studies anyway- they would rather the
lessons be gained by personally experiencing the concepts. Therefore,
I suggest to not put a huge amount of weight on books and articles
regarding Sufism, until you know very well the authors' own biases. To
be sure he/she has some. In some cases the information will be simply
wrong. (I would bet a lot of money that the US news sources are closer
to the latter.)

>I think the historical reality of Sufism is quite different from what
>comes through the filters working on most of what gets through to
>Western intellectuals about Sufism.

I would be interested in any sources you can point my way.

>First factual tidbit: Consider that the word "assassin" comes from the
>practice of one particular Sufi sect.

This is a word game... We can find many life-oriented words from the
Sufis as well.

>Second factual tidbit: Sufism is "guru-oriented"

This isn't my observation or experience, though. Where did this come

>(as is most of the actual practice of Islam)

Hmmmm. I need to think more about this.

>encouraging the same kind of deference to the ulama that we see in
>extreme forms in the much wider-spread influence of Sunni Wahhabist
>fundamentalism in the Islamic world today.

There are extremists in any group, though.

I assent to the links between Islam and Sufism though- they are
stronger than I thought previously, because I discovered that the
Arabic language has some special qualities for the Sufis that other
languages don't have, plus the Koran codifies some of the Sufi ideas
more compactly than other religious documents (probably) do.

One concept that I find useful from the Sufis is to present ideas to
people using a multilayered approach. For example, with the stories,
each reading presents something (often totally) new. Also, words in
Arabic provide incomplete-but-useful maps to the Sufi ideas. If one
begins with the Arabic root of the word, one can produce more words
that provide some of the map of Sufic thought. (But this a word game



******************************************************************* Amara Graps, PhD | Max-Planck-Institut fuer Kernphysik Heidelberg Cosmic Dust Group | Saupfercheckweg 1 +49-6221-516-543 | 69117 Heidelberg, GERMANY * ******************************************************************* "Never fight an inanimate object." - P. J. O'Rourke

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