“Esoteric Traditions in Iranian Islam” Panel Concept Paper


A vast body of knowledge known as ‘esoteric traditions in Islam’ is almost always omitted from the curriculum of modern faculties of Islamic Studies, simply because the formal, so-called ‘empirical’ approach to learning which Academe endorses as ‘truth’ is uneasy with any type of knowledge which claims to be ‘inspired’. In the context of Islamic Studies, ‘Esoteric traditions in Islam’ is perhaps best described as ‘Islamic Spirituality’ in English, irfan in Persian and ma‘rifa or ‘ilm al-batin in Arabic. The dimension of the batin has always constituted the interior, ‘core’ part of the intellectual and spiritual life in Islam. Since gnosis lies at the heart of the spiritual life of Islam, the central purpose of exploring this corpus of esoteric traditions is to effectively highlight the centrality of the role of the batin in the intellectual life of Islam. The purpose of this panel is to discuss three different traditions of Persian Islamic thought:

  • (1) Sufism,
  • (2) Shi‘i theosophy including Ismaili esotericism; and
  • (3) Islamic philosophical mysticism (hikmat), placing these traditions in the larger intellectual context, and to show the Esoteric Tradition as a distinctive category of thought in the history of ideas.