PROFile: William Rory Dickson

Assistant Professor, Religion and Culture

Photo by Danelle Granger

Professor William Rory Dickson began teaching at the University of Winnipeg in 2015 in the Religion and Culture Department. Dickson specializes in teaching  Islamic religion and culture.

Dickson and co-author Dr. Meena Sharify-Funk are having a launch on Thursday, March 15 for their new book Unveiling Sufism From Manhattan to Mecca.

“That’s our attempt to answer that question – what is Sufism? I think what’s interesting about Sufism … you could say it’s a form of Islamic mysticism or Islamic spirituality,” Dickson says. “It’s a mystical approach within the tradition that tends to emphasize things like love, relating to God and the universe and others based on the principle of love.”

Dickson says one thing he learned from working on this 10-year-long project was the multidimensionality of Sufism.

“It’s really a phenomenon that has many dimensions. Sufism has also been involved in various political situations, so one of the things we tried to do in the book was, in each chapter, describe Sufism in relationship to politics, in relationship to philosophy and art and culture,” he says. “We wanted to give the reader a sense of these many dimension this tradition has manifested with.”

Dickson says Sufism is commonly associated with the 13th century Persian Muslim poet Rumi.

“Those of us who study the subject, at least most of us are, are pleased to see that Beyoncé and Jay-Z  just named one of their twins Rumi after the Sufi poet … Rumi is someone that’s become a pop culture phenomenon and an example of Sufi poetry that’s become popularized,” he says.

“At a time like this, when we are seeing Islamophobia become a really dangerous problem where people are reducing Islam to one particular political expression or ideology, they’re reducing it to the extreme acts of a small minority within the tradition.”

Dickson says publishing a book with this content is a way to look at the “amazingly rich tradition of love, poetry, spirituality, fantastic architecture, art and calligraphy” found in Islam.

“Islam is such a rich tradition culturally, and all of those things get missed when we focus on particular conflicts. I like to say there’s a profound romanticizing in the Islamic tradition,” he says.

What’s your favourite thing about yourself? I’m going to say this kind of ironically. My favourite thing about myself is that my friends feel comfortable roasting me relentlessly. I can’t explain it, but every single friend I make, or every friend group I’ve had at some point, gets into a year- or two-year-long roast, and so I don’t know, I’m going to say I take it as a compliment and be like yes, people are comfortable roasting me relentlessly.

Published in Volume 72, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 15, 2018)

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