One particularly influential strand of anthropological work on Islam has been that initiated by Talal Asad, studying Islam as a ‘discursive tradition.’ Taken up by a number of scholars (i.e. Saba Mahmood; Charles Hirschkind), this bourgeoning research programme has inquired into projects of self-formation engaged in by Muslims, particularly in so-called ‘piety movements.’ Ethical self-fashioning, piety and Islamic discursive tradition have become keywords in a flood of publications that seek to account for Muslims’ cultivation of moral selves.
This paper contributes to this research trajectory in anthropology that seeks to understand the ‘ordinary ethics of ordinary Muslims in ordinary times.’ To do so, however, I draw not on piety movements but on the study in Istanbul of an Islam-infused musical pedagogy and its morally transformative potential to shape participants’ subjectivities as Muslims. The paper’s analysis shows how, in contrast to Mahmood’s and Hirschkind’s findings, the ethical modifications enabled by the disciplinary practice examined here transcends the prescriptive discourses of a legalistic and ‘orthodox-izing’ Islamic epistemology that has been the privileged analytical focus of the research programme mentioned above. Through dialogue with the recent work of Islamic studies scholar Shahab Ahmed (2016), I argue that to better account for Muslims’ everyday ethics, the anthropology of Islam should talk less about ‘prescriptive’ Islamic discursive traditions and more about ‘explorative’ projects in Islam, which have also been long valued and valorized by Muslims historically.
About the Speaker
Dr Banu Senay is a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Macquarie University, Sydney. She has extensive research expertise in the areas of migration, transnationalism and diasporic politics, and is the author of Beyond Turkey’s Borders: Long-distance Kemalism, State Politics and the Turkish Diaspora (I.B.Tauris, 2013). Her current research on Islamic art pedagogies in Istanbul engages with recent debates in anthropology around ethics, self-formation, and Islamic cultural politics in contemporary Turkey.