Skip to main content

Seeing like a Sufi: Vision and Place in Aşçı İbrahim Dede’s Memoirs

Cover image
Tuesday, January 24, 2023, 5:40 pm – 6:50 pm

Seeing like a Sufi: Vision and Place in Aşçı İbrahim Dede’s Memoirs  

What does it mean in practical terms to be attentive to the signs and manifestations of God in the self and the cosmos? How could the disclosures of God be seen and witnessed in people, places, landscapes, and nature? Does Sufism provide a framework for habituation into certain ways of spatial thinking, and seeing and experiencing places? And how does sight result in insight in concrete places and situations? By drawing on the conceptions of the self and cosmos in Sufism as sources of truth in addition to the Quran, my talk will address these questions by investigating the memoirs of Aşçı İbrahim Dede (1828-1910) who was an Ottoman official in state service and a dervish affiliated with both the Mevleviye and Nakşbendiye orders. His autobiographical account, covering his whole life from his childhood in Istanbul to his official posts in Erzurum, Erzincan, Damascus and Edirne, is a rich source in understanding the spatial and sensory dimensions of Sufism. It provides us with many examples of how and what a dervish saw as he moved both spiritually and physically. For Aşçı İbrahim Dede, as for most Sufis who liked to define themselves as “people of love” (ehl-i ‘ışk) and “truth seers” (hakîkat-bîn), seeing had something to do with love and truth-making. He builds his narrative as a transition from metaphorical love, that is, love between humans, to divine love, involving things on his Sufi path to gaze, to watch and contemplate, such as a delightful landscape or a beautiful youth. My talk aims to read his memoirs as love stories that are also spatial stories which present us certain ways of seeing, experiencing, and sensing; and to show how a Sufi’s visual and spatial perceptions were shaped by the unseen (bâtın).

You can attend the seminar either in person or via Zoom. 

Due to COVID regulations on campus, external guests need to register for events. If you are an external guest, please send an email to by January 23 at the latest. We will request a visitor card for you, which you can pick up from the reception desk when you arrive for the event on Tuesday.

If you plan to attend online, the zoom link:…

Meeting ID: 945 6267 3369

Passcode: 300652