Seeking the Meaning of Life: A Study of Islamic Mysticism in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Literary Works

Document Type : Research Paper


1 PhD. in English Literature, Kish International Campus, University of Tehran, Tehran, Kish, Iran

2 Professor, Faculty of Literature and Humanities, Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran



Ralph Waldo Emersonʼs interest in the East is evident throughout his essays, poems, and lectures. He regards the East as an ignored territory of knowledge and mysticism that contains invaluable wisdom awaiting to be explored by Western thinkers. As the world witnesses an ever-increasing gap between the East and the West, Emerson represents the universal way of thinking, as he believes in seeking knowledge in every part of the world and advocates it. Besides the direct quotations from eastern texts, Emerson seems to integrate some of his knowledge of eastern and especially Islamic writings into his texts. This article aims to explore the implicit references to Islamic philosophy and Sufism in Emersonʼs works, focusing on the theoretical notions of Ibn Arabiʼs theosophy. Through careful reading of Emersonʼs works and Islamic mystical texts, this study shows significant similarities between Emerson and Ibn Arabi. The similarities reflect Emersonʼs deep reading and understanding of the Islamic and mystical texts, as he finds out in them sources of new knowledge and spirituality. This article unravels such implicit connections in Emersonʼs works under the notions of the Unity of Being and Imagination to confirm that Emerson has read the great Persian theosophical literary works, and through them, especially through Hafiz and Rumi, he learned Ibn Arabi's theosophy, and used his in-depth knowledge of them to substantiate his ideas in his works.


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