Sufism and American Literary Masters

Edited by Mehdi Aminrazavi
Foreword by Jacob Needleman

Subjects: Sufism, Religion, Literary History, Literary Criticism, Islam
Series: SUNY series in Islam
Paperback : 9781438453521, 311 pages, July 2015
Hardcover : 9781438453538, 311 pages, November 2014

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Table of contents

Jacob Needleman
Mehdi Aminrazavi
The English Romantic Background
1. English Romantics and Persian Sufi Poets: a wellspring of Inspiration for American Transcendentalists
Leonard Lewisohn
The Master: Emerson and Sufism
2. The Chronological Development of Emerson’s Interest in Persian Mysticism
Mansur Ekhtiyar
3. Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Muslim Orient
Marwan M. Obeidat
4. Emerson and Aspects of Sa’di’s Reception in Nineteenth-Century America
Parvin Loloi
5. Emerson on Hafiz and Sa’di: The Narrative of Love and Wine
Farhang Jahanpour
The Disciple: Walt Whitman
6. Whitman and Hafiz: Expressions of Universal Love and Tolerance
Mahnaz Ahmad
7. Walt Whitman and Sufism: Towards “A Persian Lesson
Massud Farzan
The Initiates: Other American Authors
8. Literary “Masters” in the Literature of Thomas Lake Harris, Lawrence Oliphant, and Paschal Beverly Randolph
Arthur Versluis
9. American Transcendentalists’ Interpretations of Sufism: Thoreau, Whitman, Longfellow, Lowell, Melville, and Lafcadio Hearn
John D. Yohannan
10. The Persians of Concord
Phillip N. Edmondson

11. Omarian Poets of America
Mehdi Aminrazavi
12. “Bond Slave to FitzGerald’s Omar”: Mark Twain and The Rubáiyát
Alan Gribben
13. Mark Twain’s Ruba’iyyat: AGE-A Rubáiyát
List of Contributors

Explores the influence of Sufism on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century writers.


This book reveals the rich, but generally unknown, influence of Sufism on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American literature. The translation of Persian poets such as Hafiz and Sa'di into English and the ongoing popularity of Omar Khayyam offered intriguing new spiritual perspectives to some of the major American literary figures. As editor Mehdi Aminrazavi notes, these Sufi influences have often been subsumed into a notion of "Eastern," chiefly Indian, thought and not acknowledged as having Islamic roots. This work pays considerable attention to two giants of American literature, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, who found much inspiration from the Sufi ideas they encountered. Other canonical figures are also discussed, including Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, along with literary contemporaries who are lesser known today, such as Paschal Beverly Randolph, Thomas Lake Harris, and Lawrence Oliphant.

Mehdi Aminrazavi is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at the University of Mary Washington. He is the author of The Wine of Wisdom: The Life, Poetry, and Philosophy of Omar Khayyam and the coeditor (with David Ambuel) of Philosophy, Religion, and the Question of Intolerance, also published by SUNY Press.


"…the collection is a success and provides a comprehensive and multi-pronged introduction to many of the major characters and key themes in the study of American literary engagement with Sufi texts and concepts." — Journal of Sufi Studies