Memory and Media: Recreating a Sufi Subject in the Modern Nation State
Many young urban Muslims across the Muslim world have forgotten the devotional practices of their grandparents and associate “Sufism”— the spiritual or mystical side of Islam—with ignorance and superstition. But in recent decades Sufism has (problematically) been promoted as a peaceful antidote to the lure of Islamic reformism and extremism, bringing about a rediscovery of certain aspects of Sufism among educated youth in Northwest Africa. Sufi and anti-Sufi approaches to Islam compete for Muslim publics through an array of new media, and young people are as likely to learn how to practice their religion through these media as they are through their parents and local religious teachers.
I consider the effects of shifting government policies, modes of transmission, and organizational practices of Sufism on middle- and working-class subjectivities. Based on three years of team-based research on religious change which I have directed in Francophone northwest Africa (Morocco, Mauritania, and Senegal), I discuss our efforts to move away from the interview as an extraction of information toward the (re)training of a new generation of researchers to listen and interact in ways that open up memories and stories told from the interlocutor’s perspective. It is here, in these memories and stories, that the experience and dynamics of religious change can be glimpsed.
Image: Copyright © 2014. Fez Ria.
Read more about Katherine Ewing.