The Role of Visions in Contemporary Egyptian Religious Life

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Visions play a pivotal role in the religious life of both major religious communities of Egypt, the Muslims and the Coptic Christians.1 These visions may take the form of dreams, appearances of light, or apparitions. Classifying dreams under the category of visionary experiences considerably extends the field of participants in what might otherwise be considered the preserve of the rare mystic, the type of person Maxime Rodinson described as ‘pathological’ and ‘exceptional,’ though, paradoxically, he also suggested that the ‘abnormal’ psyche is not far removed from the ‘normal.’2 Although William James had decried the ‘medical materialism’ which dismisses religious experience as symptoms of organic dysfunction, he too described the visionary experience as the preserve of eccentrics, of religious leaders subject to abnormal psychical visitations.3 The tendency of Western scholars is to see visionary experience as both rare and symptomatic of psychic imbalance. What is striking about the Egyptian case is the frequency with which visions occur—all kinds of visions—and not only with those whom we would characterize as unusual or psychically imbalanced. Another striking feature of visionary experiences among Egyptians is the similarity of the nature and significance of these experiences among the two major confessional communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-64
Number of pages20
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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