Book Launch: Ethnographies of Islam

News 2012

​A Timely Corrective to Common Perceptions of Islam and Muslims

September 27, 2012

​There was an enthusiastic turnout at the book launch for Ethnographies of Islam: Ritual Performances and Everyday Practices, edited by Baudouin Dupret, Thomas Pierret, Paulo G.Pinto and Kathryn Spellman-Poots, held at AKU-ISMC on Thursday 27th September.

Thomas Pierret, Paulo G. Pinto and Kathryn Spellman-Poots
AKU-ISMC Director, Dr Farouk Topan, gave the welcoming address and introduced Professor Sami Zubaida, Emeritus Professor of Politics and Sociology, Birkbeck, University of London, who chaired a panel featuring presentations by three of the editors – Thomas Pierret, Lecturer in Contemporary Islam at the University of Edinburgh, Paulo G. Pinto, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, Universidade Federal Fluminense, and Kathryn-Spellman-Poots, Associate Professor, AKU-ISMC. The university was especially delighted to welcome Professor Pinto who flew in from Brazil for the launch.

Speaking of the book’s relevance, Professor Zubaida said, “The ethnographic studies comprising this book are a timely corrective to common perceptions of Islam and Muslims in current public discourse as a unitary and uniform body. The ethnographies show the diversity of the ways in which the religion is lived in different contexts, times and places: not so much a unitary Islam, but a diversity of Muslims adapting and constructing elements of the common religious corpus to their particular social relations and beliefs. Religion is then seen in the references made to it in various cultural, political and legal contexts. This is an enlightening approach which yields many vivid portrayals of communities and cultures.”

Professor Spellman-Poots elaborated on the diversity explored in the volume, noting that topics included: the preparations for performing the Haj or pilgrimage to Mecca among Tunisians, the transformation of mourning and funeral practices in the Syrian countryside and a collective ritual prayer in Saharan Algeria.

Dr Pierret spoke about the process of preparing the book. “We started this project more than five years ago. It has been very challenging, in particular because it is not always easy to coordinate between so many people with different views and approaches,” he said.

The presentations were followed by a lively Question and Answer session with students, academics and invited guests asking penetrating questions relating to the core themes and aims of the book.

Kathryn Spellman-Poots, Paulo G. Pinto, Thomas Pierret and Sami Zubaida
Professor Pinto emphasised that the context for the book is not Islam but the importance of ethnography to the study of Islam. He explained: “The main focus of the book, which binds all articles together, is “ethnography” as an approach that engages the researcher in the contexts in which the practices, discourses and institutions are produced, and guides his/her understanding of them through the prism of the power relations, interactions, values and categories through which they emerge. In this sense, the main context, meaning the object of the book, is not Islam, which indicates the religious universe of reference of all empirical data in the various chapters, but rather ethnography, which is used by all authors in their research.”

The evening concluded with a reception and book signing.​