REL 121
Getting Spiritual With Rumi: From Sufism to Self-Help Spring 2024
Division II

Class Details

Although he lived about 800 years ago, Rumi is often described as the “best-selling poet in the United States.” His poetry and sayings are shared endlessly on the internet and social media, celebrating above all his inspiring words on love and beauty. Rumi’s spiritual wisdom is seen as transcending the confines of organized religion, with its divisive dogmas and restrictive rules. What is much less well-known is that Rumi was a devout Muslim mystic, a practitioner of the Islamic spiritual tradition of Sufism. This course will take the poetry and teachings of Rumi as a lens to reflect on spirituality, both in a practical and introspective way, as well as a matter of historical and cultural analysis. We will read two types of translations of Rumi: those that adapt Rumi’s work for a modern Western audience, and those that are more direct translations of Rumi’s work in its original Islamic idiom. We will also do some broader readings to contextualize the medieval Sufi background that Rumi functioned within, as well as the contemporary scene of popular spirituality and self-help in the US. Through these comparative readings, we will consider the following: What does spirituality and self-cultivation mean to you personally? How does the experience and significance of spirituality change, from the context of traditional Sufism, to 21st century self-help and popular spirituality? What does this tell us about broader trends and conditions in our society? What do these intersecting traditions have to offer us in our world today?
The Class: Format: seminar; This course is part of a joint program between Williams' Center for Learning in Action and the Berkshire County Jail in Pittsfield, MA. The class will be composed equally of nine Williams students and nine inmates and will be held at the jail. An important goal of the course is to encourage students from different backgrounds to think together about issues of common human concern. Transportation will be provided by the college. *Please note the atypical class hours, Th. 4:45-8:30 pm
Limit: 9
Expected: 9
Class#: 3711
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Personal journaling; Short response papers; Creative final project
Prerequisites: None
Enrollment Preferences: Demonstrated interest in problems of mass incarceration, criminal justice, etc. As well as interest in spirituality.
Distributions: Division II
Attributes: EXPE Experiential Education Courses

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