Learning the Elsewhere of ‘Inner Space’

The Affective Pedagogy of Post-Secular Sufi Healing in Germany

in Religion and Society
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  • 1 Freie Universität Berlin, Germany nasimaselim@gmail.com

Abstract

How is access to the Elsewhere facilitated through affective pedagogy in a contemporary Sufi setting in Germany? This article draws analytical lessons from Inayati healing seminars that took place in the summer of 2013. Participants were instructed to feel the Elsewhere of ‘inner space’ in the material/corporeal realities by attuning to breath, sonic resonance, collective movement, and attentive listening. The affective pedagogy of the teacher extended the spatial-temporal coordinates of the Elsewhere (as framed by Mittermaier) to include ‘fleeting affects’ among its unknown elements. These pedagogic tactics entangled religious and secular life-worlds with aesthetic and therapeutic traditions. Learning to feel the unknown affects emanating from the Elsewhere in this setting aimed to provide existential resources to cope with the everyday struggles of post-secular life.

Vergesset nicht

Freunde

wir reisen gemeinsam

besteigen Berge

pflücken Himbeeren

lassen uns tragen

von den vier Winden

Vergesset nicht

es ist unsere

gemeinsame Welt

die ungeteilte

ach die geteilte

die uns aufblühen läßt

die uns vernichtet

diese zerrissene

ungeteilte Erde

auf der wir

gemeinsam reisen.
Do not forget

Friends

We travel together

Climb the mountains

Pluck raspberries

Let the four winds

Carry us.

Do not forget

It is our

Common world

The undivided

Oh the divided

That allows us to bloom

That which destroys us

This torn apart

Undivided earth

On which

We travel together.
  — Rose Ausländer, “Gemeinsam/Together”

Each year, many Inayati Sufis gather for a summer school in a village in northern Germany that lies between Hanover and Hamburg, a few hundred kilometers from Berlin. Since its initiation in 2002, the summer school makes available the teaching and learning of ‘Universal’ Sufism in Europe, a tradition established by the North Indian Chishti Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882–1927) during the 1920s.

On the day Rose Ausländer's poem was recited, I was attending a healing seminar in the summer school. Murshida Rabeya,1 a senior teacher in the Inayati network, ran the seminar.2 Right after the customary Inayati invocation, “Toward the one …,” she recited the poem “Gemeinsam/Together” from memory, setting the affective tone of the gathering. The symbolic “travel together” on the Sufi path was enacted with orchestrated bodily walks by the participants. The poem's reference to “that allows us to bloom” turned out to be the desirable (positive) emotions and “that which destroys us” made its appearance throughout the Inayati discourse as a set of undesirable (negative) emotions. For the six afternoons that followed, under the Murshida's guidance, we practiced awareness of these different kinds of emotions, paying close attention to the processes of thinking, sensing, and feeling taking place in the innere Raum (inner space) of our material existence—a term the Inayati teacher used to describe what I interpret as the Elsewhere within our bodies.

Introduction

In 1910, Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Chishti Sufi and renowned classical musician from colonial India, arrived in the United States. He established a network of people interested in his formulation of universalistic Sufism “beyond any one religion” (Dickson 2016: 55). During the inter-war years, the Inayati networks expanded to the urban centers of North America and Western Europe. In 1925, Sufi Bewegung e.V. (Sufi Movement), the first German Inayati Sufism network, was established as a registered association by his local murids (disciples/students) (Schleßmann 2003), but closed down at the beginning of the Nazi regime in 1933. In post-war West Germany, the Inayatis resumed their activities during the mid-1950s (ibid.). In the 1970s, they enjoyed considerable popularity amid a “new experience-oriented reception of Sufism” within the country (Klinkhammer 2009b: 110).

The Inayati Sufi Ruhaniat was one of the three Sufi networks3 that I mostly engaged with during my 15 months of fieldwork (2013–2015) in Berlin and connected sites in Germany and Turkey (Selim 2015b, 2019). At that time, three different streams of the Inayati networks were active in Berlin: the International Sufi Order (ISO) (renamed Inayati Order/Tariqat-i Inayatiyya in 2016), the International Sufi Movement (ISM), and Sufi Ruhaniat International (SRI).4 All three networks belong to the Federation of the Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan and thereby fall under the label ‘Inayati’. Although members of the first two networks occasionally attended the European Sufi Summer School, the annual gathering was organized mainly by the Inayati Sufi Ruhaniat. In this article, therefore, only the Sufi Ruhaniat is referred to as the Inayati network.

During fieldwork and its aftermath, I considered myself to be a dual apprentice of Sufism and anthropology. Besides the summer school mentioned above, I participated in the affective pedagogical process of other Inayati meetings in the busy urban center of Berlin. For this article, however, I have focused on a ritual setting in rural northern Germany, following the pedagogic tactics of an authorized teacher in the Inayati Sufi network and employing an auto-ethnographic approach. My aim is to describe how, in the course of six afternoons of learning Inayati healing practices in 2013, multiple affects were mobilized and articulated by the Murshida through pedagogical techniques. In addition, I will discuss how the boundaries between religious and therapeutic discourses were dissolved in Inayati practice, rendering their post-secular politics visible.5

However, not all the feelings emanating from the Elsewhere that were described by the participants of these healing sessions can be articulated here. They were expressed within the confidential setup of ‘personal sharing’ with Murshida Rabeya and were not meant for outsiders. Taking these ethical concerns seriously, this article deals only with the publicly accessible articulations. Under these circumstances, attending to my affected positionality relating to the teaching discourse helped me to understand how the unknown elements of the Elsewhere—those that transcended the spatial and temporal boundaries of this particular setting—could be known alongside the teaching and learning of feelings (cf. Stodulka et al. 2018).

According to Mittermaier (2011), in the context of dreaming practices in contemporary Egypt, the Elsewhere is a spatial metaphor for somewhere else than the dreamer's self. Mittermaier argued that dream-visions could be evoked, but these dreams could also appear with a double directionality, both “from and to the dreamer” (ibid.: 110). The ethical quality of such dreaming and waking visions was considered valuable by her interlocutors because these dreams and visions erupted from an Elsewhere, offering glimpses into “al-ghayb, the metaphysical realm of the Unknown” (ibid.: 237). Mittermaier thus complicated the notion of the self-contained subject by emphasizing “the dream's agency … more so than the dreamer's” (ibid.: 5). Diverging from the paradigm of ethical subjectivity and self-cultivation (Hirschkind 2006; Mahmood 2005), Mittermaier's argument seems more in line with recent scholarship that is critical of the notions of interiority. Instead of demarcating the ‘inner’ boundaries, the self is perceived in this literature as “emerging continuously on the background of a wider horizon of existence, that is, the transcendent dimension of life” (Abenante and Vicini 2017: 57). My argument hinges on the notion of ‘inner space’ engendered in the Inayati practice—not as an inner self, but as a spatial expansion of the Unknown Elsewhere (somewhere else within and beyond the body) that can be taught and learned. Cultivation of attention to the ‘inner space’ in my understanding does not ignore or intercept the agentic possibilities of the Elsewhere, but rather facilitates access to them.

So how is access to the Elsewhere of ‘inner space’ enabled through affective pedagogy in a contemporary Sufi setting of post-secular Germany? In this article, I extend the spatial metaphor of the Unknown Elsewhere to make sense of the ‘inner space’ of the post-secular life-worlds of Inayati Sufis in Germany. Post-secularity, in my usage, does not refer to the afterlife of secularism but connotes a subversive possibility of talking back to the hegemonic narrative of the project of secularism, which involves “occluding, or belittling, whole dimensions of possible religious life and experience” (Taylor 2007: 291). The post-secular Zeitgeist in contemporary German society juxtaposes the religious and the secular, accommodating the renewed interest in religious practice and feeding into the popular perceptions of these terms. Symptomatic thereof are the “blurred boundaries” between psychotherapeutic, aesthetic, and religious fields (cf. Gilhus 2012: 70) and the deterritorialized nomadic subjectivity of “multiple modes of belonging” (Braidotti 1994: 19) beyond nationalist and secularist identities in Euro-American societies presumed to be previously secularized (Habermas 2001).

The post-secular frame helps explain how the hegemonic narrative of public secularism and the popular interest in Sufism in Muslim-minority Western Europe contribute to the image of ‘Universal’ Sufism as being historically derived from the Islamic tradition but, in practice, often separated from Islam in its universalistic aspiration to be inclusive of other religious traditions. The popular view of Sufism as “universal spirituality separated from Islam” (Klinkhammer 2009a: 135)—which is also popular among many members of the Inayati Sufi network—gained prominence only in the aftermath of World War II. The Inayati network members whom I have engaged with during my fieldwork emphasized their ‘Sufi’ self-identification rather than being ‘Muslim’. The universalist claims were dominant among the Inayatis and made them unique among many other Sufi networks in Germany, which are more invested and grounded in their Muslim identity (Klinkhammer 2009a, 2009b; Schleßmann 2003; Selim 2019).

In the following section, I attend to the immediacy of Inayati embodied practice, which establishes awareness of and access to the Unknown Elsewhere as an internalized space to be explored and inhabited in confluence with the Unknown out there. The bodily, symbolic, and discursive instructions of this practice configure this Elsewhere in the here and now through what I term the affective pedagogy of the Elsewhere.

Why Attend to Affective Pedagogy?

Tim Ingold (2018: 58) proposed the possibility of considering “anthropology as education,” as a way “to enter imaginatively into the world our teachers open for us, and to join with them in its exploration; it is not to close that world down” (ibid.: 63). Such learning from one's research participants—who are simultaneously teachers of others—involves paying attention to their affective pedagogy. Murshida Rabeya was a teacher of Sufi practice during my fieldwork whose invitation I took seriously, entering imaginatively into the world that she opened up for me. Her affective pedagogy taught me how the repetitive lessons of what, when, and how to feel might begin with and result in the inhabitation of a hyper-corporeal Elsewhere, at once inner and outer, here-now and there-after.

Teaching and learning—in terms of cultivating desirable emotions and averting the undesirable ones—have been central to Sufi practice in its long history across diverse regions and contemporary enactments (Ernst 1985; Trix 1993; Werbner and Basu 1998). The Inayati Sufi practices share this common ground with other Sufi discourses, and yet, as I will show, they differ in their post-secular enactments of Sufism. In my usage, affective pedagogy refers to the affective dimensions of the process and the product of teaching practices. In formal classroom settings, teaching practices are understood as “affects on and in teachers’ and students’ bodies” (Zembylas 2007: 30–31) and the “pedagogical moments” that take place in the formative, affective encounters between these bodies (Dixon and Senior 2011: 476). Such pedagogies in adult learning environments engender “the body fragmented in affect … in evaluations they deeply disturb any pretense of privacy of the body that teaches or learns” (Probyn 2004: 38). Shifting the conceptual vocabulary of affective pedagogy from the institutional settings of ‘adult learning’ to the post-secular Sufi context, however, requires an extension of the term. Therefore, I borrow Anna Hickey-Moody's (2013: 92) use of “affective pedagogy” in her discussion of aesthetic and affective forces produced by artwork. This framing is helpful because it addresses the core notions involved in my research setting. In particular, the affecting force and pedagogic acts of the teacher and their reception by the learner are emphasized rather than the material effect of formal art.

If affects are the “energies that move” all kinds of bodies amid activity (Seigworth 2017: v), they are always-already caught between existential determination and structural forces. While affects are emergent from particular contexts, the emotion-words that articulate them are teachable and learnable skills (Wilce and Fenigsen 2016). In the fleeting moments where feeling-sensations in the body arise and disappear, they affect the body. These ‘fleeting affects’ can also be taught and learned. In time, with repeated practice, the energies that move bodies become articulated emotions, sustained sentiments, and cultivated dispositions, and thus trigger and channel new affective responses.6

Affective pedagogies of Islamic practices in Muslim-minority contexts have been discussed, in terms of minority Muslim subject formation, as the teaching and learning of differentiated sentiments of love, viewed as a neoliberalizing force (Jamil 2019). Affective pedagogy of the Elsewhere expands the thinking of affect, pedagogy, and politics beyond the concerns of subject formation in terms of piety and neoliberalizing force. The spatial and temporal configuration of Mittermaier's (2011) imaginal Elsewhere enables us to examine how Inayati Sufi practices engendered notions of the Unknown by drawing lessons from the pedagogic processes through which the Elsewhere of the ‘inner space’ came into being in the context of the summer school in northern Germany.

With the Sufis more grounded in the Islamic tradition, the more-than-Islamic Inayatis share a common focus on teaching and learning how to feel, as I have argued above. However, what set the Inayatis apart in this summer school and elsewhere was their particular therapeutic focus on the body as the locus of feelings, mingling religious and secular traditions and locating the ‘inner space’ as the unknown Elsewhere from which fleeting affects emerge. The lessons learned during the ritual setting of the Sufi summer school might prepare the feeling subjects to confront the challenges of post-secular life (cf. Selim 2019). On the one hand, the secularist hegemony belittles the Inayatis (and any religious subject, for that matter). On the other hand, the more scriptural enactments of religious traditions discredit their alternative modes of imagination. Yet ‘learning how to feel’ (Cazarin and Burchardt 2020) different kinds of emotions by intermingling traditions, both religious and secular, aesthetic and therapeutic,7 might provide the feeling subjects with existential resources to help them return to the everyday and cope with the struggles of post-secular life.8

The Murshida's instructions on breathing, reciting, feeling, and observing an ‘inner space’ provided a sensuous, bodily orientation for the participants. The affect-laden instructions aimed to enable the participants to imagine and inhabit the Elsewhere. First, we were told to envision an “inner space,” which did not lie out there but “in here.” The next step was to learn to enter that space through closed-eye observation with “no effort” while trying to “stay attentive.” Murshida Rabeya also shifted attention toward healing “broken feelings,” teaching the steps to learn how to deal with the disturbing affect of anger through anger-eating “demon-work.” We were also advised to focus on the bodily act of breathing, the sensing and feeling of resonance with the sounds we produced through singing and movement in the ‘inner space’ of the body. On the last day, as the participants were about to leave the summer school, attention was directed toward the return to everyday life. The final lessons were about containing the eruptions from the Elsewhere of ‘inner space’. By ensuring the privacy of personal stories, the unruly, affective elements that came from the Elsewhere were kept in check.

Teaching and Learning to Feel the Elsewhere: Six Afternoons with Murshida Rabeya

The annual summer school took place in a small village situated close to the nature reserve forest along the river Elbe in northern Germany. A fourteenth-century water mill lent its name to the place. The school spread across a few buildings situated on several hectares of land. The main hall featured a huge wooden floor, providing space for about 200 people to move. On the first floor of this building in the summer of 2013, Murshida Rabeya gave instructions on “Sufi healing,” drawing from the textual discourses of Hazrat Inayat Khan and the Jewish-born American Murshid Ahmed Murad Chishti (also known as Murshid Sam, 1896–1971).9 The mixed audience included the initiated students, long-term acquaintances, two senior practitioners, and several newcomers. The majority of the 16-member audience were German-speaking women.

First Afternoon: “Feel Your Inner Space” (30 June 2013)

The first session began with the customary invocation and a circular dance while reciting “Bismillah ir rahmanir Rahim” (In the name of the beneficent, the merciful) and La ilaha illallahu” (There is no God but God). Murshida Rabeya invited us to feel and observe: “Feel your inner space … Observe if you could expand your awareness … This is a tender, soft process … There is no effort there … Simply be aware!”

She brought a huge tasbeeh (string of prayer beads) with 1,000 wooden pieces for the collective exercise that followed. We were instructed to participate in the creative imagination of 16 people being part of a collective body in order to heal the parts that required healing:

Rabeya: Let us do the Fikr10 in a group … With this [practice] we understand the group as one body, with different parts that must be healed. For me, it is the voice … for someone else [it] may be a certain body part or a feeling or emotion that is too strong and becomes a hindrance.

A newcomer woman: What if there is more than one place that needs to heal?

Rabeya: Then you send the [healing] energy to all these parts!

In this session, feeling was, on the whole, about paying attention to the breath, the body, and the collective presence. Feeling the ‘inner space’ consisted of actively imagining and the making of an Elsewhere. The Elsewhere of the ‘inner space’ could be felt with expanded attention. With repeated practice, this Elsewhere could also grow inward and outward toward the space inhabited by both the human and the divine other.

Second Afternoon: Healing “Broken Feelings” (1 July 2013)

The second session began with Murshida Rabeya asking us to repeat the customary invocation (which everybody already knew) and the Inayati healing prayer (which some of us now learned).11 She also suggested the bodily practice of bathing in “Unity/Einheit.”12 The task was to imprint the word “Allah” on the breath “Hu.” By reciting the word, denoting the divine Being on the breath, the imagined and to-be-felt hearts, the presence of Allah was to be disclosed. The disclosure of Allah in the Elsewhere of our ‘inner space’ was done by mobilizing the rather popular notion of the ‘heart chakra’ used in popular yoga discourse.13 Murshida Rabeya instructed: “We take Allah Hu on the breath and let Allah Hu live in our hearts, with our hands over our heart chakra. Reinforce it by saying: ‘Here is your home, Allah! Amin!’”

The highlight of that meeting was the loud and long dhikr (repeated recitation) of Ya Jabbar connecting the healing of “broken bones” with the healing of “broken feelings.” Our task was to feel and heal the “broken existence” of experiencing horror, pain, and suffering in the world here and now. We were invited to imagine a golden fluid flowing through the ‘inner space’ within the body, which contained these broken parts and feelings. This ‘inner space’ was brought in confluence with the ‘outer’ world in paired movements, while reciting Ya Jabbar to each other.

Toward the end, I felt exhausted by the unsuccessful efforts to heal my ‘broken feelings’ (Field note, 1 July 2013). For the last dance, we ended up singing and moving with a poem/song by the thirteenth-century Catholic nun Mechthild of Magdeburg.14 The German-speaking participants knew this song by heart: “Gott hat mir die Kraft gegeben, meinen Weg neu zu gehen … Heil das Kranke!” (God has given me the strength to go my way anew … Heal the afflicted!).

Affective pedagogy on this occasion was mobilized in breathwork, visual imagination, and sonic resonance, facilitating our access to the Elsewhere. Feeling the Elsewhere as ‘inner space’ on the first day was followed up in the second afternoon by recognizing (and feeling) the ‘broken feelings’. These (un)desirable emotions would have remained as unknown elements, had our attention not assisted in bringing the fleeting affects forth.

Third Afternoon: (Anger-Eating) Demon-Work (2 July 2013)

On the third day, Murshida Rabeya cited the example of an older man who had become preoccupied with his illness. She posed a question to the audience: “What could save him or anyone from such preoccupation?” “Liebe hat ihn davon abgelenkt und hat ihn ausgeheilt” (Love distracted him and healed him) was her answer, as she picked up the element of a desirable emotion from the life-story of the afflicted man. “Preoccupation with illness,” she continued, could have debilitating effects. It was necessary to distract oneself and find healing through other means. In the reported case, the intimate, affective encounter with another person—the phenomenon of “falling in love”—worked out well for the older man. However, not all human beings meet that luck, she said. For some, the failure to heal could also lead to feelings of guilt and shame. In the summer school and elsewhere, Inayati Sufi teachers constantly emphasized “healing powers,” but the failure to heal was rarely discussed.

The discussion of “love” as a desirable affect with healing effects was followed by the discussion of “anger” as an undesirable affect with detrimental effects. Murshida Rabeya told a healing story, well known in Buddhist circles, about the “anger-eating demon.”15 The “demon-work” (Dämonen-Arbeit) associated with that story was a precious tool in what she called the “Sufi treasure box.”

Rabeya: The demons are regarded as the conscious or unconscious shadow parts of ourselves, those which we cannot get rid of in any other way because we tried doing so in the wrong way. We tried to push them away by being in rage … I suggest that you consider which demon you wish to transform … That could be excessive emotions [übertriebene Gefühle] that overcome us … Jealousy … Temper!

Question from participant: What about some real pain? Some kind of real illness?

Rabeya: Real illness, yes!

Question: Fear also?

Rabeya: Fear as well … Fear, anxiety. What is important is that you do not take on the person who makes you afraid or with whom you are furious, but your own fear … Feel what this demon [or aspects that you wish to transform] makes inside you! How do you feel in your body when the demon is active? Let the sensitivities be very clear and examine these sensitivities and this feeling in the body.

In responding to these questions, the woman sitting next to me broke into tears. Most of us were sighing. The questions were constructed with care and meant to trigger access to the ‘inner space’—the affective intensity of the Unknown Elsewhere, where troubled feelings were stored and now being addressed. I had already heard the demon-work story a few months earlier when I was a participant at the Inayati Sufi center in Pankow, a neighborhood in the former East Berlin. Listening to the story in the summer school reminded me of the brief and intense rush of feelings during my initial, affective encounter with the story. I also remembered the personal stories my partner in that exercise had shared with me. These were intimate moments where we whispered to each other a range of oppositional feelings that emerged from the Elsewhere of our ‘inner space’: sorrow and hopelessness, as well as the anticipation that something could be done about those ‘excessive emotions’. The emergence of both desirable and undesirable emotions was partly triggered by the intensity of the work itself and partly by our group setting and the conscious decision to share them.

In this session, Murshida Rabeya explained how the “demons” could be imagined as undesirable (negative) emotions that should be recognized and felt, to prepare us for containing their intensities in everyday life. In doing so, she translated and transformed the Buddhist discourse into the language of psychotherapeutics, partly purifying it of its specific context while instilling her religious wisdom within the secular construction of psychological insight. Her instructions laid out the contour of imaging the demons (drawn from a Buddhist tradition) and the shadow parts16 (in secular psychological terms)—the “aspects that one wishes to transform”—in the ‘inner space’ with a set of questions, inviting us to feel the elements and entities that emerged from within the Elsewhere.

Fourth Afternoon: “Feel the Sound in the Body … Catch Your Breath!” (3 July 2013)

“Are you awake? Good!” Sensing the post-lunch lethargy on our faces, Murshida Rabeya signaled that it was time to start again with the healing work. She urged us to focus on bodily processes and imaginative acts of connecting energy and the figure of unity with the body. These practices were aimed to recognize (and feel) certain affective moments more intimately, for example, the undesirable (negative) fear. As she explained: “We can imagine it like this. When we have fear, the fear that the pain would grow or stay, or that an illness would become worse—even from the fact alone, I could become ill because there is a sick person in the room.” Once again, the lesson was to feel the energy inside: “Feel how your system is supplied with this healing energy, your whole body. Then open your eyes and try to look with this healing force in your eyes, in your glance.”

Afterward, we were instructed to imagine and walk with the known and unknown healers across history. Following the footsteps of past healers had to be performed and felt in the body: “Feel in your soles and your palms and your eyes and set yourself in motion!” Walking around the room, we had to see and feel the presence of the earlier generation of healers walking in front of us and the next generation of healers behind us. I visualized Hazrat Inayat Khan and Murshid Sam in front of me while following Murshida Rabeya, emulating her steps and imbibing her calm energy. Once our bodies were entangled with the healing figures of unity, the imagined ‘inner space’ became the playfield of feelings. At the very end of this meeting, Murshida Rabeya said: “Do not forget to embrace at least one person in the room before you leave.”

Not to forget—whether in discursive utterance or its bodily enactment in dhikr (in louder recitation) or fikr (in silence)—was a constant reminder and a fundamental lesson to learn in Sufi practice. Such repetitions were a marked feature of Inayati practice through which the affective pedagogy of the Elsewhere could affect the participants. Learning to deal with the rather undesirable emotion of fear in this session required the presence of ‘healing energy’. These energies were not simply there to be felt within the elsewhere of the ‘inner space’. It was possible to learn how to produce the ‘healing energy’ from both inside and outside, in confluence with the visual and sensory imaginations of the past teachers of the Sufi tradition and the anticipation of a future generation.

Fifth Afternoon: The Unknown as “the Fruitful Ground for Healing” (4 July 2013)

On the fifth day, Murshida Rabeya's theme was self-knowledge: “Self-knowledge is very important for our inner journey. We must know where our guilt lies, where we are not in balance, to be able to journey without complaints toward our goal. It is also very important for healing.”

Murshida Rabeya introduced the newcomers to “Soul-Work”17 as a “useful instrument” in the “Sufi-Work.” The Sufi Soul-Work is a method designed and recommended by Pir Moineddin Jablonsky (1942–2001), a prominent figure and the former leader of the transnational Inayati network in the United States. In spite of repeated chronic illnesses, and most likely because of his life-long suffering, Pir Moineddin had spent much time and energy on healing work. Making “the Unknown known,” as Murshida Rabeya reported on his formulation, was intimately linked to the process of “knowing the self-centered self”: “He [Pir Moineddin] derived a great understanding through self-knowledge, by bringing what was lying in darkness, what was Unknown to him, into broad daylight. He knew for sure that the darkness, the Unknown, was the fruitful ground for healing.”

Entrusted with the task of knowing the Unknown, we left the healing seminar quietly. Usually, after each session, we conversed a lot with each other, sharing stories of frustration as well as sudden insights. This time, each of us was left to contemplate the ‘inner space’ evoked, elicited, and sustained by the interventions of the teacher. Toward the end of the evening, it was impossible to think of anything. I walked aimlessly on the still landscape out there and in here. The Unknown Elsewhere, wherever its location, was filled up with the sounds of silence and the vibrations of connected bodies, as well as the ‘composite sound’ we had made all day.

The Unknown invoked here is not synonymous with the Unknown Elsewhere lying outside the purview of the human subject (Mittermaier 2011). In my view, this particular Inayati configuration of the Unknown needs to be understood in its consistent reference to the unknown elements of fleeting affects within the Elsewhere of ‘inner space’. Being aware of these elements and bringing them forth mobilized the Sufi trope of ‘knowing the self-centered self’, but in a manner that spoke to both religious and secular psychotherapeutic discourses.

Sixth Afternoon: Return to Everyday Life (5 July 2013)

The final session was spent largely discussing the urgent issues of privacy and confidentiality. Everybody knew that the seminars were recorded for the summer school archive and would become accessible on the website. During the breaks, some participants expressed serious concerns about making their personal sharing public.

“Achte auf deinen Atem!” (Pay attention to your breath!). Murshida Rabeya brought attention back to the body to calm the apparent discomfort on the faces of some participants. Before attending to difficult issues, this was a common tactic to calm the affective disturbance that had charged the collective atmosphere. In an even calmer voice than usual, she addressed the ethical issues of data privacy, ensuring that all personal sharing would be deleted. In the moments of affective intensity during the past afternoons, a lot had been said and shared. These privacy concerns were legitimate and made me acutely aware of how cautious I needed to be in handling the public discourse and personal sharing in my ethnographic representation.

To mark the end of the healing seminars, we prepared a “healing space” within the room to produce “healing energy” that we could carry back to everyday life. As in each of the previous days, the participants embraced each other before taking leave. Murshida Rabeya's final instruction emphasized the necessity of cultivating an idealized and desirable affect to confront the everyday life to which we were about to return: “Mut! Viel Mut!” (Courage! A lot of courage!).

Indeed, the desirable emotion of courage was necessary to prepare the participants of the Sufi summer school in the summer of 2013 for their return elsewhere—from the idyllic ritual settings in a quiet German village to the troublesome challenges of everyday urban life. Later, long after the summer school, I met some of the participants on various other occasions in Berlin. The fragmented conversations during these afternoons and longer interviews with some of the participants in the following year do not allow me to speculate too much on the extent to which the lessons of the Elsewhere learned there were carried over in the daily life elsewhere.18

I will now summarize the key insights of these six afternoons and reflect on the possible implications of the affective pedagogy of the Elsewhere beyond their immediate settings.

Conclusion: Affective Pedagogy of the Elsewhere

How is access to the Elsewhere of ‘inner space’ facilitated through affective pedagogy? This article has extended the framework of the imaginal Elsewhere (Mittermaier 2011) to include the aural and the sonic, as well as the breathing, moving, and feeling orientations of post-secular Sufi practice in contemporary Germany to attend to this question. The affective pedagogy of the Elsewhere described in the span of six afternoons of healing discourses and practices illustrated how the instructions configured the Elsewhere in the here and now of corporeal and material realities. The invitations and instructions to feel “the inner space” as the unknown elements of the Elsewhere inside the body render the possibility that “it” can perhaps be known. The spatial-temporal coordinates of the Unknown, implicit in the conceptual apparatus of the Elsewhere situated in the dream-visions of Muslim life-worlds (ibid.), were expanded in this article to include other post-secular life-worlds.

Elizabeth Ellsworth (1997: 64) discussed the affective encounters in pedagogical relations as responses to “the unknown,” as “stand-in substitutions, denials, forgettings, prohibitions, feelings of fear, shame, pleasure.” Such affective responses can be understood as traces of the Elsewhere giving form to the rhythms of silence, verbal articulations, stillness, and embodied expressions. Frances Trix (1993) focused on the flexible pedagogic techniques she experienced during her apprenticeship relations with the Albanian Bektashi Sufi teacher Baba Rexhab. Admiring his corporeal flexibility resulting from physically challenging prayers, she linked the corporeal and discursive “flexibility of Baba's talk” to explore “the subtlety of the way he teaches” (ibid.: 2). Such flexibility in the habitus of a contemporary Sufi teacher in my research setting was not only corporeal or linguistic but involved a full range of affective repertoire. The way Murshida Rabeya taught (and continues to teach) in the summer school requires a cultivated skill of ‘reading’ the transitory affects on the faces, bodies, and gestures of her students. She mobilized the momentary possibilities of learning how to feel by introducing these fleeing affects with emotion-words, such as anger, fear, love, courage, as elements of the Elsewhere of ‘inner space’ worthy of attention.

The human body in Sufi practice within Muslim-majority societies, as other ethnographers have illustrated, can be configured as a “space of the formation of meaning and the self” (Abenante 2013: 506). The lower level of the human self/soul can be understood by the interlocutors as “something beyond the body and yet embodied” (Pandolfo 2018: 310). As the site of human passions of anger or sentiments of grief, the ‘body-as-space’ (Abenante) and the ‘self-as-site-of passion’ (Pandolfo) are useful concepts for understanding the ‘inner space’ of Inayati practice as a locus of fleeting affects charged with meaning, for example, what is desirable and what is not. However, the focus of my work here lies in the pedagogic mobilization of that space rather than its thorough grounding in Islamic cosmology.19 The invitation to sense and feel, to make sounds and move, was repeated time and again. At some point, an attentive practitioner had to open up to being affected, having listened to the same instructions and practiced the same techniques for uncountable times. Such affected moments were not simply about the awareness of existing feelings; they were also an invitation to let the Elsewhere come into being by stepping into the ‘inner space’ of our material/corporeal existence. By stepping in, we not only learned to feel our unfelt feelings and take note of the fleeting desirable and undesirable affects, but also enacted and articulated them with emotion-words and affectively charged personal stories.

The fleeting affects in the healing seminars were articulated as emotion-words (courage, love) and were presented as ideal elements of the ‘inner space’ to aspire to. The other, unknown elements inhabiting the ‘inner space’ were either to be managed (anger) or confronted (fear). These idealized and to-be-managed-or-confronted affects were practiced during the exercises, followed up, and repeated with carefully modulated instructions on how to feel them. Learning the Elsewhere in the course of these instructions was about learning to feel its desirable affects and to cultivate them. It was also about learning to recognize, feel, and accept the (other) undesirable affects in order to transform them. The affective pedagogy of imagining and inhabiting the ‘inner space’ emerging from a particular setting of Inayati healing seminars contributes to the general question of engaging the Elsewhere by providing a different conceptualization.

The participants of the Inayati healing classes were instructed to feel the Elsewhere in the here and now of material/corporeal realities by attuning to one's breathing self with reflexive listening and responding, while exercising sonic resonance and engaging in collective movements. Mastery of breath as a body technique and a “way of articulating authority” in Sufi practice (Green 2008: 296) is not a recent innovation.20 But disentangling breath from its Islamic cosmology and embedding it deeper in the body-oriented psychotherapeutic discourse are indicative of its post-secular formation in the Inayati setting (see also Selim 2015b). Breathing one's way into feeling the ‘inner space’ is how the emergent Elsewhere opened up the possibilities of critiquing the secularized present—not by negating the presence of secular therapeutic discourse, but by enabling these Sufi actors to inhabit other ways of being-in-the-world, drawing (however marginally it may seem) from the Islamic repertoire of breathing techniques. Similarly, the Sufi practice of uttering Ya Jabbar, one of the 99 names of Allah in the Islamic tradition, was followed by a Catholic prayer song by the Christian nun Mechthild of Magdeburg. The ‘anger-eating demon’ story was told to meet anger in the ‘inner space’ of active, visual imagination. Both Theravāda Buddhist tradition and the Jungian psychotherapeutic tradition were brought into a productive juxtaposition with the Islamic tradition that informed the Sufi discourses and healing practices of Hazrat Inayat Khan. Such an abundant proliferation of significance and juxtaposition is productive of a deterritorialized nomadic subjectivity produced by and constitutive of the post-secular condition (Braidotti 1994).

The creative borrowing and integration of practices from other traditions are well-known in the continuum of Sufi life-worlds, as a form of “Sufi-philosophical amalgam” (Ahmed 2016: 31). However, the eclectic assemblage of diverse traditions in contemporary post-secular settings engenders new forms of aesthetic, therapeutic, and adult learning tools, such as the Inayati Soul-Work healing seminars. In many Muslim-majority societies, the syncretic nature of Sufi practice often renders it vulnerable to the label of being non-Islamic (ibid.). In post-secular Germany, the juxtaposition of Sufi discourses, historically tied to Islamic life-worlds, with the Judeo-Christian tradition and Buddhist teachings is prone to the typical labeling of ‘New Age Sufism’ (Schleßmann 2003)—as if eclectic Sufism is nothing but a mish-mash of multiple techniques without an inherent logic of the unlikely juxtapositions they make happen. Having spent countless hours and more than half a decade with the Inayati Sufis in Germany, I argue otherwise. The inherent logic of the unlikely juxtapositions that the Inayatis make can be understood in terms of the historical tradition of eclectic Sufism, on the one hand, and its post-secular politics of ‘blurred boundaries’, on the other.

The Buddhist demons, for example, are translated into Inayati discourse as the psychological shadow parts resonating with the Jungian discourse. These are conceived as the constituting elements of an imagined Elsewhere, as the ‘inner space’ that was to-be-felt within the group. This Elsewhere, which gave rise to tranquility and contained the healing channels, was also inhabited by the ‘conscious’ or ‘unconscious’ shadow parts or demons. In secular psychological terms, the possibility of transforming these parts lay in giving the shadow parts/demons what they needed (attention) in the appropriate management of a range of feelings. If the demons/shadow parts were to inhabit the Elsewhere as undesirable and disturbing affects (anger or fear), the process of recognizing and accessing them was necessary to effect their transformation into desirable affects, such as acceptance or calmness. More than the retelling of a discursive tradition, the unknown elements of the Elsewhere thus made their presence known through the techniques of eloquence; the skillful modulation of breathing, movements, and sound-making; and the regulation of feeling registers in an intensified collective atmosphere. In doing so, the affective pedagogy in the Sufi summer school was entangled with the post-secular politics21 of engagements with the past teachers of this transnational Sufi tradition while mindful of the Muslim-minority context of Germany.

In conclusion, the configuration of the ‘inner space’ as the Elsewhere, with fleeting affects as its unknown elements, during the 2013 Sufi summer school and the lessons learned in its ritual settings do not necessarily make the Inayati Sufi discourses and practices inherently unique in their focus on learning how to feel. Their distinction from other Sufi discourses draws rather from the innovative blurring of boundaries between diverse traditions, the particularity of their therapeutic and discursive orientation to feelings, and the persistent attention to the ‘inner space’ as the Elsewhere. Learning to feel the Elsewhere in the Inayati healing seminars involved the intimate cultivation of desirable (positive) emotions and tactics for dealing with undesirable (negative) emotions. Before returning to everyday life, such lessons might have provided the feeling subjects with the existential resources to confront the affecting forces elsewhere.

Acknowledgments

I express my gratitude to the Inayati Sufi networks in Berlin and especially to Murshida Rabeya. Special thanks to two co-editors of this special section, Omar Kasmani and Hansjörg Dilger, for their careful review of earlier drafts of this article. I am also grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their useful comments and suggestions. The doctoral research project was funded by the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, German Academic Exchange Service).

Notes

The poem on the title page of this article, “Gemeinsam/Together,” by the Jewish poet Rose Ausländer (1901–1988), was recited at the European Sufi Summer School on 30 June 2013. Translation and emphasis by the author.

1

I have used pseudonyms for all my interlocutors. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own.

2

In the following year, Murshida Rabeya initiated me as a Sufi student (murid). In my PhD dissertation, I discuss the challenges of dual apprenticeship in Sufism and anthropology as an ethnographic method (Selim 2019).

3

The other two Sufi networks included a local network of the transnational Haqqani-Naqshbandis, popularized by the late Cypriot Sheikh Nazim (1922–2014), and Tümata-Berlin, established by the late Turkish psychologist, music therapist, and Sufi teacher, Oruç Güvenç (1948–2017).

4

The Sufi Ruhaniat is the most recently established Inayati network in Germany, commencing their activities in the 1980s (Selim 2019). See Schleßmann (2003) and Dickson (2016) for a detailed history of the diverging Inayati lineages in North America and Western Europe.

5

The “blurred boundaries” (Gilhus 2012: 70) of psychotherapeutic and (new) religious practices is a feature of post-secularity, not necessarily unique to Inayati Sufism.

6

Affect and emotion are interrelated terms. Following Massumi (2002: 28), I consider affect as the intensified bodily, sensory-rich state that engenders a person to act and relate to the world. Emotion refers to the cognitive articulation of the affective experiences, translating experience into the representative order (Lutz and Abu-Lughod 1990).

7

Cazarin and Burchardt (2020) stress the significance of learning processed in the formation of emotional repertoires among Pentecostal pastors in diasporic settings.

8

The extent to which such coping might take place in daily life is beyond the scope of this article.

9

The original Inayati network diverged into three major streams after the death of the founder, Hazrat Inayat Khan. During the 1960s, Murshid Sam popularized the stream known as the Sufi Ruhaniat International.

10

Fikr in Arabic and Farsi refers to contemplation. In the usage of Hazrat Inayat Khan, the term fikr is a silent form of dhikr (repeated reciting of sacred words, phrases, and verses).

11

Another Inayati network performed the same prayer in several Berlin towers (Selim 2015a).

12

‘Unity’ is a popular translation of Allah in Inayati discourse and Einheit in German.

13

The notion of subtle centers in the body (chakra in yoga discourse) is popular among the Inayati Sufis. Murshida Rabeya had been a yoga teacher for many years, so it was not surprising that the heart chakra found its way into her pedagogic vocabulary.

14

Mechthild of Magdeburg (1207–1282/1294) was a medieval Christian nun who wrote in German due to her lack of training in Latin. She described her extraordinary visions through poems and songs.

15

The ‘anger-eating demon’ is derived from the Theravāda Buddhist tradition. In it, a demon thrived on people's anger, but when the sage-king Sakka approached it without anger, the demon shrank in size until it ultimately disappeared. The story is also used in the psychotherapeutic management of anger (Dwivedi 1997: 97).

16

In Jungian psychology, the shadow refers to the dark, undesirable side of human psyche “charged with affect” and can become an autonomous destructive force (Casement 2006: 94).

17

The Work of Soul or Soul-Work is an adult learning tool to facilitate transformative learning in which emotional reactions are considered by Jungian psychotherapists in North America to be image-producing manifestations of the “inner selves” (Dirkx 2001: 15). The sacred therapeutic modality of the Sufi Soul-Work is a method of counseling to initiate and continue dialogues with the diverse aspects of the “‘basic selves’ (nafs)” of a person (Douglas-Klotz 2016: 132).

18

Some participants of the 2013 seminars continue to attend the summer school every year.

19

During my fieldwork, Inayati Sufis seemed more invested in following their universalistic aspirations than deepening their study of Islamic cosmologies.

20

Breathing techniques were a widely spread Sufi practice in colonial India (Green 2008).

21

Sigurdson (2010: 33) discussed “post-secular politics” with both positive and negative possibilities. On the one hand, the return of religion offers a critique of secular modern societies; on the other hand, the risk of conflicts might increase. Post-secular politics of religious plurality may also destabilize nationalist identity as the primary identification point.

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Contributor Notes

NASIMA SELIM is a Postdoctoral Research Associate with teaching duties at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Freie Universität Berlin, and Spokesperson for the Working Group Public Anthropology of the German Anthropological Association (GAA/DGSKA). Her research and teaching interests intersect religion, health, ecology, and public engagement with regional focuses on Western Europe and South Asia. Her recently completed doctoral dissertation is entitled “Learning the Ways of the Heart in Berlin: Sufism, Anthropology, and the Post-Secular Condition” (2019, Freie Universität Berlin). E-mail: nasimaselim@gmail.com

Religion and Society

Advances in Research

  • Abenante, Paola. 2013. “Inner and Outer Ways: Sufism and Subjectivity in Egypt and Beyond.” Ethnos 78 (4): 490514. https://doi.org/10.1080/00141844.2012.688758

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Abenante, Paola, and Fabio Vicini. 2017. “Interiority Unbound: Sufi and Modern Articulations of the Self.” Culture and Religion 18 (2): 5771. https://doi.org/10.1080/14755610.2017.1326689

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ahmed, Shahab. 2016. What Is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Braidotti, Rosi. 1994. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Casement, Ann. 2006. “The Shadow.” In The Handbook of Jungian Psychology: Theory, Practice, and Applications, ed. Renos K. Papadopoulos, 94112. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cazarin, Rafael, and Marian Burchardt. 2020. “Learning How to Feel: Emotional Repertoires of Nigerian and Congolese Pentecostal Pastors in the Diaspora.” In Affective Trajectories: Religion and Emotion in African Cityscapes, ed. Hansjörg Dilger, Astrid Bochow, Marian Buchardt, and Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon, 160182. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dickson, William Rory. 2016. Living Sufism in North America: Between Tradition and Transformation. Albany: State University of New York Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dirkx, John M. 2001. “Images, Transformative Learning and the Work of Soul.” Adult Learning 12 (3): 1516. https://doi.org/10.1177/104515950101200306

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dixon, Mary, and Kim Senior. 2011. “Appearing Pedagogy: From Embodied Learning and Teaching to Embodied Pedagogy.” Pedagogy, Culture & Society 19 (3): 473484. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681366.2011.632514

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Douglas-Klotz, Neil. 2016. “The Key in the Dark: Self and Soul Transformation in the Sufi and Islamic Spiritual Traditions.” In Modern Psychology and Ancient Wisdom: Psychological Healing Practices from the World's Religious Traditions, ed. Sharon G. Mijares, 113135. London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dwivedi, Kedar Nath. 1997. The Therapeutic Use of Stories. London: Routledge.

  • Ellsworth, Elizabeth. 1997. Teaching Positions: Difference, Pedagogy, and the Power of Address. New York: Teachers College Press.

  • Ernst, Carl W. 1985. Words of Ecstasy in Sufism. Albany: State University of New York Press.

  • Gilhus, Ingvild S. 2012. “Post-secular Religion and the Therapeutic Turn: Three Norwegian Examples.” Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis 24: 6275. https://doi.org/10.30674/scripta.67409.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Green, Nile. 2008. “Breathing in India, c. 1890.” Modern Asian Studies 42 (2–3): 283315. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0026749X07003125.

  • Habermas, Jürgen. 2001. “Glauben und Wissen” [Belief and knowledge]. In Friedenspreis des deutschen Buchhandels 2001 [2001 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade], 915. Frankfurt am Main: Börsenverein des deutschen Buchhandels.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hickey-Moody, Anna. 2013. “Affect as Method: Feelings, Aesthetics and Affective Pedagogy.” In Deleuze and Research Methodologies, ed. Rebecca Coleman and Jessica Ringrose, 7995. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hirschkind, Charles. 2006. The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics. New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Ingold, Tim. 2018. Anthropology and/as Education. London: Routledge.

  • Jamil, Nurhaizatul. 2019. “‘This Is a Gathering of Lovers’: Islamic Self-Help and Affective Pedagogies in Contemporary Singapore.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 25 (3): 467486. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.13078

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Klinkhammer, Gritt. 2009a. “The Emergence of Transethnic Sufism in Germany: From Mysticism to Authenticity.” In Sufis in Western Society: Global Networking and Locality, ed. Ron Geaves, Markus Dressler, and Gritt Klinkhammer, 130147. London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Klinkhammer, Gritt. 2009b. “Sufismus im Westen: Entwicklungen, Strukturen, Organisationen” [Sufism in the West: Developments, structures, organizations]. In Die unbekannte Seite des Islam: Rollen und Positionen des Sufismus [The unknown side of Islam: Roles and positions of Sufism], ed. Lidwina Meyer, 105132. Rehburg-Loccum: Evangelische Akademie Loccum.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lutz, Catherine A., and Lila Abu-Lughod, eds. 1990. Language and the Politics of Emotion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Mahmood, Saba. 2005. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Massumi, Brian. 2002. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Mittermaier, Amira. 2011. Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Pandolfo, Stefania. 2018. Knot of the Soul: Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Probyn, Elspeth. 2004. “Teaching Bodies: Affects in the Classroom.” Body & Society 10 (4): 2143. https://doi.org/10.1177/1357034X04047854

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schleßmann, Ludwig. 2003. Sufismus in Deutschland: Deutsche auf dem Weg des mystischen Islam [Sufism in Germany: Germans on the path of mystical Islam]. Cologne: Böhlau.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Seigworth, George J. 2017. “Capaciousness.” Capacious: The Journal for Emerging Affect Inquiry 1 (1): iv.

  • Selim, Nasima. 2015a. “Healing the City: Sufi Prayers in Berlin's Towers.” Medizinethnologie: Körper, Gesundheit und Heiling in einer globalisierten Welt, 26 May. https://www.medizinethnologie.net/sufi-prayers-in-berlins-towers/.

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