Islamic Cosmopolitanisms, Diasporic Identities speaker series

11:30 AM  - 1:00 PM
Thursday Apr 13, 2017
Carnegie Hall 404

Join us for a talk by Professor Matt Rahaim titled, “Sufi Listening and Singing “Sufi:” Two Indian Worlds of Musical Self-Making.” This talk considers two extremes of Islamicate musical practice in India: esoteric Chishti gatherings-for-listening and exoteric, mass-mediated, popular “sufi” song. At a gathering-for-listening (mahfil-e sama), specially initiated Sufis listen to sung poetry, attuning themselves to its inner content according to secret teachings. This disciplined listening practice serves as a form of spiritual self-work, and some achieve exalted states of ecstasy in the course of such a gathering. Though the hereditary ritual singers (qawwāl-s) that perform at these gatherings are exquisitely trained, the spiritual burden falls on the listener to discern an esoteric message.


By contrast, over the last 20 years or so, a hugely popular vocal style called “sufi” has taken shape in the recording studios of Bombay. The spiritual rewards of “sufi” are attributed not to disciplined listening, but to the powerful voices of virtuosic singers, many of whom are Hindu. Most enthusiastic consumers of singing “sufi” are likewise secular, college-educated Hindu cosmopolitans drawn to an appealing metaphysics of unity available to anyone, seemingly free of the line between Hindu and Muslim that shapes communal identity politics in India. Advocates of singing “sufi” speak in vivid ethical and political terms about the power of this music--its “freedom” from communalism, its ethic of humanistic “unity” and, most tellingly, its “transcendence” of religion. Based on ethnographic work among both qawwāls and “sufi” singers, this talk examines the ethical friction between these two worlds, highlighting the political stakes of popular metaphysical figurations of freedom and universal love in a time of neoliberal economics and Hindu nationalism.

This event is for: Students, Staff and Faculty

Sponsored By: Anthropology, International Studies, Religious Studies, Middle Eastern Studies and Islamic Civilization

Categories: Front Page Events and Campus Events