Is Wine-drinking a Sufi Symbol or a Political Gesture?

By: Ali Ferdowsi  

The issue of the determination of the proper loci of many practices that can be hyper-semiotized beyond the "properly religious" as such, like hijab, is now a debate that has crossed over into non-Muslim majority countries of Europe and North America. This is of course neither a purely Islamic phenomenon, nor merely restricted to hijab. It is an essential characteristic of all phenomena in so far as they can be hypersemiotized, that is take on multiple and even contradictory, and hence contested, significations. This paper aims to show that this kind of hyper-semiotization is not new, by showing a parallel debate about the dispositive of wine-drinking in 14th century Iran and Iraq. It explores the intersection of politics and courtly culture with Sufi poetry of the time to demonstrate this phenomenon. The dominant interpretation of Sufi poetry maintains that the function of such tropes as wine, the tavern, and the cup-bearer boy (shähid), is entirely intra-religious; that is, they are deployed as an elements of a high-intensity source domain to transfer an excess of jouissance to the target domain of religious experience. Without passing judgment on the long tradition of Sufi poetry, the paper argues that the dispositive of wine-drinking stood as a politico-ethical symbol in that age's struggle over politically-relevant cultural hegemony.

Hypersemiotization, Islam, Sufism, Symbolism, Poetry
The Politics of Religion
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Ali Ferdowsi

Professor, History & Political Science, Notre Dame de Namur University, United States
California, United States

Ali Ferdowsi holds a Ph.D. in socilogy from the University of Pennsylvania. He is now an Emeritus Professor in History and Political Science from Notre Dame de Namur University in California. Among the books he has translated into Persian is Spinoza's TTP. His recent publications include Hafez, Shmas al-Din, Ghazals from Hafez: The First Manuscript Transcribed During the Poet's Life, edited with an Introduction (2nd print, Tehran: Dibayeh, 2012), Intellectuals and the Public Space (3rd print, Tehran, Sherkat-e Sahami Enteshar, 2018).