Muslim Gnostic Poetry in the Former USSR and Popular Democracies: A Century of History and Present-Day Heritages (1920s–2020s)

Multiplex Online Round Table, April 11–12, 2023

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Rediscovered during the past decades, Muslim gnostic poetry has developed and circulated in the countries of the former USSR and popular democracies, from the 1920s to the present. Often written in such classical genres as the ghazal and mukhammas inherited from Arabic models, in languages as different as Albanian, Tatar, Uzbek, Persian, Uyghur and Chinese, its existence and its current continuation raise several issues.

One is the very presence, from the Western Balkans to coastal China, of long hidden and unexplored handwritten texts, produced here and there in verse under administrations inspired by Marxism-Leninism. Ignored until recently by historians and specialists of literature, this poetry questions our representations of the many historical ruptures of the past century because, notably, of its apparently conservative forms and contents.

Indeed, the modern ghazal and mukhammas oppose the apparent classicism of their form, sometimes of their calligraphy, to the innovations of the literary avant-gardes encouraged, for a while, by diverse Communist party–states. At the same time, the quasi exclusivity acquired by such genres in Sufi cenacles, their underground circulation concomitant with the escheat of Muslim gnostic expertise, and their current readings point out their modernity.

A modernity made of complex interrelations between ‘official’ and ‘parallel’ high culture, against an overall backdrop of restriction or full prohibition of religious practice. The dismantling of Sufi ritualised sociability, the loss of many Guides (murshids) led the Muslim gnostic poets of this period to stumble over the question of magisterium, and to focus more than ever on adab — the Islamicate code of values and deportment, now synonymous with ‘culture’.

This is how Sufi teaching, if not guidance, could not only survive but also develop even in the absence of Sufism. Hence, the special significance of the transmission of adabiyāt (seen as didactic literature) for gnostic cenacles that continued to meet, at smaller scale, in the post-WWII decades — before wider lettered get-togethers, in the 1970s–80s, and more recent hagiographic experiments, often published, make those cenacles known to larger audiences.

The present-day hagiography of their members as holy transmitters of Muslim gnostic high culture in repressive contexts has brought back the issue, typical of the Cold War, of Islamic dissidence under Communist rule. In a growingly competitive religious sphere, since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, this hagiography, often conceived by heirs and disciples of 20th-century underground masters, sometimes reflects an ethical opposition to the current state of affairs.

In connection with the RedGold ANR Research Programme, the present multiplex online round table aims at fostering an exchange of information and views on the state of the art and the perspectives of research. A first, philological axis of our collaborative work will consist of a collective reflection on the identification of primary sources and on their valorisation (e.g., through their selective publishing, transcription, edition and translation).


Tuesday, April 11

Time Speaker Title of the Presentation
09.45 Welcome speech by the Organisers
10.00 YANG Deliang
Nanjing Science and Technology University
A Central Scroll of Calligraphy: The Doggerel and Worldview of a Sufi Order in Northwest China
10.30 Sultonbek AKSAKOLOV
Central Asian University, Khorog
The Celebration of Modern Men of God in the Ismaili Devotional Literature of Badakhshan, Tajikistan
11.15 MA Xinguo
Qinghai Nationality University
Analyses on the Symbolic Expressions of Sufi poems in Mukhammas
11.45 Gianfranco BRIA
University of Rome La Sapienza
A Survey of Muslim Gnostic Poetry among Albanians  through Communism, Sufism and nationalism
12.15 Rezeda SAFIULLINA & Leila ALMAZOVA
Kazan Federal University
The Sufi Heritage among Volga Tatars: Gnostic Verses through the 20th Century


Wednesday, April 12

Time Speaker Title of the Presentation
10.00 MA Chao
Shanxi Normal University
Sufi Thought and the Culture of Religious Songs (Jingge) in the Muslim Societies of Central China
10.30 Stéphane DUDOIGNON
Continuity and Mutation of the Ghazal in Soviet Context: Muslim Gnostic Poetry in the Tajik SSR
11.15 Hidayat YANTAK
Sichuan University of Arts and Sciences
Sufi Poems in Uyghur Folk Songs and the Ways of Their Representations
11.45 GUAN Nannan
Lanzhou University
A Study on the Expressional Characteristics and Mystic meanings of the Verses in a Sufi Book, Yangzu Quanshu
12.15 General Discussion

This event is organized with the help of EPHE, Sapienza Università di Roma, & Lanzhou University.

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Cite this blog post
Red Gold (2023, March 20). Muslim Gnostic Poetry in the Former USSR and Popular Democracies: A Century of History and Present-Day Heritages (1920s–2020s). RedGold. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from

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