Western Sufism

Western Sufism

Monday, May 25, 2020

Excellent new PhD on healing in the Naqshbandi-Haqqani order

An interesting and unusual PhD dissertation is now available online, Athar Ahmed Yawar, "From madness to eternity: Psychiatry and Sufi healing in the postmodern world," University College London, 2020, at https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10094782/.

The dissertation deals with the healing activities of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani order, and is based on very extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Lefke, London, and at other sites.

The dissertation is unusual because it was submitted for a PhD in psychiatry, not anthropology or the study of religion. In fact, however, it might equally well have been submitted in either of those disciplines, except that the lack of respect that it shows for contemporary psychiatry (!) might have raised eyebrows in departments of anthropology or the study of religion.

It is also unusual because of the depth and quality of the fieldwork, which really does describe the Naqshbandi-Haqqani order very well, and from what is really an insider perspective. It also gives an insider perspective on the author's own illness, suffering, and healing.

What, then, of its conclusions? On the Naqshbandi-Haqqani order:
Healing is held to be universal: almost everyone is crazy, and in need of help with their nafs, since they are under the control of their egos. The Order therefore transforms what is ordinarily a liminal, stigmatising state into a universal condition. In fact, people who recognise their craziness, and have found a suitable spiritual healer, are held to be privileged. The Order’s ability to receive marginalised, often mentally ill people and make them more whole is not only a demonstration of the Order’s power and compassion, but a redrawing of social boundaries. Disparate people, often with difficult lives, are brought together by Shaykh Nazim’s charisma, and inducted into a shared world of symbol and meaning. Everybody is perceived to have a role in the order, no matter what their moral or intellectual shortcomings: they are actors in a moral theatre, directed by Shaykh Nazim on behalf of his spiritual masters. 
And on psychiatry? "The behaviour of patients... is increasingly postmodern," and perhaps psychiatrists should learn from their patients.

The thesis consists of seven chapters. One deals with "Psychiatry’s beliefs," one with "Sufi knowledge and healing," and one with "The Naqshbandi-Haqqani order." Then the dissertation gets down to business with a chapter on "Investigating healing in the Naqshbandi-Haqqani order," another on "Knowledge in the Naqshbandi-Haqqani order," and then the two key chapters: 6, on "Healing in the Naqshbandi-Haqqani order," and 7, on "Knowledge, healing, and postmodernity."

Strongly recommended.