“I belong to no religion. My religion is love”: Sufism, Religious Studies, and Love

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By now you’ve probably heard about the theme for next year’s American Academy of Religion (AAR) annual meeting, revolutionary love, and the controversy surrounding it.  Some of my colleagues, Russell McCutcheon and Merinda Simmons, have written about it, and the Bulletin for the Study of Religion is posting a series of responses.

Revolutionary love, or any kind of love, has not been considered the purview or state of being of all people.  Scholars have played an important role in using ideas about love to reassert feelings of estrangement, difference, and exclusion.  Europeans in the 18th and 19th century used love and its connection to Sufism to create distinctions between Western civilization, European culture, colonial society, and the Islamic tradition.  More recently, both Muslims and non-Muslims have used the idea of Sufism and its connection to love to distinguish between authentic and inauthentic Muslims. By uncritically adopting the theme of Revolutionary Love and positing love as universal, the AAR has overlooked how “love” has been and continues to be used to construct “the West” through the exclusion of Muslims. Continue reading