Dr Saeko Yazaki, Glasgow

Theology & Religious Studies

Funded September 2014.

Dismantling the East-West dichotomy? - The development of trans-traditional teaching of Sufism and Zen in Britain.

Despite the discourse on Islamophobia, Sufism appears to be accepted in Western society compared to other dimensions of Islam. Likewise, despite the recent incidents of Buddhist monks Saeko Yazakiattacking Muslims in Burma and Sri Lanka, Buddhism is generally considered to be a non-violent religion, and especially Zen teachings appeal to the popular spiritual movement in the West. In addition to this peace-loving image, the religious status of Sufism and Zen seems to be equivalent to Yoga in Hinduism; while Islamic and Buddhist aspects are not entirely neglected, they are not central. The esoteric teachings of Sufism/Zen are often regarded in the West as an alternative to conventional religious institutions and not incompatible with other belief systems. Many Sufi and Zen organisations in the UK have contributed to this image by focusing on humanity, peace and the universality of teachings. The planned project explores two little-studied areas: 1) a comparative analysis of the way in which Sufism and Zen were introduced to the Western society through four key figures, namely Inayat Khan and Idries Shah (Sufism), and Tenshin Okakura and Daisetz Suzuki (Zen); and 2) the development of Sufism and Zen in the UK as spirituality movements. Although Western Sufism and Buddhism are often considered to be unauthentic by their Eastern parents, an analysis of the trans-traditional approach in the UK problematises whether traditions are really necessary and, if so, to what extent they have to be Eastern.


Dr Saeko Yazaki (PhD, Edin.) is a lecturer at Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow. Her areas of research include mysticism and epistemology of religion, the Judaeo-Islamic tradition in al-Andalus, and their continuing relevance to the present. She is also pursuing a comparative study of monotheistic and non-monotheistic faiths, especially in relation to Sufism and Zen.

Carnegie Research Incentive Grants

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