The Poetics of Spiritual Instruction: Farid al-Din 'Attar and Persian Sufi Didacticism


Tue, 04/25/2023 - 3:00pm

Come join us for a book party in Marshall 490 celebrating Professor Austin O'Malley's new book! 


Book Abstract

Much Persian Sufi literature is explicitly didactic, aiming to instruct its readers and motivate pious reform. My recent book, The Poetics of Spiritual Instruction, moves beyond a recapitulation of religious content to investigate the performative function of didactic poetry for mystical audiences, focusing in particular on the verse of Farid al-Din ʿAttar, a central figure of the tradition known for long narrative poems imbued with edifying Sufi themes. Through a close study of these poems alongside contemporary homiletic and mystical texts, I show how ʿAttar uses frame-tales, metapoetic commentary, and allegories to think through his relationship with his readers, imagine and guide their reactions to his work, and perform his instructive authority. By teasing out this implicit, recipient-centered poetics, The Poetics of Spiritual Instruction recovers Sufi didacticism’s participatory, interactive character and shows how the act of reading was invested with ritual significance as a spiritual exercise aimed at the purification of the soul.