Reading and responding to Knot of the Soul deeply signifies a longstanding dialogue with my friend and interlocutor Stefania Pandolfo. For a decade now, we have discussed our shared interest in questions centered around ʿilm al-nafs—the “science of the soul.” What does it mean to talk about a “science of the soul,” both in its historical and ethnographic instantiations? Can the topographies of the nafs (soul, spirit, psyche) be considered and compared across diverse discursive traditions and intellectual formations? If my work unearths a genealogical connection between the Islamic concept of al-la-shuʿur (an unknown-known) and the Freudian notion of the unconscious, Pandolfo’s work explores a tradition of Islamic therapeutic practice that is convivial with the unconscious. If the nafs is, within this tradition, a space where the Divine can be manifested, then it is also a space for the potential transformation of the soul. What is this space of transformation within Islamic practice and does it find echoes in the psychoanalytic space of the clinic? Crucially, such questions are not merely academic but concern how we engage psychoanalysis in our own lives.
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