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Ethnographies of Islam

Ritual Performances and Everyday Practices

Edited by Baudouin Dupret, Thomas Pierret, Paulo G. Pinto, Kathryn Spellman-Poots

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Published in Association with the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

Explores the impact of the ethnographic method on the representation of Islam in anthropology

This comparative approach to the various uses of the ethnographic method in research about Islam in anthropology and other social sciences is particularly relevant in the current climate. Political discourses and stereotypical media portrayals of Islam as a monolithic civilisation have prevented the emergence of cultural pluralism and individual freedom. Such discourses are countered by the contributors who show the diversity and plurality of Muslim societies and promote a reflection on how the ethnographic method allows the description, representation and analysis of the social and cultural complexity of Muslim societies in the discourse of anthropology.

Key Features

  • Shows the benefit of using ethnography as a method to engage with and relate to specific empirical realities
  • Includes case studies on rituals and symbols in Syria, Tunisia, Damascus, Algeria, Britain, Pakistan, Brazil and Lebanon
  • Covers practices such as veiling, students' religious practices, charitable activities, law, and scholarship in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Yemen


Introduction, Baudouin Dupret, Thomas Pierret, Paulo Pinto and Kathryn Spellman-Poots
Part One: Rituals and Symbols: 1. Black Magic, Divination and Remedial Reproductive Agency in Northern Pakistan, Emma Varley
2. Preparing for the Hajj in Contemporary Tunisia: Between Religious and Administrative Ritual, Katia Boissevain
3. 'There Used To Be Terrible Disbelief': Mourning and Social Change in Northern Syria, Katharina Lange
4. Manifestations of Ashura among Young British Shi'is , Kathryn Spellman-Poots
5. The Ma'ruf: An Ethnography of Ritual (South Algeria), Yazid Ben Hounet
6. The Sufi Ritual of the Darb al-Shish and the Ethnography of Religious Experience, Paulo G. Pinto
7. Preaching for Converts: Knowledge and Power in the Sunni Community in Rio de Janeiro, Gisele Fonseca Chagas
8. Worshipping the Martyr President: The Darih of Rafiq Hariri in Beirut, Ward Vloerberghs
9. Staging the Authority of the Ulama: The Celebration of the Mawlid in Urban Syria, Thomas Pierret
Part Two: Practices and Actions, Cedric Baylocq and Akila Drici-Bechikh
10. The Salafi and the Others: An Ethnography of Intracommunal Relations in French Islam, Cedric Baylocq and Akila Drici-Bechiki
11. Describing Religious Practices among University Students: A Case Study from the University of Jordan, Amman, Daniele Cantini
12. Referring to Islam in Mutual Teasing: Notes on an Encounter between Two Tanzanian Revivalists, Sigurd D'hondt
13. Salafis as Shaykhs: Othering the Pious in Cairo, Aymon Kreil
14. Ethics of Care, Politics of Solidarity: Islamic Charitable Organisations in Turkey, Hilal Alkan-Zeybek
15. Making Shari'a Alive: Court Practice under an Ethnographic Lens, Susanne Dahlgren
16. Referring to Islam as a Practice: Audiences, Relevancies and Language Games within the Egyptian Parliament, Enrique Klaus and Baudouin Dupret
17. Contesting Public Images of ‘Abd al-Halim Mahmud (1910-78): Who is an Authentic Scholar?, Hatsuki Aishima
Part Three: The Ethnography of History
18. Possessed of Documents: Hybrid Laws and Translated Texts in the Hadhrami Diaspora, Michael Gilsenan
About the Contributors

About the Author

Baudouin Dupret is educated in Law, Islamic Sciences and Political Sciences. He is Directeur de Recherche at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and was appointed in 2010 Director of the Centre Jacques-Berque in Rabat, Morocco. He is also lecturer in Islamic law at the universities of Louvain and Strasbourg. He has published extensively in the field of the sociology and anthropology of law, legislation and media, especially in the Middle East. His current work involves a praxiological approach to the production of truth in Arab contexts, including courts and parliaments, scientific expertise, the media, and religious education. He (co-)edited numerous volumes, the last one being Narratives of Truth in Islamic Law (Saqi books, 2008), and authored several single-authored books, e.g. Practices of Truth (Benjamins, 2011) and Adjudication in Action: An Ethnomethodology of Law, Moral and Justice (Ashgate, 2011).

Dr Thomas Pierret is Lecturer in Contemporary Islam at the University of Edinburgh, Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. He received his PhD in Political and social sciences from Sciences Po Paris and the University of Louvain. His areas of interest include the issue of religious authority in Muslim societies, Islamic movements, and the politics of the Middle East (in particular Syria). He is the author of Baas et Islam en Syrie. La dynastie Assad face aux oulémas (Paris: PUF, 2011).

Dr Paulo Pinto is Professor of Anthropology at Universidade Federal Fluminense in Brazil, where he is also the director of the Center for Middle East Studies. He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from Boston University. His areas of interest include embodiment and the construction of religious subjectivities, ethnicity and religious nationalism, and pilgrimage processes and the constitution of transnational religious arenas. He has done fieldwork in Syria, mainly in the Sufi communities in Aleppo and in the shrine of Sayda Zaynab, near Damascus, as well as in the in Muslim communities in Brazil. He published several articles on Sufism, Kurdish ethnicity, and Shi'i pilgrimage in contemporary Syria, and is the author of Árabes no Rio de Janeiro: Uma Identidade Plural (Rio de Janeiro: Ed. Cidade Viva, 2010) and Islã: Religião e Civilização, Uma Abordagem Antropológica (Aparecida: Ed. Santuário, 2010).

Kathryn Spellman Poots is Associate Professor at Aga Khan University's Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations in London and Visiting Associate Professor at Columbia University and Academic Program Director for the MA in Islamic Studies. Her research interests include Muslims in Europe and North America, the Iranian diaspora, transnational migration and gender studies.


A collective volume of rare intellectual and methodological coherence... This is a landmark volume that marks the coming of age for the study of Islam through ethnography.

- Nile Green, Anthropos
'The strength of this volume lies in its emphasis on the ethnographic method and the rich set of data it provides...a selection of some of the most intriguing papers is certainly recommended for an anthropology class on diverse Muslim societies.'
- Jens Kreinath, Wichita State University, Numen 63.1

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