Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Of interest to: Students
Primary Theme: Materiality
Secondary Theme: The Visual
Over the past three decades anthropologists of Islam have built productively on Talal Asad’s conception of Islam as a “discursive tradition” of both deliberation and discipline, interpretation and bodily practice. The resulting work has emphasized historical continuities as well as ruptures while asserting Islam’s profound misrecognition by Europe’s post-Enlightenment thought.
While learning from and building on this approach, the panel reconsiders Islam’s discursive traditions by exploring the dimension of the figural, in both Islamic and European thought, expanding and complicating ideas of both “discourse” and “tradition.” Drawing on media studies, literary theory, and psychoanalysis as much as Islamic jurisprudence, philosophy, and poetry, our resulting efforts locate the figural in Islam broadly across literary and artistic, but also juridical, ritual, psychic, and bodily terrains: as encounters with the Invisible (al-ghayb), in liturgy, or through the imaginal reality of jinn that portend madness or liberation from the temporal and spatial present; as inheritance and transmission of Islamic imaginaries that elude a reduction to identity; as pious embodiments undone by the gaze; as irruptions of the uncanny that both demand and defy reading; as literary and aesthetic figures that complicate the boundaries and definitions of discourse.
Our approaches vary in interpreting Islamic modernity, with some papers emphasizing historical ruptures and others deeper continuities on the midst of ruins—a tradition, enduring, asserted, and yet repeatedly undone. Collectively, however, our approaches aim to register rich expressions and stagings of alterity at the heart of Islam. Expanding on and bringing together the insight of both Talal Asad and Shahab Ahmed (2016), the panel’s interventions neither wish to recuperate the “everyday” Islam of impious Muslims, nor seek a counterpoint of the “scriptural” in “popular” traditions (of jinns, dreams, saint veneration, or Sufi poetics.) Instead, in investigating the figural in the discursive, we address spaces and conceptions of Islamic subjectivity and sociability that complicate, exceed, or evade the shared horizons of intelligibility and stable bodily and psychic substrates upon which theorizations of discourse often depend.