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Title: 'God does not regard your forms' : gender and literary representation in the works of Farīd al-Dīn 'Aṭṭār Nīshāpūrī
Author: Quay, Michelle Marie
ISNI:       0000 0004 7227 0720
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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Studies on gender in medieval and modern Sufism have tended to posit two extremes: Sufism as an oasis for women, away from the strictures of ‘orthodoxy,’ or Sufism as a haven for misogynistic views of women as temptations, distractions, and necessary evils. However, these simplistic characterisations cannot encompass the full range of the evidence, as we find many positive representations of women, and indeed female saints, alongside brutal anti-woman declarations. This study attempts to nuance these prevailing characterisations of medieval depictions of gender by providing further evidence of Sufi attitudes towards women and femininity. It does so via a comprehensive consideration of a prominent Persian Sufi poet, Farīd al-Dīn ‘Aṭṭār, in the context of select Persian and Arabic hagiographies, Qur’an commentaries, and qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā’. Analysis of the material reviewed suggests that gender representations are not fixed, even within the work of a single author. I argue that these texts exhibit a striking disconnect between their conceptions of ‘woman’ as a category and the depiction of narrative women, especially Sufi women. I suggest that this tendency reflects a Sufi philosophy of gender-egalitarianism and that philosophy’s inherent conflict with predominant social hierarchies of the medieval Islamicate context. This study shows the utility of engaging the classical Islamic tradition with contemporary theory surrounding gender and identity, including corporeality theory and intersectionality theory. It also employs more traditional formalist literary critiques using the lenses of defamiliarisation and paradox/apophasis. Ultimately, this research reveals the need for careful, critical studies of medieval views on gender, and contributes to the bodies of literature on Islamicate sexualities and the construction of sainthood in Islam.
Supervisor: van Ruymbeke, Christine Sponsor: Gates Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Persian Literature ; Gender Studies ; Sufism