[Book Presentation- Bibliography of Sufism, Tariqa, and Saint Cult Studies in Japan] The Bridge of Two Easts: Sufi Culture

In the following book presentation, Cangüzel Güner Zülfikar of Institute for Sufi Studies at Üsküdar University in Istanbul, Turkey first introduces an overview of Professor Yasushi Tonaga’s 2016 Bibliography of Sufism, Tariqa, and Saint Cult Studies in Japan. The author then introduces the Kenan Rifai Center for Sufi Studies at Kyoto University, which spearheaded the Bibliography, with further background information on the Center’s benevolent institution Kerim Foundation and the Sufi master Kenan Rifai. In the final section, the author details some of the current projects undertaken by Kerim Foundation in furthering the academic study of Sufism around the globe.

Bibliography of Sufism, Tariqa, and Saint Cult Studies in Japan. Edited by Tonaga Yasushi. Kyoto: Kyoto University, Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kenan Rifai Center for Sufi Studies Series 1, 2016.

Research studies on Sufism have been actively produced in Japanese academia since the beginning of 1900s. The Bibliography of Sufism, Tariqa, and Saint Cult Studies in Japan collects over 1,000 pieces of literature published beginning from 1910 up to 2016 in Japan. This collection is based on the Oriental Library of Japan but the bibliography is inclusive of parts of the world other than the Middle East as well, such as China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Japanese academics produced noteworthy studies on Islam, Sufism and other sub-fields of Islamic Studies but due to language barrier these have not been known widely to the world. Thanks to this bibliography, the English titles of academic studies are now available and Sufi Studies scholars can access this noteworthy information. This pioneering Bibliography is the first publication of the Kenan Rifai Center for Sufi Studies at Kyoto University.

Four Categories Examined in the Bibliography

In his Foreword to the Bibliography, Yasushi Tonaga, Director of Kenan Rifai Center for Sufi Studies and professor of Islamic Studies at the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies at Kyoto University, explains that he divides the Bibliography into four main topics: 1. Sufism, 2. Tariqa, 3. Saint Cults and, 4. Sayyid-Sharif. Each topic is also divided into sub-topics.

Works on Sufism are then categorized into seven thematic categories: Works dedicated to general studies, theory studies, ceremonies, Sufi literature, pre-modern, modern, and others. The theoretical studies section is further divided into the sub-sections of training theory, spiritual theory, anthropology, and cosmology. Works that are classified under Sufi Studies mainly focus on Islamic thought which also includes cultural aspects.

“Japanese academics produced noteworthy studies on Islam, Sufism and other sub-fields of Islamic Studies but due to language barrier these have not been known widely to the world.”

The second topic explored in the Bibliography, Tariqas, are studied based on the following categories: general, theoretical, ceremonies, training lodges, pre-modern, modern times, and others. Tariqa studies are mainly grouped under works of History and Anthropology; if the topic is studied historically they are usually listed under the pre-modern tariqa sub-title. Modern tariqa topics are listed as Anthropology works.

The following topic in the Bibliography’s organization, saint cults, are similarly categorized as general, theoretical, and ceremonial. The latter includes saint worship, relics, and mawlid among the sub-topics. Holy sites are also considered as saint mausoleums, while pre-modern and modern studies are among the sub-titles as well. Saint cult studies are mainly divided between two sub-categories, theory and conditions (current dynamics and make up of saint cults in question), where theoretical works are listed under Islamic Studies, and saint cult condition studies fall under Anthropology and History.

The fourth category is dedicated to Sayyid and Sharif Studies, which is also examined under the following categories: general, theoretical, ceremonies, holy sites, pre-modern, and modern times.

A Detailed Statistical Analysis

After his Foreword, Tonaga offers a detailed statistical analysis about the works included in the Bibliography. In 28 graphics, all the works that were published between 1910 and 2016 are classified under six different fields: Metaphysics, Literature, History, Anthropology, Architecture and others. In this part, works in Area Studies are indicated based on years of publication. Each field is categorized by sub-titles, according to the three assigned topics for each, namely, Sufism, Tariqas, and Saints.

The Bibliography shows that works produced at the beginning of the 1900s are primarily about Literature and Muslim Sufi Thought. Text Studies particularly prepared the groundwork for later studies to become more varied in the 1960s. A close examination of the data provided in the Bibliography points out that after the 1970s, a greater diversification occurred and studies in disciplines such as Sufi Thought, Comparative Studies, History, Architecture, and Anthropology emerged. When all the works are generally examined from the perspective of disciplines, works on Sufi Thought are in the lead; by the 1990s, studies in Anthropology gain pace and are followed by Historical works. Studies within the discipline of Literature, on the other hand, never lose their importance and keep a steady rate of production.

“The Bibliography shows that works produced at the beginning of the 1900s are primarily about Literature and Muslim Sufi Thought.”

When Tonaga’s graphics are examined based on geographical areas, works from the Middle East surpass others by producing more than fifty percent of overall studies. Central and South Asia, as well as China, are responsible for production of around ten percent of works respectively, while three percent of the output on the Bibliography’s subject matter were produced by scholars from Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Europe and America each. Following this overall look, Tonaga conducts a much more detailed content analysis. The statistics point out that up until the 1980s the main focus was only on the pre-modern period; it was not until after the 1980s that a growing interest in the modern period emerged.

The Bibliography was prepared with the hope that the interest in Japanese academic works will increase. Kenan Rifai Center for Sufi Studies at Kyoto University, which undertook and sponsored the Bibliography project, aims to focus its attention on Sufism in Asia. Below, I introduce the Center and its benefactor foundation in detail.


Kenan Rifai Center for Sufi Studies of Kyoto University

Kenan Rifai Center for Sufi Studies was established in the ASAFAS [Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies] of Kyoto University in Japan in November 2015 by the vision of Kerim Education, Culture, and Health Foundation of Istanbul, Turkey.  This academic research center, named after renowned Sufi master Kenan Rifai, was established particularly for Sufi Studies.

About Kenan Rifai

Kenan Rifai Büyükaksoy was born in Salonika in 1867 as an Ottoman citizen, and experienced three political structures throughout his lifetime: monarchy, second constitutional period, and republic. Working at various posts in multiple provinces around the Empire as a polyglot state employee of the Education Ministry, Kenan Rifai was also an unconventional Sufi master. With followers from many different backgrounds, he came to be regarded as a threat to state authority; thus pushed, Kenan Rifai decided to establish and built a lodge in the garden of his mansion. His lodge continued to serve for seventeen years, between 1908 to 1925. Following the announcement of the ban on lodges in 1925, he decided to lock this institute with the statement, “From now on, the lodge is under the sky! I will be teaching tasawwuf in the Academia, even in French, in English, and in classes filled with both male and female students.” As a Muslim Sufi, Kenan Rifai underlined being cognizant that what occurs is due to the will of Allah.  Kenan Rifai thought that it was not the place that was important, nor would be important. He adapted rapidly to the requirements of the political structure of the shifting times.

Kenan Rifai

Kenan Rifai’s visionary successor of today, Ms. Cemalnur Sargut, pioneered the establishment of endowed chairs dedicated to his name. Sargut’s interpretation of Kenan Rifai’s vision manifests as building networks and dedicating chairs and centers with her master’s name for Sufi Studies and Islamic Studies. The first of these chairs was established at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2009 by the Istanbul branch of the Turkish Women’s Cultural Association. In 2011, a second chair was established at Beijing University in China. Later, in 2013, the Kerim Education, Culture, and Health Foundation was established by Ms. Sargut’s principal efforts . Kerim Foundation then established the Institute for Sufi Studies at Üsküdar University in Istanbul in 2014. Most recently, in March 2016, Kenan Rifai Center for Sufi Studies at Kyoto University, Japan was initiated.

About the Center

Kenan Rifai Center (KRC) for Sufi Studies is a pioneer academic institution in Japan in terms of the institutional development of Sufi Studies. As stated at the opening ceremony of the KRC by Professor Yasushi Kosugi,

“This research center signifies the arrival of a new era in Sufi Studies. The establishment of the Kenan Rifai Center for Sufi Studies at Kyoto University will enhance friendship and cultural relations between Turkey and Japan as well as increase academic cooperation among scholars of Islamic and Sufi studies in both countries in general and in Kyoto University and in Üsküdar University in particular.”

Kerim Foundation creates funds to support research and education about Sufi Studies at universities and cooperates joint projects with universities. Thus, the first project between Kerim Foundation and the KRC of Kyoto University with the coordination of the Institute for Sufi Studies of Üsküdar University in Istanbul started in September 2016 by organizing a scholarly mobility and student exchange project. The opening symposium of the project, “The Bridge of Two Easts: Education Program for Sufi Culture,” took place at Üsküdar University on October 22, 2016. Following the symposium, a workshop on “Structuring Translation Work on Sufi Texts in Turkish and Japanese” was held with committees from both institutions on October 23, 2016.  The commonly agreed outcome of this workshop was to translate predetermined works in three different ways collaboratively. Translation studies would be done in several ways; from original language to original language, from English to original language, and original language to English. So far, language barriers caused both Turkish and Japanese works on Sufism to go unnoticed around the world. The above-mentioned Bibliography by Tonaga is considered as a guide source for future studies and an exemplar project that helps overcome this language-barrier through which, the rich collection of Japanese works by Japanese scholars on Sufi Studies will hopefully be revealed to the global academic communities.

Past and Future Publications by the Kyoto Kenan Rifai Sufi Studies Series

Following the Bibliography edited by Tonaga, the Kyoto Kenan Rifai Sufi Studies Series’ second publication includes a compilation of the papers presented at “The Bridge of Two Easts” opening symposium. Topics covered in the symposium are Yasushi Tonaga’s Good and Evil according to Sufism and Pure Land Buddhism, Masayuki Akahori’s Relationship between God and People in the Three-Axis Framework of Sufism: A Comparison to Japan’s Traditional Religion, Shinto, Daisuke Maruyama’s Sufism in Sudan, Osman Nuri Küçük’s The Place of Tasawwuf in Islamic Thought through Definitions of Tasawwuf, and Ahmet Murat Özel’s In Pursuit of the Missing Link: Possible Ways of Tracking Down the Last Sheikhs of the Ottoman Empire.

The project’s second phase was to host graduate and post-graduate students from Japanese universities in Istanbul at Üsküdar University for five weeks for an intensive education program on Sufi culture focusing on the Ottoman period; the program also integrated modern Turkish language classes.

This project is completed by the Closing Conference in Kyoto with a symposium titled “Islamic Studies and the Study of Sufism in Academia: Rethinking Methodologies,” that took place on May 20-21, 2017. This significant symposium was jointly organized by Kyoto University, Üsküdar University, Kerim Foundation, and the Istanbul branch of Turkish Women’s Cultural Association. The Kenan Rifai Sufi Studies series is planning to publish a reflective analysis of the symposium in March 2018.

“The Bridge of Two Easts: Education Program for Sufi Culture” sets an exemplary transnational, trans-regional, and seminal vision, with the hope to help foster future work around the globe.