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Journal of the American Academy of Religion Advance Access

Published: Fri, 25 Aug 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Last Build Date: Fri, 25 Aug 2017 04:53:13 GMT


What is “Negative Theology”? Lessons from the Encounter of Two Sufis


This article introduces the debate of two Andalusian Sufis to address a major theoretical difficulty regarding the concept of “negative theology.” It analyzes the encounter of Ibn ʿArabī with a Muʿtazilite Sufi master, al-Qabrafīqī, at the end of the twelfth century in Seville, and delineates the rich intellectual atmosphere of their debate on human ability to emulate divine attributes, which is the very definition of Sufism for Ibn ʿArabī, but impossible and forbidden for al-Qabrafīqī. Careful contextualization not only questions the apparent negative theology of al-Qabrafīqī, but also demonstrates that the trendy term “negative theology” cannot distinguish between the varieties of questions that these scholars asked about the nature of God. Ibn ʿArabī’s encounter with al-Qabrafīqī illuminates the medieval Islamic theological context, and shows that “negative theology,” if a specific theological problem is not well-defined, is a generic concept with limited, if any, explanatory power.

“A Remarkable Gathering”: The Conference on Living Religions within the British Empire (1924) and Its Historical Significance


This article provides the first significant scholarly treatment of “The Conference on Some Living Religions within the British Empire,” which took place between September 22 and October 2, 1924, in conjunction with the British Empire Exhibition of 1924. An unprecedented event in Britain’s history, the conference brought numerous scholars and “holy men of the Empire” to London. As a catalyst for the modern study of religion, the conference merits comparison to the better-known Parliament of the World’s Religions that met in Chicago in 1893. Based on extensive archival research in the United Kingdom and on contemporary newspaper reportage, the article argues that knowledge of this conference helps redress general inattention to the history of interreligious dialogue. What is more, it contributes to the rich literature on “religion and empire” that has emerged in recent years, not least in the pages of JAAR. Finally, it argues that an analysis of this conference partly confirms and partly contests “orientalism” as a helpful category for understanding Western engagement with non-Western religions and cultures.