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Yannis Toussulis, Ph.D. is the primary successor of Mehmet Selim Ozic of Istanbul, and a traditionally authorized murshid in the lineage of Pir Nur al-Arabi, the Nuriyya-Malamiyya and an inheritor of six chains of transmission from the following Sufi Orders: Naqshbandi, Qadiri, Rifa'i Khalwati, Mawlawi, and Uwaysi. Dr. Toussulis is also the sole surviving successor of the late Hasan Sari Dede (d. 1997), a Qadiri-Rifa'i Shaykh and a great lover of Mawlana Jalauddin Rumi.
Author of Sufism and the Way of Blame: Hidden Sources of a Sacred Psychology (Quest Books, 2011), Dr. Toussulis serves as the spiritual director of the Itlaq Foundation which was named after the spiritual approach of Hasan Lutfi Susud, a malamati Sufi who influenced the later work of J.G. Bennett.
Dr. Toussulis' formal education includes an M.A. from Lone Mountain College in Existential Counseling Psychology (1977) and a Ph.D. in Psychology with an emphasis in human science research from Saybrook University (1997). Dr. Toussulis' doctoral thesis examined the faith experiences of a Sufi Shaykh, Hassidic Rabbi, and a Catholic monk while pioneering the use of Dr. Amedeo Giorgi's "empirical-phenomenological" method as applied to the psychology of religious experience. While at Saybrook University, Dr. Toussulis also studied hermeneutics and critical theory having been prompted to do so while serving briefly as a research design and program development specialist at The Sadat Peace Foundation between 1983-1984.
Both before and after receiving his doctorate, Dr. Toussulis taught graduate and undergraduate courses in psychology for over 35 years. Between 1975-1989 he taught graduate courses on psychology, religion and comparative mythology at Antioch University/West and directed its graduate program in Consciousness Studies. Alarmed by increasing conflicts between "Islam and the West," Dr. Toussulis served as an adjunct professor in cultural psychology at the Monterey Institute of International Studies between 1996-2008. While at that institution, he focused on the psychology of intercultural conflict and democratization processes throughout the greater Middle East.
During the same period, Dr. Toussulis was a key speaker at the UNDP's "Conference on Good Governance, Empowerment, and Participation." (2005), and he lectured on "Cross-Cultural Negotiation in Muslim Majority Nations at the Inaugural Conference of the Global Majority (2007). He was also a key presenter at "Religion and Society: A Dialogue Between Indonesia and the United States," a seminar co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and Legacy International. During the same time, he co-authored an article for the Journal of Policy Studies on "Religion and Conflict" which was subsequently published in the anthology, Islam and Tolerance in Wider Europe (Budapest: Open Society, 2007).
Dr. Toussulis attraction to Sufism resulted from his parental upbringing. Both sides of his family included ethnic Greeks from Anatolia, and he became fascinated with the Middle East in his childhood. His mother was born in Izmir and his father in Istanbul. The paternal side of Dr. Toussulis' family included Byzantine community leaders who served as functionaries in the Ottoman Empire after the fall of Constantinople. On his maternal side, the family originated in Cappadocia, a center of early Christian monasticism and qalandari Sufism in central Turkey. While first reading Idries Shah's The Sufis in 1968, Dr. Toussulis immediately recognized a familial resonance, and after a brief hiatus in which he studied the comparative practices of Advaita-Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism, Dr. Toussulis traveled to Turkey in i978 and met Hasan Lufi Susud who encouraged his further studies in Sufism.
Returning to the United States, Dr. Toussulis met and studied with Dr. Javad Nurbaksh. After spending two years with the latter as a novice dervish, Dr. Toussulis became the dedicated murid of a Syrian-born professor of international relations who was also a Rifa'i Shaykh. The latter (who shall remain unnamed) was associated with a circle of Qadiris, Naqshbandis, and Rifa'is in Damascus who focused on the study of Muhyiddin Ibn al-Arabi.
Having practiced with this Shaykh for eight years, Dr. Toussulis was instructed to work with tariqas arriving in the United States to help them to adjust to the cultural psychology of Americans. In 1991, as part of his preparation to fulfill this aim, Dr. Toussulis traveled to Turkey where he was appointed by the Board of Directors of the Ayni Ali Baba Tekke to serve as a khalifah of the Qadiri-Rifa'I Order in the United States. He served in that capacity for the next four years.
In 1995, Dr. Toussulis met his current Murshid, Mehmet Selim Ozic, and the latter advised him to step down as a formal Shaykh and work on a malamati (or "blameworthy") approach that was better adapted to a secular environment. This approach, which emanated from Pir Nur al-Arabi (d. 1878) was an Akbarian "school," which had undergone modernizing reforms after the formation of the Republic of Turkey.
As a result of his fifteen year old collaboration with Mehmet Selim Ozic, as well as his professional academic research and teaching, Dr. Toussulis restricted his activities as a murshid to a small circle of students in the greater Bay Area and in Istanbul. The focus of this pilot group was to gradually synthesize the findings of human science with those of the classical Sufi tradition and to offer that combined approach to those who were best suited for it.
While focusing on the Akbarian tradition of Ibn 'Arabi, Dr. Toussulis discovered that the methods used by malamatis in Turkey and the Balkans were directly derived from the Khwajagan-Naqshbandiyya of Central Asia. This hypothesis had already been proposed by Hasan Lutfi Susud, but Dr. Toussulis wished to confirm it for himself. Conducted with the help of Robert "Abdul Hayy" Darr, the resulting research which confirmed this hypothesis is presented in Dr. Toussulis' book, Sufism and the Way of Blame.
While focusing on the methods of the malamatiyya who were influenced by the Khwajagan, Dr. Toussulis co-developed a streamlined approach to Sufism with Mehmet Selim Ozic. This approach combines the insights of Western psychology with "bare-bones" Sufism. Although seemingly novel, Dr. Toussulis stresses that his work is a continuation of the two hundred year old legacy that was passed down from Pir Nur al-Arabi, through Hadji Maksoud Pristinevi, to Hasan Lutfi Susud, and thence to Mehmet Sadettin Bilginer and Mehmet Selim Ozic. The combined legacy of these murshidun, moreover, link back to the earlier malamatis of Anatolia, Central Asia, and ninth century Khorasan.
Dr. Toussulis maintains that classical Sufism is a dynamic and unfolding tradition that is capable of adapting to conditions of globalization and "post-modernity" without losing its inner substance. His next book will be dedicated to exploring that approach in detail. In the meantime, Dr. Toussulis continues to conduct a part-time practice in family psychotherapy (MFT #11962) as well as working as a lecturer and occasional adjunct professor. Several of his earlier articles on Sufism were featured in Gnosis Magazine in the late 1980s and early 90s during which time he lectured at the Egyptian Scientific Society in Cairo and the International Association of Sufism's Annual Symposium.
Sufism and the Way of Blame: Hidden Sources of a Sacred Psychology
Author/Artist: Yannis Toussulis
Publisher: Quest Books
First published: 2011
This is a definitive book on the Sufi “way of blame” that addresses the cultural life of Sufism in its entirety. Originating in ninth-century Persia, the “way of blame” (Arab. malamatiyya) is a little-known tradition within larger Sufism that focused on the psychology of egoism and engaged in self-critique. Later, the term referred to those Sufis who shunned Islamic literalism and formalism, thus being worthy of “blame.” Yannis Toussulis may be the first to explore the relation between this controversial movement and the larger tradition of Sufism, as well as between Sufism and Islam generally, throughout history to the present. Both a Western professor of the psychology of religion and a Sufi practitioner, Toussulis has studied malamatiyya for over a decade. Explaining Sufism as a lifelong practice to become a “perfect mirror in which God contemplates Himself,” he draws on and critiques contemporary interpretations by G. I Gurdjieff, J. G. Bennett, and Idries Shah, as well as on Frithjof Schuon, Martin Lings, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. He also contributes personal research conducted with one of the last living representatives of the way of blame in Turkey today, Mehmet Selim Ozic.
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