Mystics and Saints in Islam – Fall 2020

Term: Fall 2020

Participating Campuses: Host – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign | Receiving – Pennsylvania State University

Semester Dates:

  • University of Illinois: August 24 – December 18, 2020
  • Penn State: August 24 – December 18, 2020


  • University of Illinois: Tuesday & Thursday 9:30am-10:50am Central
  • Penn State: Tuesday & Thursday 10:35am-11:50am Eastern

Course Number & Title:

  • University of Illinois: REL 260 “Mystics and Saints in Islam”
  • Penn State: RL ST 106 “Mysticism and Kabbalah”

Professor: Dr. Valerie Hoffman |

Sufi mysticism is one of the most important aspects of Islamic religious life. Sufis seek to purify their souls and attain intimate knowledge of God. The lives of Muslim mystics and saints have fascinated Westerners and have served as spiritual models for Muslims. Through the Sufi orders, mystical teachings, music and rituals touched the lives of most ordinary people throughout the Muslim world for centuries. Rumi and other Sufi poets remain popular around the world. How have Sufis lived in the past? Is that way of life sustainable today? This course draws on readings of Sufi literature and the instructor’s extensive fieldwork among Sufis in Egypt.

Students are able to enroll directly at their home institution for course credit. For more information about this course, including textbook information and instructions on enrolling, please contact

About the Instructor: I am a specialist in Islamic thought and practice. I have worked on many aspects of Islam, from the time of the Prophet to the contemporary period; I have conducted textual studies and have done fieldwork. I did two major fieldwork projects in Egypt, one on Muslim women’s religious lives in contemporary Egypt (1980-81) and another on Sufism in modern Egypt (1987-89) that resulted in Sufism, Mystics and Saints in Modern Egypt (University of South Carolina Press, 1995) as well as the documentary film “Celebrating the Prophet in the Remembrance of God: Sufi Dhikr in Egypt.” Then I studied Swahili and spent two summers in Zanzibar, where I became aware that two distinct strands of Arabian Islam had impacted the Swahili coast: the Sultanate of Oman and the Hadramawt region of Yemen. I spent the 2000-2001 academic year in Oman and the Hadramawt, and became particularly interested in the Ibadi sect of Islam, an ancient and small sect that is neither Sunni nor Shiite and is practiced in Oman and small pockets of North Africa. I have since written the first English-language study of Ibadi theology, The Essentials of Ibadi Islam (Syracuse University Press, 2012), and have become a specialist in Ibadism in the modern period, especially in Oman and Zanzibar.

University of Illinois Course Flyer

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