Sufi paths of negative speech: apophasis in thirteenth century Islamic mysticism
This dissertation examines the formations, historical developments, and contextual regulations of negative speech (apophasis) in pre-modern Sufism, and its contemporary representations in Islamic Studies. The dissertation (i) problematizes the current approaches to apophasis and negative theologies in the study of religion, particularly in relation to Islam (Ch.1-3); (ii) constructs a genealogy of the terms “apophasis” and “negative theology” in the last two centuries (Ch.1-2); (iii) presents in-depth case studies that provide contextual analyses of Sufi performances of apophasis in the fields of theology (Ch.4-7), and mystical union (Ch.8). The first two chapters bring a fresh perspective to the field by approaching “apophasis,” and “negative theology” as second-order, scholarly categories that are not sui generis religious, critical, or mystical. This shift in perspective makes clear that contemporary studies on apophasis and negative theologies, as well as their reflections on Islamic Studies and Sufism, are in large part responses to the challenges and demands of modernity. Chapter 3 argues that “negative theology” is a blanket term that cannot distinguish between the varieties of theological questions that medieval scholars asked. I differentiate “negative theologies of the divine essence” from “negative theologies of divine attributes.” Chapters 4-to-7 introduce the formations and historical developments of four prominent negative theological positions on the divine essence that circulated among medieval Sufis. Chapter 8 examines Sufi approaches to the unio mystica in the thirteenth century, in order to display the ways in which negative speech is governed by context-specific norms and institutions.