The poetic body: love and knowledge in a transnational Sufi order, the Qadiri Rifa'i Tariqa
Krokus, Melinda Mary
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Based on four years of ethnographic and archival research, this dissertation examines the pedagogical role of Sufi poetry (ilahi) in a transnational Sufi order, the Qadiri Rifa'i Tariqa (QRT). Extensive interviews in the United States, Mauritius, and South Africa (2008) are augmented by Skype, email, and telephone discussions conducted in Great Britain, France, Bosnia, Mexico, and Canada. Analysis of nearly twenty years of audio taped Sufi discourse and performance reveals how Sufi poetry enacted in ritual gatherings permeates everyday life. The study opens with a close examination of a poetic couplet from Yunus Emre (d. 1320), demonstrating that poetry is not merely a secondary aesthetic aspect of Sufism - as has often been argued - but is a critical component in the embodied transmission of Sufi knowledge. Chapter One presents Fredrik Barth's separation of knowledge into three dynamic faces - ideas and assertions, media representation, and social distribution - as the theoretical basis for analysis of the particular QRT understanding of the role of Sufi poetry. Chapter Two presents the evolution of the QRT from its roots in Turkey into a transnational order. It also takes a closer look at the Shaykh's singing of two ilahis in South Africa triggered by local tensions both in and outside the order. The transnational character of QRT dislocates this poetic repertoire from its Turkish origins, thereby broadening the logocentric scope of previous scholarly analyses. Chapter Three describes the formation of the current QRT poetic corpus, drawing from Mikhail Bakhtin's writings on translation, heteroglossia, internally persuasive and authoritative discourse, and intertextuality. Chapters Four and Five outline the epistemological, ontological, and cosmological assertions of the poetry. They focus on the specific experiential and embodied appropriation and production of spiritual enlightenment (marifet) by revealing how poetry enters the bodies of QRT members as philosophy, sound, and rhythm in conversation and companionship (sohbet) and in ecstatic ritual (zikr). In conclusion, the Shaykh is shown to be a poetic corpus - an expressive and creative body of Sufi knowledge - responding to particular socio-historical contexts. It is this state of knowledge that the murid (disciple), through love, is asked to assimilate (fana').