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Prayer as a History

Of Witnesses, Martyrs, and Plural Pasts in Post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina

David Henig


This article explores how Muslims in Central Bosnia engage with the violent past through acts of prayer to make history. It traces two idioms expressed in prayers whereby Bosnian Muslims affectively apprehend, remember, and temporalize the past: witness (šahit) and martyr (šehit). These two idioms, I argue, allow Muslims to reanimate recent critical events as the realms of personal moral-cum-temporal orientations rather than unreflectively participating in an ongoing nationalization of the past in the public discourses. This article thus suggests to take seriously an act of prayer as a mode of historical consciousness—an assemblage of divergent sensibilities, materialities, practices, and ethical conduct—in order to develop a more nuanced perspective on the past as actively and ethically in-the-making in the present.

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Tracing creative moments

The emergence of translocal dervish cults in Bosnia-Herzegovina

David Henig

In postsocialist and postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, popular dervish cults are re-emerging after several decades of (semi)clandestine existence due to official bans and repression imposed by the Yugoslav state socialist governmentality. This article explores how an absence of divine knowledge ensuing from this disruptive history—strongly felt among various Bosnian dervishes today—is transformed into spiritual creativity and an improvisatory dynamic mediated by charismatic sheikhs. It traces “creative moments” leading toward the formation of a Bosnian dervish cult and its realignment with translocal networks of dervish lodges to explore the dynamics of divine knowledge and its creation inside these networks. The ethnography presented here suggests that we move a step beyond mere sociological descriptions of how translocal cults are organized across distance to explore in a more nuanced way the historicity and the dynamics of how divine knowledge is (re)created and idiosyncratically appropriated within these networks.

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Hospitality as Diplomacy in Post-Cosmopolitan Urban Spaces

Dervish Lodges and Sofra-Diplomacy in Post-War Bosnia-Herzegovina

David Henig

If the first step in developing an ethnography of everyday diplomacy requires re-scaling analytical focus on the forms of mediated exchange beyond the realm of the nation-state, this needs to be followed by an exploration of the ‘sites’ where everyday diplomacy actually takes place. One such ‘site’, which epitomizes the quintessence of diplomatic practice, is dining and commensality. By re-scaling this axiom beyond state-level diplomacy, I explore how the notion of sofra [table/dining etiquette] is deployed by a Muslim Dervish brotherhood in a post-cosmopolitan town in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina. I suggest that the notion of sofra embodies both a mode of being diplomatic as well as a site of everyday diplomacy. The sofra thus enables the brotherhood to stage ‘events of hospitality’ to forge and mediate relationships between various ‘others’, locally and transnationally.

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David Henig and Karolina Bielenin-Lenczowska

When Tone Bringa published Being Muslim the Bosnian Way in 1995, the book soon became the hallmark of anthropological studies of Islam in Southeast Europe. In the wake of the tragic events in Bosnia-Herzegovina ensuing from the breakdown of Yugoslavia, it provided much needed intimate insights into the complex entanglement of religion, politico-religious symbolism and identitarian politics in the wartorn country. Furthermore, it complicated the immediate proliferation of the ‘quick solution’ paradigms – clash of civilisations, or ‘old’ ethnic hatred – that had been adopted with ease by many international and local politicians, as well as by scholars working in the region, and that soon became the mainstream of academic discourse during and especially in the years after the war.

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Everyday Diplomacy

Introduction to Special Issue

Magnus Marsden, Diana Ibañez-Tirado, and David Henig

This article considers the relevance of an ethnographic approach towards the study of diplomacy. By drawing upon recent interdisciplinary developments we critically reassess the ongoing assumption that in the modern world diplomacy is separated from other domains of human life, and that the only actors authorized and able to conduct diplomacy are the nation-state’s representatives. Having outlined recent theoretical interventions concerning the turn towards the study of everyday, unofficial and grass-roots forms of diplomacy, the article suggests some of the ways in which ethnography can be deployed in order to understand how individuals and communities affected by geopolitical processes develop and pursue diplomatic modes of agency and ask how they relate to, evaluate and arbitrate between the geopolitical realms that affect their lives. In so doing, we propose an analytical heuristic – ‘everyday diplomacy’ – to attend to the ways individuals and communities engage with and influence decisions about world affairs.