Monday, February 16, 2009

Sacred Leaves Graduate Symposium

15 February 2009
US Fed News

The University of South Florida issued the following news release:

Religious writings through the ages reveal compelling and even startling ideas for today's believers and scholars, alike. An upcoming conference at the University of South Florida will delve into some of these ideas and show the similarities and differences between religions, the beauty and power of religious language, how religions borrowed from each other, the powerful role of women many hundreds of years ago and the important and permissible role of sexual and erotic themes in mystical literature.

While that's a tall order, USF Library's Third Annual Sacred Leaves Graduate Symposium running from Feb. 19 to 20, will deliver some of the nation's leading nationally and internationally recognized religious studies scholars exploring thought-provoking and sometimes controversial aspects of medieval religious development.

Under the heading "Comparative Mysticism of the Middle Ages, 1000-1600," this gathering of experts, scholars, students and interested individuals will cover a lot of territory. Topics range from Christian mystical texts, the Spanish Inquisition and women, Jewish mysticism, medieval holy men, mysticism and ethics, to Byzantine art, Sufi poetry's connection to French troubadour lyrics and more.

"The symposium is for everyone - from church-goers to the curious - who wants to understand how we all came to believe what we believe today," said Mark Greenberg, director, USF Special & Digital Collections and the Florida Studies Center. "There is a lot of fascinating knowledge to be shared and enjoyed."

The keynote address, sponsored by the USF Humanities Institute, will be delivered by distinguished religious scholar Michael Sells, John Henry Barrows Professor, University of Chicago Divinity School. His talk, "Mysticism, Longing and the Erotic in the Writings of 13th-Century Sufi Master Ibn al-Arabi," will take in mystical literature in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and provide a glimpse into the thinking behind the conference. It takes place Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. in the Gibbons Alumni Center's Traditions Hall.

"Michael Sells has written extensively in this area and is an expert on the Qur'an as well as Islamic love poetry," said Greenberg. "He is going to look at the love poetry of Ibn al-`Arabi, both on its own terms and as an opening to the wider role of sexual and erotic themes within the mystical literature of the period. He presents several of the short poems with Ibn al-`Arabi's Translation of Desires both as examples of two trends of classical Arabic love poetry - the Bedouin and the courtly - and as a core element in unfolding Sufi understanding of mystical union."

Presented by The Special and Digital Collections Department of the Tampa Library, there are six sessions in all, two on Thursday afternoon and the remaining four all day Friday. For the full schedule, visit or call (813) 974-2731 for more information.