Northwestern University

May
15
Wed 12:00 PM

PAS L+L: Erin Pettigrew - To Invoke the Invisible: Islam, Spiritual Mediation and Social Change in the Sahara

When: Wednesday, May 15, 2019
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM  

Where: 620 Library Place, room 106, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Program of African Studies   847.491.7323

Group: Program of African Studies

Co-Sponsor(s):
Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA)

Category: Lectures & Meetings

Description:

To Invoke the Invisible: Islam, Spiritual Mediation and Social Change in the Sahara

Erin Pettigrew, History and Arab Crossroads Studies, NYU Abu Dhabi

Abstract

This talk focuses on invisible forces and entities – secret knowledge and spirits – to bring into view important social and political shifts in West Africa over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Situating this ethnographic history in what is today the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, the talk traces the changing roles of Muslim spiritual mediators and their Islamic “esoteric sciences”, with a focus on the colonial and post-colonial eras. These sciences and their experts have been part of a framework of therapeutic and protective practice attending to physical insecurity, social anxiety, and personal desires. Single women sought out the expertise of these Muslim spiritual mediators to ensure a timely marriage. Once married, they came to these specialists asking for numerological charts that would guarantee fertility and their husbands’ fidelity. Warriors and emirs rewarded these specialists in secret knowledge with herds of animals and promises of exemption from taxes usually paid for protection from raids. Families with a suddenly ill child summoned these spiritual mediators to diagnose and heal illnesses caused by jealous neighbors understood to harm through the evil eye or bloodsucking. These powerful sciences constitute a system of knowledge in response to the needs of its consumers, most often ensuring the health and welfare of local populations. Spiritual mediators invoked these divine forces in retribution for social wrongs, albeit less frequently. This Islamic esoteric knowledge could then be used both productively and destructively according to circumstance.

Bio

Erin Pettigrew is an assistant professor of History and Arab Crossroads Studies at NYU Abu Dhabi. Her research focuses on 19th and 20th century West Africa and histories of Islam, race, and healing in colonial and postcolonial contexts.

Her research has focused on invisible forces and entities – esoteric knowledge and spirits – to bring into view important social and political shifts in West Africa. Her book manuscript, To Invoke the Invisible: Islam, Spiritual Mediation, and Social Change in the Sahara, traces the shifting roles of Muslim spiritual mediators and their Islamic esoteric sciences in what is now the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Dr. Pettigrew has published in The Journal of African History, Mediterranean Politics, Islamic Africa, and the collected volume Politiques de la culture et cultures du politique dans l’ouest saharien.

As a Fulbright Post-Doctoral Scholar at l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (l'EHESS) in Paris during 2018-2019, Dr. Pettigrew is working on her second major research project which follows the history of the underground kadehiin political movement in Mauritania. Linked to larger Communist-Maoist political movements in the 1960s and 1970s, the kadehiin and its members constituted a rare moment of leftist and non-religious political influence in a thoroughly Muslim space.

 

This event is cosponsored by the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA).

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