I’ve just read an excellent new book, Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination, by Amira Mittermaier (University of California Press, 2011). The following two paragraphs are from a review that will appear in the next issue of the IASD magazine Dream Time.
Important new books on dreams and Islam have been coming out faster than this reviewer can keep up with them. In the last issue of Dream Time I wrote about Iain Edgar’s The Dream in Islam: From Qur’anic Tradition to Jihadist Inspiration. In this issue I review Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination by Amira Mittermaier, an Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Toronto. Mittermaier’s work won the American Academy of Religion’s 2011 book award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the Analytic-Descriptive Category. Based on her dissertation fieldwork, the book explores the lively yet hotly contested terrain of dreaming in contemporary Egypt. Whereas Edgar’s work takes a broad historical view of dreaming in Islam and then focuses on a particular type of dream experience (jihadist inspiration dreams), Mittermaier’s approach is to delve deeply into the ethnographic details of particular people’s lives in Egyptian culture and then open the discussion to broader issues and debates in Islamic teachings about dreams, revelation, and the imagination.
Mittermaier brings a unique personal background to her research topic. She was raised in Bavaria by a German father who was a neurologist and by an Egyptian mother who was a Jungian psychotherapist. Her upbringing gave her a deep familiarity with the ideas of Freud and Jung—and a conviction that the individual-centered theories of psychoanalysis were missing something important about the transpersonal dimensions of dreaming: “Intrigued by this apparent tension between Elsewhere-oriented and psychoanalytic dream models, I wanted to explore what it means for dreamers in the world today to be extended outward as opposed to inward.” (14)
I’ll post the rest of the review once the Dream Time issue appears, some time in the next few weeks.
At a time when Christianity and Islam appear to be mortal enemies locked in an increasingly bloody “clash of civilizations,” new insights are needed to promote better mutual understanding of the two traditions’ shared values. Dreaming in Christianity and Islam: Culture, Conflict, and Creativity (edited by Kelly Bulkeley, Kate Adams, and Patricia M. Davis (Rutgers University Press, 2009) provides exactly that. This new book is a collection of articles by international scholars who illuminate the influential role of dreaming in both Christianity and Islam, from the very origins of those traditions up to the present-day practices of contemporary believers.
Dreams have been a powerful source of revelation, guidance, and healing for generations of Christians and Muslims. Dreams have also been an accurate gauge of the most challenging conflicts facing each tradition. Dreaming in Christianity and Islam is the first book to tell the story of dreaming in these two major world religions, documenting the wide-ranging impact of dreams on their sacred texts, mystical experiences, therapeutic practices, and doctrinal controversies.
The book presents a wealth of evidence to advance a simple but, in the contemporary historical moment, radical argument: Christians and Muslims share a common psychospiritual grounding in the dreaming imagination. While careful, sustained attention will be given to the significant differences between the two traditions, the overall emphasis of the book is on the shared religious, psychological, and social qualities of their dream experiences.
Throughout their respective histories Christians and Muslims have turned to dreams for creative responses to their most urgent crises and concerns. In this book the contributors apply that same imaginative resource to the current conflict between the two traditions, seeking in the depths of dreaming new creative responses to the global crisis of religious misunderstanding and fearful hostility. Included in the book are chapters on dreams in the Bible and Qur’an; on the early history of Christian and Muslim beliefs about dreaming; on religious practices of dream interpretation; on the dreams of children, women, college students, and prison inmates; and on the use of dreams in healing, caregiving, and creative adaptation to waking problems.