Seema Golestaneh, “Unknowing and the Everyday: Sufism and Knowledge in Iran” (Duke UP, 2022)

In her new ethnographic study Unknowing and the Everyday: Sufism and Knowledge in Iran (Duke University Press, 2023), Seema Golestaneh guides her readers through processes and praxes of mystical experience and knowledge acquisition amongst Sufi communities in contemporary Iran. The book focuses on the central conceptual paradigm of “ma‘rifat”, which Golestaneh has incisively translated as “unknowing.” From a Sufi perspective, this complicated concept renders any knowledge of the divine as ultimately limited, and it is from this unknowable state that one makes the effort to “know” the Divine, particularly through intellectual striving, such as hermeneutical interpretations of the Qur’an, literary, or poetic traditions or through practice, such as via zikr, a process that aims to achieve “non-subjectivity”. Using these frameworks then, the Golestaneh engages dimensions of knowing/unknowing of texts, bodies, memories, places, and spaces, as understood by diverse Sufi collectives, teachers, and students in Iran. This beautifully written monograph centers the voices of Golestaneh’s Iranian interlocutors to highlight complex Sufi states of being and knowing through accessible narratives of their everyday life. It is a must read for scholars who think and write on Sufism and mysticism, and anyone with interest in Iran.

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