"A remarkable resemblance": comparative mysticism and the study of sufism and Kabbalah

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Since the early nineteenth century, Western theologians and scholars have discussed the historical connections between Kabbalah and Sufism, compared them, and regarded them as the mystical trends of Judaism and Islam. The idea that there is a close resemblance between Kabbala and Sufism is prevalent today in the wider public, especially among New Age, neo-Sufi, and neo-Kabbalistic circles. This chapter surveys the evidence concerning the historical connections between Kabbalah and Sufism and discusses the history of the academic study of Sufism and Kabbala and its reception by the general public. It shows that although there is some resemblance between ideas and practices of some Kabbalistic and Sufi circles, there is evidence of only very few historical interactions between Kabbalist and Sufis. The connections between Kabbalah and Sufism were dependent mostly on shared sources, rather than on personal encounters. Notwithstanding the scarcity of historical evidence, scholars (and following them, neo-Kabbalists and neo-Sufis) emphasize the resemblance between Kabbalah and Sufism and offer speculations concerning possible historical interactions between them. Although cultural transfers existed also between non-Sufi Islamic circles and Kabbalah, and Sufism had a considerable impact on other Jewish movements except Kabbalah, scholars and practitioners emphasize especially the Kabbalistic-Sufi connections. This chapter shows that the pervasive notion concerning the proximity and remarkable resemblance of Sufism and Kabbalah is dependent on the definition and interpretation of these traditions as expressions of a universal, mystical, religious phenomenon. It argues that the perception of Sufism and Kabbala as Islamic and Jewish mysticism encouraged the comparisons and the search for possible historical connections between them and shaped the ways academics study these traditions, as well as the ways they are perceived, appropriated, and practiced in contemporary Western societies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEsoteric Transfers and Constructions
Subtitle of host publicationJudaism, Christianity, and Islam
EditorsMark Sedgwick, Francesco Piraino
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Cham
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9783030617882
ISBN (Print)9783030617875, 9783030617905
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in New Religions and Alternative Spiritualities
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Cham
ISSN (Print)2946-2657
ISSN (Electronic)2946-2665


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