Between Mysiticism and Philosophical Rationality: Al-Ghazali on the Reasons of the Heart.




In his seminal Orientalism and Religion (1999), Richard King argues that Western scholars of religion have constructed a conceptual dichotomy between "mysticism" and "rationality" that has caused them to systematically distort the claims and arguments of Eastern thinkers. While King focuses primarily on Western scholarship on the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, this essay shows that his argument can also be extended to apply to Western scholarship on al-Ghazali, whose sympathy for Sufism and apparent rejection of Greek philosophy has often earned him the reputation of being a champion of Islamic mysticism. I argue that al-Ghazali transcends the dueling categories of 'rationality' and 'mysticism' that have been imposed on him by offering a conception of experiential knowledge that retains its roots in the 'mystical' Sufi tradition, even while also highlighting the rational merits of experientially-grounded modes of knowing. In particular, I argue that al-Ghazali shows us how experiential knowledge is both important to providing motivation for rational action and also critical to underwriting persons' genuine understanding of the evaluative properties of that which is known.

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