From the Caspian Sea in the west to the Bay of Bengal in the east stretches a vast and undulating tract of the planetary crust marked by soaring peaks, scorched deserts, and fertile river valleys. In the Bronze Age, a migratory people known as the Arya swept into this expanse from the north, establishing the sibling civilizations of Aryana-Vaejah (Iran) and Bharata (India). In Iran arose Mazdaism; India gave rise to Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. In the seventh century C.E., Islam appeared in Arabia and began to spread eastward. By the High Middle Ages, the land of the Aryas was also the land of Islam.
Ideas do not occur in a vacuum, and spiritual ideas are no exception. Sacred visions emerge from the disposition of human personalities, from the shape of historical events, and from the momentum of hallowed customs, but perhaps most fundamentally (transcendental sources aside), they emerge from “airs, waters, and places,” from the character of the landscapes in which they are born.
So often has Islam been portrayed as an exclusively masculine, patriarchal faith that many have never suspected the central importance of the Feminine in Islam and would be astonished to realize that it has been there from the beginning. Perhaps in part due to the metaphysical interiority of the Feminine, this aspect of Islam has lived a largely hidden existence — but it is no less vital for that. In recent years there has been much discussion and controversy over how to reshape Christianity to include the Feminine on the divine level, but in Islam that has never been an issue, for the feminine element in Islam has always been present, especially in Sufism.
Although both masculine and feminine equally have their origin in the Divine, I would like to take a special look at the feminine in Islam to help redress the balance because the feminine side of Islam has been mostly overlooked so far. Moreover, in the sources of Islam and in the Sufi tradition growing from there, we find a distinct, explicit preference for the feminine aspect of Allah, especially the nature of ultimate Divine Reality as essentially feminine.
Can conscious experience—feelings, phenomenal qualia, our ‘inner life’—be accommodated within present-day science?
Those who believe it can (e.g. proponents of physicalism, reductionism, materialism, functionalism, computationalism) see conscious experience as an emergent property of complex computation in networks of brain neurons. In these approaches consciousness is viewed as a higher order effect emerging from lower level, non-conscious entities.
Others believe consciousness cannot be accommodated within present day or future science. Cartesian dualists see consciousness and physical matter as separate and irreconcilable. A modern version of dualism is ‘mysterianism,’ or cognitive closure, which suggests that consciousness exists within science but cannot be understood by conscious beings, and we should stop worrying about it.
A third set of philosophical positions ascribes to consciousness (or its precursors) ontological status as a foundational component of reality. These positions (e.g. panpsychism, pan-experientialism, idealism) relate consciousness to irreducible (‘funda-mental’) components of reality, something akin to mass, spin or charge. These views take consciousness to be present in low level entities, in which—on some readings—they inherently contain a phenomenal nature or subjective experience (qualia). Consciousness or its ‘proto-conscious’ precursors are thus somehow built into the structure of the universe—a view that we might label pan-protopsychism.
Be sure to check out John’s fantastic compilation: “A Treasury of Mystic Terms”
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