Gender, Knowledge and Sufism: An Islamic Feminist Approach

Sa'diyya Shaikh (University of Cape Town, South Africa / Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin 2016/17)


This lecture focuses on feminist epistemology and the category of  “experience” as it relates to the study of Islam and Muslim societies. Drawing on feminist theory, Shaikh critically explores how mystical and mundane notions of “experience”  produce forms of gendered knowledge. The argument is two-fold. First, she provides a critique of particular contemporary representations of women’s experience and feminist subjectivities in relation to Islam. Second, she offers a reconstructive feminist engagement with the category of experience in reading aspects of the Muslim tradition, focusing on the works of 13th  century male Sufi, Muhyi  al-Din Ibn ʿArabi. Through a creative dialogue with the ideas of this influential Muslim thinker, she aims to contribute both to a critical reflection on issues of feminist epistemology as well as production of new and nascent knowledge by Islamic feminists.

Sa'diyya Shaikh is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Cape Town. Her research is situated at the intersection of Islamic Studies and Gender Studies, with a special interest in Sufism. Her areas of research also include gender-sensitive readings of hadith and Quran; theoretical debates on Islam and feminism; religion and gender-based violence; and empirical work on South African Muslim Women. Amongst her publications is her book, Sufi Narratives of Intimacy: Ibn Arabi, Gender and Sexuality (UNC Press 2012 and UCT Press 2013); and a co-edited volume (with Dan Maguire), Violence Against women in Contemporary World Religion (Pilgrim Press 2007). For the academic year 2016/2017, she is a research fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg Zu Berlin: Centre for Advanced Research.

This event is organized in cooperation with the Dahlem Humanities Center and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. 

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