'The Conference of the Birds' by Farīd al-dīn ʿAttar

Course details

From £205.00
10 CATS points

03 Oct 2018 - 05 Dec 2018
Day of week

'The Conference of the Birds' by Farīd al-dīn ʿAttar


‘Conference of the Birds’ (Mantiq al-Ṭayr) by Farīd al-dīn ʿAttar (d.1221) is considered a masterpiece of Persian poetry. It is also one of the great mystical texts of the world, continuing to inspire artists and spiritual seekers in both the East and the West since it was written in the 13th century. As such, it provides an excellent introduction to underlying themes and principles of Islamic spirituality and mysticism.

The poem takes the form of an extended allegory in which a group of birds, (each representing a different aspect of human spirituality) set off on an epic journey to find their ruler, the fabulous Simorgh who dwells in Mount Qaf. They are led by the hoopoe, the messenger of love, who helps them overcome the interior obstacles hindering their progress and guides them through the dangers of the way.

On the course, we will read the whole poem together in the modern English translation by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davies (Penguin, 2011).  It is a very accessible text, full of conversations and stories, and the main aim will be to explore its relevance to our lives and aspirations today. No previous knowledge of Islamic mysticism or Persian literature is required. There is a rich heritage of art associated with the poem, which was a popular topic in the great age of Islamic book illustration (miniatures), and this will be explored alongside the readings.

Programme details

Term Starts:   3rd October     


Week 1:          Introduction/Prologue

Week 2:          The Birds Gather

Week 3:          The Birds make excuses

Week 4:          The Story of Shaykh San'an

Week 5:          The Birds set  off/ express their doubts

Week 6:          The Birds continue to ask for advice

Week 7:          The first five valleys

Week 8:          The last two valleys and arrival

Week 9:          Epilogue

Week 10:        Final Reflections


Background Reading List

Darbandi and Davies., The Conference of the Birds (Penguin, 2011)

Carl W. Ernst., An Introduction to the Mystical Tradition of Islam (Shambala, 2011)


If you are planning to purchase books, remember that courses with too few students enrolled will be cancelled. The Department accepts no responsibility for books bought in anticipation of a course.

If you have enrolled on a course starting in the autumn, you can become a borrowing member of the Rewley House library from 1st September and we will try to ensure that as many titles as possible are available in the Library by the start of each term. If you are enrolled on a course starting in other terms, you can become a borrowing member once the previous term has ended.

Recommended reading

All weekly class students may become borrowing members of the Rewley House Continuing Education Library for the duration of their course. Prospective students whose courses have not yet started are welcome to use the Library for reference. More information can be found on the Library website.

There is a Guide for Weekly Class students which will give you further information. 

Availability of titles on the reading list (below) can be checked on SOLO, the library catalogue.

Recommended Reading List


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from between January 1st and July 31st after the current academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Course fee: £205.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00


Mrs Jane Clark

Jane Clark has been studying Islamic Mysticism for more than forty years. She is a Senior Research Fellow for  the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, and has taught many courses at OUDCE.

Mr Ufuk Ozturk

Ufuk Ozturk is currently doing a PhD on the mystical thought of 'Attar.

Course aims

To explore the main themes of the poem, the underlying metaphysical principles and its relevance to our present-day  aspirations.

Course Objectives

• To understand the main themes and Sufi principles embodied in the poem

• To gain knowledge of the intellectual and cultural melieu in which the poem was written

• To explore through discussion and presentations the way in which we might transfer these principles to our own lives.

Teaching methods

The main focus will be on group discussion and student participation. Tutors will give short presentations to clarify content and give an outline of  cultural context.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

* Be familiar with the whole text of the poem in the Engiish translation

• To have gained understanding of the key principles of the Islamic spiritual tradition

• To have reflected upon the relevance of these teachings to our present day lives

Assessment methods

• Option A; a portfolio of three pieces of work, which can include a presentation

• Option B: an essay of up to 1.500 words

• A Reflective diary

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)