Reviewed by: Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Health
Secondary Theme: Materiality
This roundtable proposes to discuss Stefania Pandolfo’s groundbreaking new book Knot of the Soul: Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam (The University of Chicago Press, 2018) from a multiplicity of perspectives.
Drawing on two decades of ethnographic and historical research in Morocco, Knot of the Soul is at once a haunting ethnographic journey through of madness and contemporary psychopolitical despair, and a philosophical and theological exploration of the life of the psyche and the soul (in Arabic, nafs). A patient asks the ethnographer, “Do you know what madness is?” The question resonates through the book, from the experience of madness in a psychiatric hospital, to the torments of the soul and its imaginal transfigurations in a poor urban neighborhood, to the melancholy and rage of undocumented migration, culminating on the liturgical stage of the Qur’anic cure, and what Pandolfo presents as a “jurisprudence of the soul.” Showing how contemporary Islamic cures at once address and displace core preoccupations of the psychoanalytic approach, she ponders how a religious and ethical relation to the “ordeal” of madness might allow for spiritual transformation.
In doing so, the reader is made to traverse the worlds of contemporary Islamic jurisprudence, philosophy, Sufism, poetry, as well as healing and psychiatry, which, in Knot of the Soul, are worlds both disparate and interconnected. Of particular importance is the question of madness as it relates to understandings of the self, a question that engages complex theological as well as psychoanalytic debates. The book pushes the scope of the project of ethnography and the ethical imagination: how can the psyche and soul be understood anthropologically? Roundtable participants will reflect upon Knot of the Soul in light of their own research and expertise, including, on one side, the anthropology of Islam and the Islamic imagination, and, on the other, the anthropology of the psyche, healing and mental health. Yet, as Joan Copjec has written, Knot of the Soul “creates its own genre—not by mixing existing genres but by seeing beyond their divisions….” In a similar sense, the goal of this roundtable is to foster conversations across conceptual and methodological worlds, rather than simply comparing and contrasting them. As such, it will include discussions of spirits (jinn), religious jurisprudence, spiritual-psychiatric afflictions, (non)-understandings of the self, institutions of care, poetry as a device for ethnographic analysis, and more. As the project of ethnography continues to transform to encompass ever more holistic approaches as well as more elusive subject matter, Knot of the Soul finds itself at the forefront of the vanguard of such endeavors.