Rumi, the P Rumi, the Poet of Univ oet of Universal Lo ersal Love: The P e: The Politics of Rumi’ olitics of Rumi’s Appropriation in the West

Rumi, the Poet of Universal Love: The Politics of Rumi's Appropriation in the West

Table of Contents



This project -taking the polyvalence of Rumi as a religious figure and the discursive nature of the Western approach to Sufism as its premises- interrogates how Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273), a thirteenth-century Sufi poet/scholar, has been appropriated in the West. In the valorization of Rumi, the engagement of distinct discourses that emerged out of complex histories stand out. This study, accordingly, seeks to contextualize how Sufism, as well as Rumi’s works and thoughts, are being read and discussed discourses on Islam, religion, and spirituality to explore the “politics of representation” that is embedded in those refractions.

The dissertation analyzes the representations of Sufis, Sufism, and consequentially Rumi in a wide variety of texts, from pre-modern proto-ethnographic works to contemporary translations and novels, to trace the construction and engagement of discourses that engender the most significant readings of Rumi. The representation of Rumi’s “Muslimhood” constitutes the focus of analysis. For several decades, and due to a variety of reasons that are discussed in this study, Rumi was imagined merely as an incidental Muslim in the West, where the spiritual currents of the second half of the twentieth century cast him as a New Age guru with romantic sensibilities. It was only in the early twenty-first century, with the events of 9/11 and the consequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Rumi’s Muslim identity has come to be acknowledged on a popular level.

The dissertation interrogates the discursive course of the assessment of Rumi as an extra-Islamic figure and the contemporary re-evaluation as an Islamic one, and thereby sheds light on the post-9/11 discourses on Islam in the West, within which Rumi, in particular, has been cast as an ideal(ized) representative of “good Muslims.” It is argued that that Rumi’s “ideality” is largely an effect of the New Age reading of Rumi, which underlines, among other things, the compatibility of Rumi’s spirituality with Western values.


Every one became my friend from his own opinion;

None sought out my secrets from within me.

(Rumi; Masnavi I. l.6)

Jalal al-Din Rumi1 (1207-1273), a thirteenth-century Sufi poet/scholar, has been enjoying an unprecedented surge of interest in the Western world, particularly in the United States. Hailed as “the poet of love,” Rumi entered, in Franklin Lewis’s term, “the Western consciousness,” as early as the sixteenth century but in the last thirty years or so, he has gained the status of a universal icon thanks to the translations by prominent scholars, poets, Sufis, and even New-Age gurus.

The most significant aspect of Rumi as he is read today in the Western world is his contested Muslim identity. Not long ago Rumi was described as an incidental Muslim who promoted pantheistic theosophy, a remnant of the supposed Hindu and Greek origins of Sufism. Today Rumi is often singled out as the paragon of “the good Muslim,” which, as a subjectivity, has been engendered by the post-9/11 discourse on Muslims.2 Defined

in opposition to the “bad Muslims,” who are usually called fundamentalists, Islamic extremists or jihadists, “good Muslims” owe their goodness primarily to their compatibility with the so-called “Western values” that are proclaimed to be universal. Largely on account of his appreciation and promotion of these values and more, Rumi has earned eminence as an ideal Muslim.

The full complement of names and titles is 
Mawlana (Mevlana/Maulana) Khodavandgar Jalal al-Din Mohammad b. 
Mohammad al-Balkhi al-Rumi. Rumi, literally meaning “from Rome”, 
is a toponym and refers to the fact that he lived in Anatolia. 
Although he is known in the Western world as Rumi, 
in Turkey he is known as Mevlana (meaning “Our Master”).

The dichotomization of Muslims as good and bad is analyzed in detail by
 Mahmood Mamdani in his study Good Muslim, Bad Muslim (2005).

 In opposition to the “good Muslims” stand “the bad Muslims,” 
who are, by and large, defined by their vicious attacks against 
the United States and other Western countries. 
Several studies, scholarly and non-scholarly alike, 
explore the category of the bad Muslim. To name a few see Unholy War 
(2003) and The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality (1999) by John L. Esposito, 
Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (2006) by Gilles Kepel, 
Political Islam (2011) by Frederic Volpi, Understanding Jihad (2005)
 by David Cook. 2

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FULL Paper PDF file:

Rumi the Poet of Universal Love_ The Politics of Rumis Appropri


Author ORCID Identifier


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Program

Comparative Literature

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor


Subject Categories

Comparative Literature

A Dissertation Presented
by Fatma Betul Cihan-Artun
Submitted to the Graduate School of the
The University of Massachusetts Amherst in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
February 2016
Comparative Literature

© Copyright by Fatma Betul Cihan-Artun 2016
All Rights Reserved

Recommended Citation

CIHAN-ARTUN, FATMA B., “Rumi, the Poet of Universal Love: The Politics of Rumi’s Appropriation in the West” (2016). Doctoral Dissertations. 555.


This dissertation would not have been complete without the support and encouragement of colleagues, friends, and relatives. First of all, I would like to thank the members of my Doctoral Committee. I am indebted to Professor Edwin Gentzler, the Chair of my committee, first and foremost for introducing the unsurprisingly rich world of Translation Studies, and accepting to direct my dissertation. His perceptive suggestions helped me to amend the many parts of this study.

I also owe thanks to Professor David Lenson for stepping in at one of my most distressing times. His guidance and unyielding support throughout my graduate studies renewed my confidence in me and my work. I am grateful to Jawed Mojaddedi for his valuable insights about Rumi, the topic of this dissertation. Professor Christopher Dole and Professor James Hicks kindly accepted to be a part of this very strenuous journey of mine and for that, I am thankful to them.

I would like to thank the entire staff and faculty of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, but specifically Professor Maria Tymoczko for her intellectual enthusiasm, Professor William Moebius for his kindness and encouragement at every step of my studies at UMass-Amherst, and Jean Fleming for all her kind help.

More than anyone I am grateful to my mother Hatice Cihan and my sister Zeynep Şişkolar for believing in me even during those times when I doubted myself. This dissertation has become a reality with these two women’s never-ending support, love, and prayers. The other members of my family, that is, my father Selahattin Cihan and my brothers Enes and Emre Cihan also deserve to be mentioned because of their love and support as well as the confidence they instilled in me. I am also thankful to my in-laws, Saicide Özkaşıkcı, Ayşegül & Gür & Nazlı vi Özütürk for opening up their home and welcoming me to their family. I would also like to thank all friends in Istanbul, Amherst, Princeton, and Highland Park, for simply being there for me. It meant more than anything else.

I, above all, am thankful to Tuna Artun, my best friend and husband. He is the one to turn this grueling ordeal into a bearable intellectual endeavor with his humor, love, and care. Last but not least, Leyla, the apple of my eye; I am grateful to her for just being Leyla.

Approved as to style and content by:

  • Edwin Gentzler, Chair
  • James Hicks, Member
  • Jawid Mojaddedi, Member
  • Christopher Dole, Member
  • Edwin Gentzler, Director Program in Comparative Literature
  • William Moebius, Chair Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.

PDF reference and original file: Click here

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Professor Siavosh Kaviani was born in 1961 in Tehran. He had a professorship. He holds a Ph.D. in Software Engineering from the QL University of Software Development Methodology and an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Chelsea.

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Maryam Momeni was born in 1970 in Tehran. She holds a degree in Literature - German language from the Melli University of Tehran.
As an assistant administrator, my duties will include overseeing and analyzing financial operations, approving purchases and expenditures, mediating between staff and other executives, appointing heads of departments, marketing and promoting the business, and facilitating training programs. My expertise in streamlining business operations will help the organization thrive and maximize efficiency and profits.

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Afsaneh(Aram) Moradi

She was born in Sanandaj, Iran. After obtaining her LL.B in law and  B.A in Persian literature, she did her M.A in Persian literature. Also, Ms. Moradi has been certified in teaching Persian to non-native speakers.

and Occupation: University professor.
Scientific and research activities:
- The head of the White Justice magazine
- Author of academic sourcebooks:
* The book Rahavard Parsi
* the book  types of writing in public relations, media and ...
* the book New reporting
*Dictate (children's education book)