Listening to places: A comparative study of Zen, Sufism, & cosmology

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Joanne P. Waghorne


Zen, Sufism, Place, Listening, Vibration, Cosmology

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Religion


This dissertation is a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary analysis of "place," especially with respect to comparative modes of listening. I orient my work around a 1923 meeting in San Francisco of the Japanese Zen Buddhist priest, Nyogen Senzaki, and the Indian Sufi mystic and musician, Hazrat Inayat Khan. I begin by examining the notion of what at first appears rather paradoxical--namely, Senzaki's original conception of what took place between he and Khan and its eventual publication under the title of "Mohammedan Zen." I engage recent topological studies in order to make sense of the surprising spatial analogies and cosmological metaphors used by Senzaki and Khan to articulate their mutual and provocatively displaced "senses of place" in the United States at the turn of the 20 th century. I then implicate Senzaki's Zen and Khan's Sufism in the wider methodological context of the comparative history and philosophy of religions and the "new places" fostered by rapid international globalization.

Furthermore, I explore the textual roots and ritual foundations of Zen and Sufism, and argue that they share certain aural traditions that help to facilitate their universal claims. I ferret out deeply emplaced Indian esotericisms in each case, and specifically the "Doctrine of Vibration" found in the Spanda school of Kashmiri Shaivism. I then establish acoustic and resonant links between Indian Tantra and the tensions created between both local and global conceptions of place within Japanese Zen and Indian Chishti thought and practice. I speculate upon how the "vibratory" worldview of ancient Shaivism might harmonize with 20th century modernity and the worldviews of current science, and inquire into how that might have helped foster Senzaki and Khan's receptions in and to the West. Finally, I build comparative, mandalic (relating to place), and mantric (relating to sound) cosmologies, finding striking familiarities between the Zen of Nyogen Senzaki, the Sufism of Inayat Khan, and the "string theory" of contemporary theoretical physics. In conclusion, I show how the inter-connected and inter-dependent places Senzaki and Khan continuously call "home" portray lyric relationships between persons, places, and sounds that cultivate a more ethical sense of global, rhythmic citizenship.


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