Events & News | Perso-Indica


November 8th-9th 2023 - Conference
Ecoles des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales

The 7th Perso-Indica Conference

Yoga and Muslim Societies: Transregional Perspectives



While the practice of yoga and the production of texts and discourses on yoga in non-Hindu environments have been chiefly regarded as recent phenomena that spread from Western countries during 20th century and have now become a globalized trend, their roots go back to the premodern past. This conference aims to reconsider this issue by looking at the long-lasting interaction of Yoga and yogins with Muslim societies in a transregional perspective. The production of knowledge about yoga in Muslim environment is a multi-layered phenomenon that last over a millennium and includes multiple views and perspectives on yogins’ learning. From the Medieval period onward, an extensive number of texts dealing with Yoga and yogins - whether directly or obliquely - was written in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and other languages of the Muslim world. After al-Biruni’s (d. ca. 1050) Arabic translation of Patañjali’s Yogasūtra, many Persian texts dealing with Yoga and yogins are produced in South Asia until the 19th century for different groups of readers. These texts circulated also outside South Asia and some Sufis of the Ottoman world practiced methods drawn from them. In South Asia, the existence of Muslim sects of yogis was a rather widespread phenomenon until the colonial period. While these groups have been progressively marginalized in post-colonial South Asia, during the 20th century the practice of yoga has increased in other regions of the Muslim world and nowadays thousands of people and especially women practice Yoga in Muslim countries, from Turkey to Indonesia including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The conference aims to address these issues from different disciplinary perspectives, including textual and historical studies as well as anthropological and social research. Lectures should contribute to a better understanding of a series of key issues. What kind of Persian, Arabic, or other South and Southeast Asian vernacular texts dealt with Yoga and yogins and how forms of writing evolved from the Medieval period to the Colonial period? In which environment and for which readers these texts were produced? How knowledge was translated, and how did this translated knowledge shape the conceptual categories and the lexicon of the target culture used in the translation? Are pre-colonial contacts and contemporary trends discrete and disconnected phenomena? Or are they rather continuous trends in certain regions? How practice and views of yoga developed in contemporary Muslim societies outside South Asia, especially in the Middle East and Southeast Asia? Which are the features and readers of the new texts on yoga written in Turkish, Indonesian and other languages? Indonesia is probably nowadays the largest Muslim country for the practice of yoga that is also popular in neighbouring Malaysia; what has been the effect of the fatwas issued by Malaysian and Indonesian ulama to prevent Muslims from practicing non-bodily forms of yoga? Finally, how yoga developed in Hindu enclaves within predominantly Muslim countries? In the case of Bali, how new centres for the teaching of Yoga have been established in a multicultural environment that is not tightly connected with the Hindu environment of India?

Location and info


École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Centre de la Vieille Charité, 2 rue de la Charité, Marseille.


Fabrizio Speziale (EHESS) and Andrea Acri (EPHE)