Islam and Sufism
Coordination: Rachida Chih
Associates: Fabio Ambrosio
Established in 2008, Islam and Sufism area continues and renews CETOBAC's long research tradition. In 1982, Alexandre Popovic (in collaboration with Marc Gaborieau) created the Peripheral Muslim World program, which carried out a vast study on sufism and the brotherhoods considering their historical depth and social rooting. Studies and working sessions on this subject generated publications which are at the forefront of the French research in this field:
- Popovic A., Veinstein G. (ed.), Les Ordres mystiques dans l’islam. Cheminements et situations actuelles, Paris, éd. de l’EHESS, 1986;
- Gaborieau M., Popovic A., Zarcone Th. (ed.), Naqshbandis, cheminements et situation actuelle d'un ordre mystique musulman, Istanbul-Paris, IFEA-Isis, 1990;
- Clayer N., Popovic A., Zarcone Th. (ed.), Melâmis-Bayrâmis. Études sur trois mouvements mystiques musulmans, Istanbul, Isis, 1998;
- Popovic A., Veinstein G. (ed.), Les Voies d’Allah. Les ordres mystiques dans le monde musulman des origines à aujourd’hui, Paris, Fayard, 1996.
Today CETOBAC's research on Islam covers the Ottoman Empire, Turkey, the Balkans, Central Asia and the Caucasus, and also includes Northern Iran and China, mostly from the 16th century onward. Yet history of Middle Ages is also covered by the works of Étienne de La Vaissière on the islamisation of Central Asia. Two of the CETOBAC's members coordinate seminars at EHESS: One on politics and authority in Southern and Central Asian Sufism (S. A. Dudoignon), and the other on history and anthropology of the Northern Islams (European Russia and Siberia, the Caucasus, Central Asia and China) (S. A. Dudoignon and A. Papas).
Islam and Sufism area aims at federating individual research in transversal and trans-disciplinary collective projects, with a historical and anthropological perspective and without any geographical restrictions. Two large projects are detailed in the CETOBAC's 2013-2018 research plan: The first one, on the prophet Muhammad and his community, has already started; the second one, on reformed Islam, will begin in 2016. Calls for proposals for both projects are open.
1. The prophet Muhammad and his community
This project focuses on the relation of the believers with the Prophet throughout history. It aims at proving that this relation depends on several — doctrinal, social, political — factors and is thus in constant change. We may assume that all Muslims acknowledge Muhammad's qualities of prophet, God's messenger, more excellent amongst the human beings, authority figure. Yet we are far from seeing all Muslims agree on Muhammad's timeless reality, on the degree of veneration and devotion owed to him, and on the practices illustrating the latter. Different forms of belonging to Islam imply different visions of the Prophet and relations of the believers with him. Nowadays the Muslim community is divided in regard to its relation with the Prophet. This division affects both Muslim countries and Islam in minority situations, in the Occident or elsewhere. The intensity of this division varies according to the components of each society and to how their evolution is conceived by the religious authorities.
This unique though multiple, unanimous yet not without conflict relation of Muslims with their Prophet is to be further studied by relating doctrine formulation to the extension of devotional practices. Also, appropriate research will be conducted on literary, musical and graphic manifestations of veneration and love of the Prophet. Anthropological, sociological and political sciences surveys will be carried out on different fields, both inside the Muslim world and in an older and more recent immigration context in France and in the rest of Europe. Apart from CETOBAC, the project also involves three other centres specialised in Islam and the Muslim societies: IISMM, Lem and Iremam. A monthly seminar will be given at IISMM from November 2015 onward and a closing conference will take place in 2017.
2. Reformed Islam. History, doctrine, geography
Coordinated by S. A. Dudoignon and R. Chih, this project will discuss reformed Islam through speeches, networks and practices, from the 18th century onward. Apart from establishing a much-needed typology of modern and contemporary "reforms" of Islam, this project will reassess historiographical issues, such as the rarely explicit parallel between Islam and reformed Christianism; reformed Islam as a Western or Soviet orientalist vision; some doctrinal features (relationship to the Occident and invention of the decay; more or less problematic relation to Sufism and Gnosticism; impact of the speeches and of their successive competing ways of dissemination; reformed Islam as an elit religious culture vs. popular Islam etc.); sociological features (city, suburbs and the countryside as cradles of reformed Islam; evolution and role of the figure of the religious, the scholar and the intellectual in the modern and contemporary eras; role of the modern and present-day Muslim bourgeoisies; relation to the state in a modernisation and neofondamental reject context; reformed Islam and "Muslim" feminism; the place of intellectual sociabilities etc.); anthropological aspects (mainly through the question of authority). This projects aims at sheding some light both on the transversal movements (new aproach of the tutelary figures) and the regional dimensions (throughout the Muslim world, diasporas and contemporary migrations). It will also try to enlarge its vision by a systematic comparison with modern and contemporary reform movements of other religious systems (Hinduism in West Bengal, Taoism in the big urban centres of the Chinese Pacific coast, etc.) which, similar to — sometimes in interaction with — Islam, have been faced with colonisation or Western domination. From November 2016 onward, a two-year fortnightly seminar will be given at EHESS. Special features will be published in culture and subject area periodicals and a collective reference volume is expected to be issued by 2018.
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