It is a great honor to have been invited to deliver this year's Rappaport Lecture. I follow in the footsteps of scholars I greatly admire, and yet I am addressing you at a completely different moment than previous speakers in this series. Since the last SAR meeting in May 2019, the world has changed drastically. We are all living through a global pandemic, and I assume we have all been faced with mortality in new ways—with the human condition of vulnerability but also with an overwhelming sense of how unequally that vulnerability is distributed. Add to that the climate change about which we have rightly been instructed to panic.1 Add the issues of white supremacy and police brutality catapulted into public consciousness by the Black Lives Matter movement, the gender-based violence fought against by the Ni Una Más movement in Latin America, and ongoing manifestations of settler-colonial violence, including at this very moment in Gaza. Add the ongoing effects of an extractive capitalism that dooms people around the globe to a life in precarity. This is, without doubt, a moment of crisis. And at least partially, I imagine, it is this sense of crisis that inspired the organizers of this year's conference—titled “From Ethics to Politics”—to put politics at the center.
I want to respond to this sense of urgency by calling for a ‘decentering’ of the human. A human horizon is insufficient for addressing the multiple crises we are facing—crises that work on different scales, from the microscopic through the systemic to the planetary. In asking us to decenter the human, I join others who have sought to undo an anthropocentric worldview, for instance, through multi-species work or indigenous environmental philosophies. I want to consider the possibilities and limits of such a move in the study of religion, and to this end I turn to the figure of God.2 As we will see, taking God as a decentering device is quite different from grappling with mushrooms or trees, or even spirits and ghosts. Nevertheless, I think the time is ripe to consider the possible openings, along with the challenges, of such a move in our field. More specifically, I want to offer three suggestions.
First (and this is my key point), it is time to move beyond the human horizon that has historically delimited the anthropology of religion. By ‘human horizon’, I mean the analytical and ethnographic frameworks that seal off the visible, material, and worldly from the invisible, immaterial, and other-worldly. In my subfield, the anthropology of Islam, staying within the human horizon has more specifically meant writing out God. Second, we must consider the epistemological stakes of this move. Bringing God and other more-than-human beings into the picture does not necessarily mean that we are introducing fixed truth claims. We can make space for alterity without claiming to capture, understand, or accommodate it fully. In fact, a serious ethnographic engagement with God would do precisely that—welcome unknowability into our work. Third, there are methodological stakes to consider. A reorientation beyond the human horizon is not just a matter of fieldwork and theorizing. It is also a matter of ethnographic writing.
In unpacking these three points, I will draw on my research in Egypt and more specifically on my current project, which I call an ‘ethnography of God’. Simply put, my aspiration to write an ethnography of God grew out of two observations: how central God is to my Muslim interlocutors, and how absent God is from the anthropology of Islam—a point also noted by Samuli Schielke (2019: 2) who suggests that it “is easier to talk about religion than about God when secularism is the hegemonic political framework.”3 For me, thinking about this disconnect has meant turning to a body of literature that explores the borderland between theology and anthropology, and it has meant thinking about ethnographic writing. I will return to both of these points shortly, but first let me address more directly the conference theme “From Ethics to Politics.”
From Ethics to Politics
Anthropologists working on religion have brought politics to the foreground in different ways. One way has been to highlight the latent political stakes in practices that are not manifestly political. The women in Saba Mahmood's (2004) work on the Islamic Revival do not engage institutions commonly associated with politics. But their self-cultivation practices, Mahmood argues, are not merely ethical; rather, they are also political precisely because the very distinction between ethics and politics is a secular construct. In my own work on an Islamic ethics of giving, Giving to God: Islamic Charity in Revolutionary Times (Mittermaier 2019), seemingly apolitical charitable practices are put into direct conversation with the Egyptian revolutionaries’ call for social justice. I emphasize what these practices do in this world even as they are oriented toward the other-worldly. I note that the desire for paradise drives pious volunteers deep into Cairo's slums, bringing them face to face with poverty. Again, the move here is to say, it might look apolitical, but it has political implications. What is tricky about this move is that the anthropologist acts as an interpreter and risks obscuring what might be most important about these practices to those undertaking them.4 My interlocutors often answered my politics-focused questions with disapproval, disinterest, or a sigh or frown—gentle reminders of my still-too-limited horizon, one more interested in utopian aspirations than the afterlife. Calling something ‘political’, then, is not necessarily a redemptive move but can also be a mistranslation, a failure to take something seriously on its own terms—or, one could even say, it is extractive, instrumentalizing, an act of epistemic violence.
A second way that anthropologists of religion have brought politics to the foreground has been to direct our attention to manifestly political objects. To think ‘religion’ together with climate change, indigenous-settler relations, or white supremacy. To zoom in on liberation theology, or feminist, queer, or black theologies—what McAllister and Napolitano (2019; 2020: 4) refer to as a “God otherwise” theopolitics. In other words, to examine when and where religion speaks back to power. Such works are timely and important.5 They lay open how, in one and the same community or tradition, oppressive and liberatory impulses can co-exist—how, in other words, religion is always already entangled with power and politics.
And then there is a third way, and it is this way that I want to foreground here. This way consists of critically examining our horizons, including the secular underpinnings of anthropology. It invites us to ask ourselves what we are prepared to register as mattering, and what we are not. In Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination, I suggest that a “serious engagement with other imaginations … is itself a political act” (Mittermaier 2011: 20) because it challenges us to shift our frame from material realities to the emergent, the possible, the prophetic or visionary. Admittedly, this move too runs the risk of being self-serving: engaging with their dreams to enrich our thinking and being. Foregrounding the invisible is also not in tune with what all my interlocutors would prioritize. A 20-year-old woman in Cairo (from a Coptic family but herself agnostic) told me a couple of years ago that she enjoyed my book on dreams and liked being pushed to think about the invisible. Ultimately, though, she felt that, given the political situation in Egypt, her generation would be better off paying attention to the here and now, not an other-worldly Elsewhere. I appreciate this pushback, but still believe that a critical look at our horizons is urgently needed. In fact, I question my earlier choice to justify an engagement with Islamic modes of the imagination on the grounds of it being a ‘political act’. I now think that we should be careful not to jump to the political as the one and only frame of relevance. Equating ‘the political’ with ‘all that matters’ can stand in the way of true listening.
I am aware that decentering the human has the capacity to pull out the rug from under politics. I am also aware that dismantling the political does not sit well with our discipline's current decolonial turn. But without undermining ongoing struggles for justice and equality, I want to add another perspective. I am on board with Ryan Cecil Jobson's (2020) assessment that we need to move beyond a liberal humanism, but I do not think that a Fanon-inspired radical humanism is the only place to go from here. Instead, I want to invite us to decenter the human even more fundamentally. Here a figure like God can help. Just as dream-stories direct our attention to the invisible, more-than-human figures can destabilize our anthropocentrism, in which the human is the ultimate ground of all that matters. It is harder to write an ethnographic account of God than it is of dreams. But to me, based on my work in different Muslim communities in Egypt, an ethnographic grappling with God is in line with Audra Simpson's (2007: 68) demand that we should remain committed to what people say, rather than “writing away from and to dominant forms of knowing.” For many researchers, this commitment has meant shifting from conventional ethnography to participatory action research (PAR). For me, it means letting a theistic world inflect my writing and analysis.
My interlocutors’ God-centered world stands in tension with a humanist world, in which the human or ‘man’ is the author and end of all actions (Mahmood 2018), and which operates within a secular horizon (Taylor 2007). A number of anthropologists have reflected on this horizon's impact on our discipline. In his recent autobiographical reflections, Talal Asad (2020: 3) says that he considers his earlier (Marxist-inspired) work a “failure” because its focus on economy, politics, and history meant foregrounding “a priori secular categories.”6 Joel Robbins (2020: 156) speaks of anthropology's “blindness to its own secular constitution,” and Yasmin Moll (2018: 257) notes that, “even when we [anthropologists] question secular suppositions, we only do so from the secular presupposition of divinity as unnecessary to the labor of analysis.” Moll points out that for theologians, by contrast, there is “little room for indifference to the ontological status of God” (ibid). According to these interventions, a humanist or secular horizon contains and restrains our analytical efforts.
But is this impasse necessarily the end of the story? On one side are believers who insist on God's ontological realness. On the other side are anthropologists blinded by their secular worldview, condemned to an ‘anthropological atheism’ (Ewing 1994), and by definition unable to take a figure like God seriously.7 I think there are other possibilities—which explains my very project of an ethnography of God, a project that paradoxically and maybe optimistically claims a space for God in ethnography.
Here I want to turn to the phrase Allāhu akbar as a prompt for thinking beyond the human horizon. Allāhu akbar means ‘God is greater’, or ‘God is the greatest’. The phrase appears frequently in media coverage of Muslim terrorist attacks.8 But it also opens the call to prayer and is used in daily Muslim prayer. My Muslim interlocutors inhabit not only a world that includes God, but one in which God is greater. I want to grapple with this greater god as an anthropologist. Including God in my ethnographic and analytical frame stems directly from listening to my interlocutors and taking seriously what they tell me. But I also believe something could in fact be learned from a world in which the human is decentered and made smaller. My interlocutors’ god is good at putting humans in their place. This decentering works for them as believers, but I think we can also invite it into anthropology regardless of our own beliefs. As such, taking my interlocutors seriously for me also means taking God seriously—in and through ethnography.9
The Allāhu akbar posits God differently from the God-as-buddy that Tanya Luhrmann (2012) describes in her work on North American Christians, and it stands in tension with the God-as-friend discourse that Muslim televangelist preachers promote in Egypt (Moll 2012). The Allāhu akbar invites us to reflect precisely on a relationship of unevenness, incomparability, incommensurability: a relation with a god who, to a believer, is greater than anything in the universe, more important (at least in theory) than your job, wealth, family, or even your life, something that exceeds human knowledge, imagination, and comprehension. This incommensurability has real implications, including ones that affect the areas we tend to call ‘ethics’ and ‘politics’. Let me offer a brief scene to illustrate what I mean. It is a difficult scene that I nevertheless invite you to sit with as I have sat with it.
A young boy spends an entire week in bed. The boy is originally from Egypt but is growing up in Saudi Arabia. He is feeling sick to his stomach. He has witnessed a public execution in an urban square. It was hard to watch; it turned his stomach and made him want to hide. Many years later, now a grown man and a pious Muslim, he will tell me about this experience, about that little boy hiding in bed. But instead of using the boy's visceral reaction as a litmus test, instead of questioning the justice of public executions, or the death penalty more broadly, and instead of questioning the Saudi state's claim to an Islamic identity, he says: “Allāhu a‘lam, God knows best.” It is not that the man does not have empathy for the little boy he once was; it was hard, he admits. But this, to his mind, does not mean that the Saudi state's enactment of divine law was wrong. In his telling, he decenters the little boy, as well as the broader idea of the human conscience or our gut feelings as a moral compass. Looking back to the little boy hiding in bed, he insists on the unquestionability of divine law. Even if it did not feel right. Even if we do not understand. Because God is greater.
Much could be said about this scene. We could talk about the ways in which submitting to God here morphs into the unquestioned acceptance of worldly authority. We could talk about how the belief in a greater god seems to settle moral dilemmas. We could talk about the entanglements between religion, state, and violence. And yet, I want to suggest that we refrain from jumping to interpretations that tame the scene and render it comprehensible. I want us to sit with the challenge of Allāhu akbar. What interests me about the scene is the idea that one's innermost reactions and feelings might be too limited to get the bigger picture. This is very different from a modern secular subject being told to search for, cultivate, and trust her innermost core as a source of truth. It is different from hopeful accounts of a pluralist post-secular public sphere in which our shared viscerality constitutes a common ground (e.g., Connolly 1999, 2005). What the story of the boy-turned-man shows is a self already decentered, already disrupted, already not fully trusted, already smaller.
I could tell many other stories to sketch the meanings of Allāhu akbar. One could say that these stories express an ethical and political stance—but notably they also bracket or defer moral and political judgment. When faced with what seems like a grave sin, my interlocutors might say, “It's not for humans to judge; only God can judge.” Or, having fallen victim to an injustice, they might say, “In the end, God will hold everyone accountable.” The evocation of yā rabb, o Lord, or simply Allāh, in moments of crisis or exhaustion is a repositioning of the here and now within a bigger frame. In all these cases, God is greater. Greater than human reason, gut feelings, the law, morality, or politics. Which is not to say that God-imaginaries do not also have political implications, or that they do not do lots of things that deserve the label ‘political’, including, in my example, a state's infliction of violence.
Robert Orsi (2016) encourages us to think of religion as a web of relationships—including relations to invisible Others. Like Dipesh Chakrabarty (2000), he notes history's inability to deal with gods and spirits. If we start from a premise of absence, he argues, we cannot but reduce divine disruptions to social, political, psychological, or economic causes. For Orsi, such disruptions can also have to do with the social, political, psychological, or economic, but these realms do not exhaust them. I agree with Orsi that most of our theoretical frames begin from a premise of absence: they take the human horizon as a cut-off point rather than an invitation to grapple with the beyond and with the limits of human perception.10 But I also think that writing in the gods does not need to mean writing in active agents, or adding characters to our ethnographies. It can also mean bringing an ‘orientation’ into our texts—by which I mean the possibility of writing as a space in which to gesture beyond the human horizon.
The scene I have just described is not about a sudden divine interruption. God here does not break into time in some miraculous, spectacular, observable way. God, for the boy-turned-man, constitutes an orientation. Needless to say, God figures differently for other Muslims, and many would take issue with the Saudi state's role in the scene. My suggestion that God is an orientation is also not meant to imply that Islam is essentially a religion of transcendence. The Islamic tradition draws together the image of an intimately close God and a distant, unknowable God.11 The Qur'anic tension and oscillation between a god ‘who is near’ (Q 2:186) and a god ‘to whom nothing can be compared’ (Q 42:11) underline God's ultimate withdrawal from knowability.
Extending our ethnographic attention to a beyond does not mean that we can or should stop paying attention to political or economic contexts. The very idea of an ethnography of God is the attempt to grapple with God from within the thickness of lived lives. But instead of assuming that the visible-material world is all that matters, I want to incorporate the oscillation between immanence and transcendence into the anthropology of Islam (and into anthropology more broadly)—not so as to collapse anthropology into theology, but to remind ourselves of the blind spots created by our persistent search for knowledge. What if we flipped things around and welcomed the unknown into what we think we know? Turning to God is not the only way of doing this, but the Allāhu akbar is a provocative prompt—in part because it is not just a thought experiment but a very real and consequential orientation embodied and cultivated by millions of believers.
Ethnographically speaking, the Allāhu akbar is a challenge, if not an impossible task. The beyond cannot be observed, captured, or invited into the text as data. But what if, parallel to my interlocutors deferring judgment (because only God can judge), we were to defer ethnographic certainty—to invite into the text something that exceeds it?
Of course, we are mostly stuck with a human perspective. The human anthropologist talks to, and observes, other humans, and writes about them in a text addressed to humans, in a language inherited from generations of humans. When I say ‘beyond the human horizon’, I do not mean ‘throw out the human’. I mean: consider a beyond. Consider what cannot be captured, what cannot easily be accommodated, what evades language. Keep the human in the picture, but add God—not as an object of belief or as another agent in the world, but as something that destabilizes the idea that the human is the author and end of all actions, the ground of all that matters.
The problem with the anthropology of religion is that it humanizes religion; it brings it down to earth. The founding figures of our field were all concerned with how to understand religious belief and practice in profoundly human terms. From Edward Burnett Tylor's ( 2010) theory that the origin of religion lies in misinterpreted dream-experiences, to Durkheim's ( 2001) theory of the sacred as a projection of the social, to Geertz's (1973) definition of religion as a ‘cultural system’, to Rappaport's (1999) claim that the evolutionary significance of religion lies in the role ritual plays in making truths—throughout, and despite all critiques of functionalism, the questions remain: What does religion do for humans, for society? How does it help people make sense of, and live, their lives? These are completely reasonable questions, even from a theological perspective. The very idea of revelation makes a monotheistic religion like Islam something that addresses humans and orients human life. But while from a Qur'anic perspective, this life is entangled with the afterlife, the human with God, and the visible with the invisible, the social scientific perspective writes out the second parts of each of these relations. Put differently, in instituting the human horizon, the social sciences write out more-than-human Others, or at best render them as symbols (Orsi 2016). Of course, there is another strand of thinking—from William James ( 1999) to Rudolf Otto ([1917) 1958) to, more recently, Tanya Luhrmann (2020), Birgit Meyer (2016), and Robert Orsi (2016)—that foregrounds experience, affect, and awe, or (to stick to our image of the horizon) that sketches a horizon extended outward, a horizon that does not constitute a border but that pulls us beyond itself. Horizons by definition include a beyond, but the emphasis is not fixed: the gaze may be directed inward or outward (Maleuvre 2011).
A less sealed-off horizon has also been promoted by those troubling the line between theology and anthropology. Some of this work has laid bare the theological commitments that our founding figures brought into the discipline (Furani 2019; Larsen 2014), and some has suggested possible paths for a dialogue between the two fields. I have found the conversation stimulating but am often struck by how theology figures as a toolbox of sorts in the exchange. In his recent Theology and the Anthropology of Christian Life, Joel Robbins (2020: 133) invites us to let theological concepts like interruption or atonement apply “productive pressure” on standard anthropological concepts—a move I find provocative but one that does not fully resonate with how I have come to know theology-as-lived in Egypt.12 In Robbins's book, and in many other contributions to the debate (Fountain 2013; Lemons 2018; Meneses and Bronkema 2017), it is as if anthropology and theology could sit down together and have a chat.
Khaled Furani (2019) offers a slightly different move in Redeeming Anthropology. He puts the idea—or the mystery—of the Eucharist into conversation with the practice of participant observation, which he reads as having an almost mystical quality—a dissolving of the self, a taste of unity with alterity. This almost-mystical practice, to Furani, stands in tension to the fixed borders around ‘culture’ that tend to organize our thinking about Otherness. As such, fieldwork forms a crack in what he describes as the ‘secular dome’ constructed by and around anthropology. I agree that in order to find such cracks we might want to look to our ‘practice’—fieldwork, as he says, or, as I will suggest shortly, ethnographic writing. More broadly, I think we might want to get away from the toolbox model and the attempt to put different forms of knowledge into conversation. Because what if the whole God idea is about not-knowing and the limits of knowing, just as much as it is about knowing? Or, paradoxically, is it always about both? What if, as a Sufi interlocutor of mine in Cairo says, it is about singing to God, not talking about God?
An appreciation for not-knowing is particularly pronounced in the Sufi tradition and more broadly in apophatic theology (Sells 1994). As Noah Salomon (2013: 824) notes, “for the average adept, Sufism is less about enabling personal knowledge of God and more about recognizing the impossibility of such forms of knowledge.” He reads the Sufi episteme as disrupting the “hegemony of certainty” or “knowledge triumphalism” (ibid.: 826). But an appreciation for unknowability is not limited to Sufism; I also find it among self-proclaimed Salafi interlocutors (Mittermaier 2013). Of course, lots of knowledge is produced about God in Egypt, and there are countless expert interpreters of God's words and just as many claims to certainty. My interlocutors debate the Qur'an's meanings and implications for how to live in this world and prepare for the next. They are taught about ‘Islam’ in school and by their parents; they read books, listen to shaykhs, watch religious programs on television, check websites, and exchange views on social media. They have a theological apparatus that informs their relationship to God, and there is never a clear line between what you think you know about God and how you feel about God (or feel God).13 But for many of them, there is also a heavy emphasis on not-knowing: on the akbar part.
One obvious limitation of the theology/anthropology conversation to date is that it has been heavily dominated by Christianity.14 There were attempts in the 1980s to formulate an ‘Islamic anthropology’, trying to turn concepts like umma (community) or fitra (innate character) into anthropological concepts (Tapper 1995).15 But these attempts did not really go anywhere. More recent works point in a different direction. They shift from the theology-as-toolbox model to an anthropological grappling with what lies beyond the human horizon. These recent works, notably, do not evade politics but encourage us to rethink the political. They look at state Islamization in Sudan (Salomon 2016), martyrdom in Iran (Talebi 2012), jihad fighters in Bosnia (Li 2019), or subaltern relations to the jinn in Delhi (Taneja 2017). At the same time, they invite us into the tension between the knowable and unknowable, the worldly and other-worldly, the political and theological.
Inviting us into the tension means not dissolving it. For God or Empire by Wilson Jacko Jacob (2019), a historian whom I would like to interpellate as a fellow anthropologist, uses the story of a nineteenth-century Sufi-sayyid as a window into a conception of life that is not reducible to the biological or historical. Jacob's text at times takes on an almost mystical quality. It speaks of our capacity to “live life in terms that exceed our bounds and our boundedness” (ibid.: xv). It refers to death as “not the end of life, not the opposite of life” (ibid.: 22), but a “coming home” (ibid.: xx). Yet despite this mystical tone and the repeated evocation of divine sovereignty, this is also a story of colonialism and “modern sovereignty” (ibid.: xiii). A tension between the theological and political remains, and that tension animates the text, at least in my reading. Similarly, Stefania Pandolfo's (2018) Knot of the Soul brings lived Islamic theologies into conversation with the aftermath of the Syrian war and the Mediterranean being turned into an underwater graveyard.16 It ends with an explicit tension: Pandolfo's disagreement with the Imam, her key interlocutor in Morocco, over the political-spiritual stakes of the so-called Arab Spring. Rather than aiming for a settled answer or trying to overcome or hide the tension, Pandolfo welcomes it into her writing—in what I read as an embrace of not-knowing.
Both Jacob and Pandolfo grapple with Islamic theological concepts. But both also do something different. They allow in the slippage between divine and human world-making and, with it, they allow in uncertainty. Such a turn to uncertainty is notably different from Roy Rappaport's emphasis on the production of certainty as central to religion. For Rappaport, rituals are what get us around uncertainty. They perform and make true phrases such as “Mohammad is God's messenger.” But to what extent do rituals also produce uncertainty, leading believers to embrace not-knowing, something that is greater?17 What are the implications of a greater god for ethnography? This takes me to my final point: the question of writing.
Making space for God is not just a matter of what you pay attention to in the field. It is also a matter of writing. The kind of writing I am interested in makes space rather than putting in place. It does not get trapped by questions such as “Is this really real?” or “Do you believe in this stuff?” As others have noted, ontological questions constitute a potential breaking point in the dialogue between theologians and anthropologists.18 Jon Bialecki (2014), with his proposal for thinking about divine agency beyond ontology, offers a possible way out, but many believers would likely be dissatisfied with a solution that renders God into just one out of millions of agents.19 Nevertheless, I think there is a way around the ‘realness’ question, and for me the answer has to do with writing—the kind that makes space for alterity without containing it. As is hopefully clear by now, by ‘containing’, I not only mean explicit denials of truth claims (Evans-Pritchard saying: “WITCHES, as the Azande conceive them, clearly cannot exist”). I also mean the opposite: insisting on ontological realness, as in Edith Turner's (1993) passionate piece on the ‘reality of spirits’.
Revisiting the Writing Culture moment of the 1980s, the recent experimental collection Crumpled Paper Boat (Pandian and McLean 2017) invites us to think about what writing can open up, how it can attune us differently. This experiment seeks to allow voices to “pass through ethnography without the security of anchor and harbor” (ibid.: 14). It is animated by the sense that explanations come too quickly and easily in the social sciences (ibid.: 4). It promotes resistance to closure and seeks to do justice to the more, to excess. Stuart McLean's poem in the collection trails off continuously; it offers neither complete sentences nor context nor ‘facts’. The first sentence starts with “I,” but by the next line the I has disappeared. Voices come and go. There is no performance of mastery on the part of the anthropologist.20 Kathleen Stewart, in her afterword, calls this “ethnographic writing [that] tries to let the otherwise break through, to keep it alive, to tend it, [that] thinks and writes at the limit of what it is possible to say.” It is an “ontologically curious” kind of writing (ibid.: 227, 228, 230).
What might this mean for thinking—and writing—with God in the picture? One way forward is precisely ‘ontologically curious writing’—leaning in, looking and listening closely, maybe also learning to see differently.21 We could call this an ethnographic move toward immanence. In this pursuit, we can take a cue from ethnographies that make space for other species. In The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anna Tsing (2015: 155, 156) writes into her ethnography an “abundance of life” and “adventures of landscapes,” granting space to forests and mushrooms for paragraphs, even pages, without any human heroes. She takes us deeply into the forest, into the rhizome. Looking closely can have the effect of decentering the human, dissolving what we tend to perceive as autonomous units: I, that mushroom, that rock, the sky. This is why Annie Dillard (1974) speaks of seeing as almost mystical, and why, in her guide to writing, Anne Lamott (1995: 94) notes that “there is ecstasy in paying attention.” What the forest is to Tsing, and nature to Dillard, for an ethnography of God could be spaces such as saint shrines that are charged with baraka (divine blessing) (Jacob 2019; Taneja 2017), or relics like a hair of the Prophet Muhammad (Rytter 2019).22 Looking closely at such spaces or objects sets the horizon in motion and invites us into instability.
And yet, as others have noted as well, creating ethnographic space for dogs, mushrooms, and trees is one thing. Making space for God is quite another. Susan Harding, who calls the university the “citadel of secular modernity,” notes that, “while all things more-than-natural are marginalized within [the university's walls], there's a spectrum or hierarchy of supernatural non-normativity” (Fernando and Harding 2020).23 Anthropology's (re)turn to the uncanny, she says, puts us in a contradictory position: “We want to open up doors and go forth to explore the realms and beings that our academic/Western ontologies and epistemologies inhibit, and, at the same time, we are the keepers of, the principle agents responsible for, those ontologies and epistemologies.” Mayanthi Fernando (2017, 2018) agrees that not all non-human Others are treated equally. In her reading, troubling the line between nature and culture has been far easier than troubling the line between nature-culture (as hyphenated) and the ‘supernatural’. I think she is right that not all Others are welcomed in with equal readiness, and I share her sense that this has to do with secularity's “attachments to the material and the visible as the site of the real” (Fernando 2017).
But despite anthropology's uneven hospitality, ghosts and spirits have found their way into scholarly monographs. Anthropologists write about their encounters with spirits (Lambek 1981), even treating them as ‘informants’ (Bubandt 2009), and they write about ghosts (Kwon 2008; Mueggler 2001; Palmié 2002), or even with them. Ostensibly about finance capitalism and the life of numbers in post-crash Thailand, Alan Klima's (2019) Ethnography #9 tells its story from a place outside of history. It speaks partially in the voice of a ghost, someone the author refers to as the “visitor” in his acknowledgments (ibid.: vii). Klima says more or less explicitly that the book was “co-written by a ghost.”24 You can believe this or not, since the book keeps undermining its own realism, but the effect is striking: a profound destabilization of the realist underpinnings of anthropology—and of its human horizon. Inviting in a ghost, for Klima, does not mean adding truth claims. He expresses “great respect” for the ontological turn but takes issue with the aspiration to “take seriously” other ontological realities. He takes “seriousness” itself to be the performance of academic truth, drawing us right back into the discipline's “earnest realism.” And so he asks: “Why take spirits more seriously? Why not, instead, take less seriously the form of knowledge delineation and resultant image of what is real in academic writing?” (ibid.: 17).
What lessons might we learn from this body of experimental writing for an ethnography of God? You would not be able to write an ethnography from a god's point of view, parallel to a ghost's point of view. For one thing, we do not have access to a god's point of view (as the reflexive turn in anthropology went to great lengths to point out). But such an all-knowing perspective would probably also be deadly boring. The dramas, mysteries, suffering, injustices, acts of resistance, and small victories that drive our stories would fall away, or be rendered irrelevant, from a perspective that knows it all and from which it all makes sense. And yet being stuck with a human horizon does not have to mean pushing God off the page. God could be welcomed into anthropology as a humbling, decentering device.
This takes me to a second pathway for an ethnography of God—one we could call the ethnographic move to transcendence. Instead of (or in addition to) looking closely (say by sticking closely to a saint shrine, relic, prayer, or miracle), an ethnography of God could embrace the not-knowing in its writing. Instead of aiming for stable accounts or closed arguments, this would mean moving aside, opening up our texts, making space for not-knowing.25 For me there is something to Susan Harding's decision to allow a ghostly encounter she experienced into her text without explaining or taming it. She says: “I decided … to leave it unanalyzed, to let it be unintelligible, by simply reporting it in my book” (Fernando and Harding 2020). There is something to Klima switching the first-person narrative from the anthropologist's voice to a ghost's voice. No explanation added. There is something to me starting my book on Muslim dreams with a striking dream-vision I had during fieldwork. Unsure what to do with the dream, I turned it into my book's prelude (Mittermaier 2011: xv). I have sometimes thought of this as a cop-out (sneaking in the dream without doing anything with it), but lately I have come to appreciate the not-explaining that this move allowed me.
Hints at a different, not-fully-secular, maybe-even-enchanted, less-in-control frame are often tucked away in our books’ acknowledgments.26 Rarely are such disruptions allowed into the main text. But if we let them, different writing moves can help destabilize frames of certainty. Pushing against the “conventions of lineal argument and the search for firm or final conclusions,” and working instead with “juxtapositions, analogies, poetic images, epiphanies, and anecdotes,” Michael Jackson's (2009: xiii–xiv) The Palm at the End of the Mind entangles us in open-ended threads. Emphasizing the in-between, Christian Suhr and Rane Willerslev (2012) argue that montage can help ethnographic film cope with the invisible: You cannot point your camera squarely at a spirit (or at God); the real stuff is between the scenes. I think there is a lesson in this for fragmentary ethnographic writing.27
Smaller writing moves matter too, such as Wilson Chacko Jacob (2019: 91) describing the Sufi-sayyid as “possessed by baraka” rather than as ‘possessing baraka’ or ‘laying claim to baraka’. This small move de-emphasizes human agency. In writing about my interlocutors’ dream-visions, I tried to disrupt habits of interpretation by sticking closely to how the dreams were told: as something that comes to the dreamer.28 Modifying the dream accounts (saying someone had had a dream) would have too easily and quickly accommodated the stories within an anthropocentric framework. Similarly, I wrote “Mona saw the Prophet” instead of “Mona claimed [or reported] to have seen the Prophet” (Mittermaier 2011: 28). Because, for Mona, having seen the Prophet Muhammad was as real and consequential as seeing me at the moment of our fieldwork encounter. For me, not modifying these accounts was less about making ontological claims and more about embracing uncertainty and the fact that I really do not know whether Mona saw the Prophet or not. The ethical stakes of writing about dream-visions included making my text hospitable to stories such as Mona's, and to invisible beings.
In closing, let me return to God and politics. Whether looked at theologically or ethnographically, a greater god puts the human in its place. This notion of the divine calls for a bigger (or a less stable) frame, one that exceeds the visible. The human might be the only horizon we have, but recognizing it as such—as a horizon, as a limit—can help undo a triumphant anthropocentrism that conflates the viewpoint with the only thing that matters. Once again, attending to God is not the only way to orient ourselves beyond the human horizon; attending to other non-humans (mushrooms or spirits, for example) can have a similar effect. But, building on my work on Islam in Egypt, I have suggested that making space for a figure like God in ethnography is one way in which we can move beyond the human horizon. Importantly, by this I mean not only a god who is a friend or human-like, or a god who stands on the side of the oppressed, but a god who is greater (akbar), who cannot easily be comprehended and accommodated.
I expect at least two major objections to what I have outlined here—one holding me accountable for being anti-humanist, the other for being too humanist. First, you might say, in line with Fanon's radical humanism, is not the whole project of wanting to decenter the human conceived from a place of privilege? After all, not all humans count equally; not all humans are centered equally. Decentering means something different from a position of privilege than it does from a position of marginality. A parallel objection is reported by Kristina Lyons (2016) in whose courses on feminist science studies students ask, “In what ways do seeds, soils, bees, microbes, and rivers matter when Native, Black, brown, queer, and trans human bodies are systematically under assault? Can a decolonizing approach successfully decenter ‘the human’ in this political moment? For whom, when, and how is human exceptionalism a problem that needs to be overcome in the first place?”29 These are hard questions, and I only have a tentative answer: namely, that the figure of the ‘human’—and related concepts such as human rights, humanism, and humanitarianism—have not necessarily brought about more justice in the world. Breaking free from a human horizon, engaging also with non-human beings, might allow us to get at the uneven valuation of lives from a different angle: one that does not start with the human as the one and only ground of value.
The second objection might ask, is it even true that centering God means decentering the human? In both Islam and Christianity, the human becomes elevated, reified and centered through God. Jesus embodies the Divine, and the Islamic tradition calls the human God's khalīfa (deputy or steward) on earth.30 Again, for me this is not a contradiction. Thinking beyond the human horizon does not mean throwing out the question of power and politics. There is a reason why Robert Orsi (2016) ends his book on divine presence with a chapter on clerical sexual abuse. Historically, ‘God’ has been behind wars, violence, and colonial and environmental destruction. And this—the politics of God—is likely the main reason why God is even more difficult to accommodate in anthropology than ghosts and spirits. God-human relations tend to be vertical and are frequently attached to conservative, repressive politics. Ghosts, by contrast, can be subversive reminders of otherwise forgotten histories (Kwon 2008), and spirits often lend themselves to stories of resistance (Boddy 1989; Ong 1987; Taneja 2017)—or at least they did before anthropology became wary of its romanticization of resistance (Abu-Lughod 1990; Boddy 1994). For Harding, too, the issue comes down to politics—a ghost did not bring up her secular defenses the way a god did, especially a god in the singular with a capital G that comes with a whole apparatus of interpretation and an ultraconservative politics attached to it. And yet, without writing out power and violence, an ethnographic frame that includes ghosts, spirits, and God is helpful for conceptualizing the human as always already in relation—horizontally and vertically.
How does making space for a figure like God help us with the current crises we are facing? It is more obvious how decentering the human is helpful for confronting the climate crisis. It is less obvious how it can help with confronting racism or gender-based violence. And yet, I think that opening up our stories and texts to the more-than-human can only enrich anthropology. Open horizons are ultimately better than closed ones. In a conventional anthropological sense, keeping a figure like God in the picture can help us understand how millions of people around the globe live with invisible Others—including how issues such as racism, colonialism, or capitalist extractivism are entangled with theologies. An ethnography of God does not write out questions of class, race, or gender. But there is a difference between paying attention to economic and political contexts and reducing God to these contexts. Again, Allāhu akbar—greater than economy, politics, or language. Capturing that tension means not giving up on the anthropological project but rather opening the project up to something beyond the human horizon.
But my argument about political relevance is not confined to the conventional goal of a better, more nuanced understanding of other life-worlds. I have also suggested that an ethnographic grappling with a beyond is a helpful humbling device—an acknowledgment of the limits of our knowledge and our reach.31 I realize that there remains an unresolved tension, but, in my defense, letting tensions be is in part what this discussion has been about. I have spoken about the political relevance of decentering the human, and at the same time I have hinted at the irrelevance of politics in some of my research contexts. A number of my interlocutors disagree when I assign political significance to their pious practices. Writing about Islamic charity in the aftermath of Egypt's uprising, I could not help getting excited when a Sufi interlocutor called food a “divine minimum wage.” Yet there were other moments that could not so easily be accommodated in a political frame. These moments were harder to make sense of—and harder to make space for. Similarly, in the Saudi Arabia scene I recounted near the beginning of this piece, the question of justice—a deeply political question—is actively bracketed by being deferred to God.32 Put differently, if we grapple with the sensibilities of an Allāhu akbar, then ‘the political’ itself emerges as a limited and limiting horizon. Without erasing that tension, I think that making space—for other ways of being in the world, other horizons, and other beings—is not an abandonment of politics. It might in fact be the most urgently needed move we can offer as anthropologists.
My thanks go to Courtney Handman for inviting me to deliver the 2021 Rappaport Lecture and for guiding participants so gracefully through the virtual conference; to the conference audience for their fantastic questions and comments; and to Simon Coleman for inviting me to publish this piece in Religion and Society. Alejandra González Jiménez, Katie Kilroy-Marac, Michael Lambek, and Nada Moumtaz provided generous and insightful comments on earlier drafts. I dedicate this piece to the late Shaykh Salah al-Din Nafari Muhammad, who challenged me more than anyone to think beyond the human horizon and who died in January 2021 of COVID-19, likely contracted while distributing food at the Sayyida Zaynab mosque.
Sixteen-year-old activist Greta Thunberg instructed the European Union in April 2019 “to panic” over climate change—to act “as if the house was on fire” (Vagianos 2019).
Even though my research focuses on Muslim communities in Egypt, I use ‘God’ and not ‘Allah’ to signal possible lines of conversation between our various subfields (the anthropology of Islam, of Christianity, and beyond). This is not meant to downplay the particularities of different God-imaginaries, or to obscure theological differences between Islam and Christianity (and within each tradition). In my larger project, rather than draw fixed lines, I pay attention to whether, when, and to what effect my Muslim interlocutors take Allah to be same as God.
Although God is central to the pious ethics described by Saba Mahmood (2004) and Charles Hirschkind (2006), the analytical focus in the anthropology of Islam has predominantly been on the self, bodily practice, tradition, rituals, community, the state, and the force of the secular. Samuli Schielke (2015, 2019) reads the fetishization of Islam in scholarly circles as parallel to the gradual displacement of God in Salafi circles, where it is increasingly Islam (and not God) that commands, prohibits, and guides.
Mahmood (2004: 35) acknowledges that what she calls the “political agency of the mosque movement (the ‘resistance’ it poses to secularization) is a contingent and unanticipated consequence of the effects its ethical practices have produced in the social field.”
An impressive number of such politically engaged projects were presented at the 2021 SAR meeting during which this Rappaport Lecture was delivered. The conference featured roundtables on “Anthropologies and Political Theologies,” “Religion and Anti-Racism,” and “Performing Public Anthropology of Religion.” There were panels on “The Politics of Joy,” “Political Theologies and Theo-Politics,” and “Religion and the Politics of Difference,” and papers on “Decolonized God: Black Epistemic Contestation of Religious Racism” and “Toward Decolonising Religion: New Thought and ‘the First Hindu American’.”
In this piece, Asad (2020: 6) defines the secular as not “simply as a way of living in the world, [nor] simply as a set of sensibilities appropriate to it, but as the doctrine that belief in the existence of any world other than this one is a dangerous delusion, that the essential character of this ‘real world’ is legitimately described only by ‘rational thought’—by natural science (what really exists) and by human history (what really happened).”
As Moll (2018: 257) notes, even anthropologists who are believers qua anthropologists are caught in a secular bind: “When we study Islam anthropologically, Islam is not, in that process, our tradition, even when we are Muslim anthropologists. Our critical engagement with it is not an internal, normative one, one conducted within that tradition's own sources of authority and appeal.”
A letter in Arabic found in the suitcase of Mohamed Atta, one of the hijackers involved in the 9/11 attacks, instructs him to shout Allāhu akbar at the moment of attack “because this strikes fear in the hearts of non-believers.” This reminds us that the takbīr (the use of the phrase Allāhu akbar) does not necessarily index an internal state of belief; it can also be performative. Even more significantly, it can be both at once: performative and indexical. See “Last Words of a Terrorist,” Guardian, 30 September 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/30/terrorism.september113.
Of course, many different views on, and imaginaries of, God can co-exist—even within one and the same community. This poses a problem: taking all God-images seriously can mean (to a believer) that you are not taking any of them seriously.
Didier Maleuvre (2011) traces a long history of the horizon. Inherent to the horizon is a “sense of leading elsewhere” (ibid.: xix), but the horizon has been differently configured and imagined throughout history. See also Vincent Crapanzano (2003) on the double function of the horizon, and Michael Lambek's (2015) evocation of Gadamer's ‘fusion of horizons’ as a description for ethnographic practice.
As McAllister and Napolitano (2020: 2) point out, it is a secularist understanding of theology that confines it to “the domain of the supernatural, obscuring how it partakes … in the materiality of everyday life.” Their concept of theopolitics foregrounds incarnate forms of power, including spectacular forms of contemporary violence.
Many Egyptians who were active participants in the Egyptian uprising in 2011 have since then joined Sufi orders or have begun attending religious lessons (durūs) in search of theological knowledge. At the same time, many of them grapple with God in and through their personal practice. This less formal realm of God-human relations can be explored through ethnographic attention to practices such as praying, speaking to God, feeling that God intervenes, wanting God to intervene, imagining God, or seeking mediators who can bridge the distance to God. In her book on Iranian women's prayer practices, Nilofaar Haeri (2020) shows what it takes to create co-presence with the Divine, and how fragile such efforts can be.
Robert Orsi (2016) asks us to consider what it might mean to ‘re-Catholicize’ religious studies, which, to him, means beginning from a premise of presence rather than absence. Joel Robbins (2020) centers his interventions on Christianity, particularly the charismatic kind that was most prominent during his fieldwork in Papua New Guinea. Khaled Furani's (2019) Redeeming Anthropology is less explicitly Christian. It aims for a broader understanding of theology—making space for gods, God, and the divine more broadly—and welcomes into the text a wider pantheon by naming the chapters after gods (such as Thoth and Hubal) that take us beyond the hegemonic monotheistic religions dominating our god-thinking. His epigraph is from the Qur'an. Still, Christianity sneaks back in as a main frame: the cover of Furani's book shows a cathedral, and a central metaphor is the Eucharist.
In his review of these attempts to formulate an Islamic anthropology, Richard Tapper (1995) argues that the merging of anthropology and theology undermines a critical stance. As a counter-example, he holds up Talal Asad, who, “whether or not [he is] Muslim, [has] not introduced [his] beliefs into [his] anthropology, any more than did Evans-Pritchard or the other ‘Oxford Catholics’” (ibid.: 191). Larsen (2014) and Furani (2019) would likely challenge the claim that anthropologists can leave their commitments, beliefs, and sensibilities at the door when they enter the field. Notably, in his recent autobiographical reflections, Asad (2020: 6) refers to himself “as an anthropologist and … a Muslim [who is trying] to understand and embody [his] tradition in difficult times.”
Nadia Fadil (2020: 14) reads Pandolfo's work as counter-hegemonic and notes that, even though her gestures remain largely idiosyncratic, “these are essential gestures if anthropology is to continue to enlarge the imaginative and sensible possibilities of what it means to be human.”
Arguably, a basic belief in God precedes a grappling with God's ultimate unknowability. I thank Michael Lambek for pointing out this tension. For Rappaport, too, there is an interrelatedness of knowing and not-knowing: the most sacred is ultimately informationless.
At the University of Toronto's “Ethnographies of God” conference in October 2019, Yasmin Moll highlighted the profound gap between “taking God seriously” as an anthropologist and taking God seriously as a believer. Similarly, Joel Robbins (2020: 150) asks, “If God and other spiritual beings exist as agents in the world in more than a socially constructed sense, would there be room for anthropology as we know it?” He notes that there is a difference between taking God as a matter of first principles “rather than just of ethnographic fact” (ibid.: 149). In my view, the “just” in this sentence does not give enough credit to the possibilities of ethnography, which does not have to be bound by the constraints of social constructivism.
Bialecki (2014) argues that even if we see God as created by humans, it is wrong to deprive him of agency. As he puts it, “to ignore God as an agent in the world is not just to ignore or belittle the beliefs of many of our informants but to overlook an often vital mode of their engagement with the world” (ibid.: 33). He suggests that we need to recognize that “God acts with the same kind of stochastic wildness that is usually allocated to the other human agents who stand in the centre of so much of contemporary anthropological writing” (ibid.: 43). On the flattening of God's hierarchical positioning in this Latourian model, see Robbins (2020) and Schielke (2019).
My reading draws on Lisa Stevenson's commentary on the poem in the same volume.
I ran into the limits of ‘participant observation’ early on during my research on dreams and visions. I spent a Ramadan evening with Shaykh Qusi and his followers, taking notes (literally and mentally), asking questions, observing, participating—or so I thought. A couple of days later, one of my key interlocutors from the group told me that on that same Ramadan evening, the group had collectively seen a waking vision of the Kaaba appearing in their midst. I had been there and had not been there. I had participated and not participated. I had observed and seen nothing.
Mayanthi Fernando adds that “in this citadel” anthropology occupies “a curious role … as both a guard and a jester” (Fernando and Harding 2020). The claim that universities are secular citadels needs to be complicated by the fact that many universities have divinity schools or theology departments.
See Lachlan Summers's interview with Alan Klima on the New Books Network, 2 March 2021, https://newbooksnetwork.com/ethnography-9.
In reaching for languages that are more evocative than descriptive, I have also been inspired by Michael Taussig's fictocriticism—playfully getting us to look beyond what we consider to be ‘really real’. A recent book by Taussig (2020) introduces the concept of ‘mastery of non-mastery’ to get us to think about climate change differently, away from the illusion of control. To me this concept resonates with the paradoxes of Sufi selfhood (cultivating an undoing of the self) and a form of ethnographic writing that lets go of the pretense at mastery.
To give just one example, in his acknowledgments in Human Spirits, Michael Lambek (1981: xviii) thanks the curers, the clients, their families “and, of course, the spirits—who so patiently tolerated my intrusion into their affairs.”
Currently, when I imagine the book that will come out of my attempts to grapple with God in Egypt, I imagine a book consisting of 99 stories—playing with the concept of Allah's 99 names in Islam, and ultimately seeking to perform an ‘unknowing’. All we have are glimpses, a kaleidoscope, never the ‘real thing’. In this I see my ethnographic reach for God as parallel to (but not the same as) that of a believer: an ever-elusive attempt at getting closer (taqarrub).
Another writing move can consist of performatively disrupting genre expectations, as through Samuli Schielke's (2019) use of the bismillah to open his reflections on the power of God. To give a counterexample: Michael Gilsenan's (2000) article “Signs of Truth” is carefully attuned to both vertical and horizontal axes of power. And yet, when Gilsenan writes about the saint shrines, he says: “The forces represented as emanating from the shrines can be policed but not necessarily controlled” (ibid.: 610; emphasis added). Here the two words—“represented as”—perform a distancing move that I take to be domesticating, taming, containing.
See also Black critiques of Donna Haraway likening plantations to the “slavery of plants” (Davis et al. 2019: 5). Thanks to Nada Moumtaz for alerting me to this recent debate.
Ironically, something incommensurably smaller as opposed to greater—a virus, for example—can have the same effect. But then again, the connection between a greater invisible God and a tiny invisible virus has not been lost on my interlocutors in Egypt.
Naomi Haynes (2018) similarly points to the limits of a framework of politics, noting how easy it would be to read her interlocutors’ ‘lived theology’ in the Zambian Copperbelt as a struggle for power—to interpret it in political terms. But, she states, they are also seeking to become conduits for divine action, and doing justice to this understanding requires writing God into our analysis. For Haynes, looking at theology as it is done (using a verb rather than a noun) opens up the possibility of grappling with divine action beyond a belief framework: “We are able to write about God anthropologically because we can write about him ethnographically” (ibid.: 279).
Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1990. “The Romance of Resistance: Tracing Transformations of Power Through Bedouin Women.” American Ethnologist 17 (1): 41–55.
Asad, Talal. 2020. “Autobiographical Reflections on Anthropology and Religion.” Religion and Society: Advances in Research 11 (1): 1–7.
Boddy, Janice. 1989. Wombs and Alien Spirits: Women, Men, and the Zar Cult in Northern Sudan. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Bubandt, Nils. 2009. “Interview with an Ancestor: Spirits as Informants and the Politics of Possession in North Maluku.” Ethnography 10 (3): 291–316.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2000. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Crapanzano, Vincent. 2003. Imaginative Horizons: An Essay in Literary-Philosophical Anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Davis, Janae, Alex A. Moulton, Levi Van Sant, and Brian Williams. 2019. “Anthropocene, Capitalocence, … Plantationocene? A Manifesto for Ecological Justice in an Age of Global Crises.” Geography Compass 13 (5): 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12438
Ewing, Katherine P. 1994. “Dreams from a Saint: Anthropological Atheism and the Temptation to Believe.” American Anthropologist (n.s.) 96 (3): 571–583.
Fernando, Mayanthi L. 2017. “Supernatureculture.” Immanent Frame, 11 December. https://tif.ssrc.org/2017/12/11/supernatureculture/.
Fernando, Mayanthi L. 2018. “SuperNatureCulture: Human/Nonhuman Entanglements beyond the Secular.” Colloqium talk at School for Advanced Research colloquium. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBBKeXlq2Lw.
Fernando, Mayanthi L., and Susan Harding. 2020. “Practices of Relation: Fernando and Harding.” Immanent Frame, 27 April. https://tif.ssrc.org/2020/04/27/fernando-and-harding/.
Geertz, Clifford. 1973. “Religion as a Cultural System.” In The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, 93–135. New York: Basic Books.
Gilsenan, Michael. 2000. “Signs of Truth: Enchantment, Modernity and the Dreams of Peasant Women.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (n.s.) 6 (4): 597–615.
Haeri, Niloofar. 2020. Say What Your Longing Heart Desires: Women, Prayer, and Poetry in Iran. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Hirschkind, Charles. 2006. The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics. New York: Columbia University Press.
Jackson, Michael. 2009. The Palm at the End of the Mind: Relatedness, Religiosity, and the Real. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Jobson, Ryan Cecil. 2020. “The Case for Letting Anthropology Burn: Sociocultural Anthropology in 2019.” American Anthropologist 122 (2): 259–271.
Lambek, Michael. 2015. “The Hermeneutics of Ethical Encounters: Between Traditions and Practice.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5 (2): 227–250.
Luhrmann, T. M. 2020. How God Becomes Real: Kindling the Presence of Invisible Others. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Lyons, Kristina. 2016. “Decentering ‘the Human’ at the Interfaces of Anthropology and Science Studies?” Savage Minds, 12 December. https://savageminds.org/2016/12/12/decentering-the-human-at-the-interfaces-of-anthropology-and-science-studies/.
Mahmood, Saba. 2004. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
McAllister, Carlota, and Valentina Napolitano. 2019. “The Powers of Powerlessness.” Political Theology. https://politicaltheology.com/the-powers-of-powerlessness/.
McAllister, Carlota, and Valentina Napolitano. 2020. “Introduction: Incarnate Politics beyond the Cross and the Sword.” Social Analysis 64 (4): 1–20.
Meneses, Eloise, and David Bronkema, eds. 2017. On Knowing Humanity: Insights from Theology for Anthropology. London: Routledge.
Meyer, Birgit. 2016. “How to Capture the ‘Wow’: R.R. Marett's Notion of Awe and the Study of Religion.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 22 (1): 7–26.
Mittermaier, Amira. 2013. “Trading with God: Islam, Calculation, Excess.” In A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion, ed. Janice Boddy and Michael Lambek, 274–293. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.
Moll, Yasmin. 2012. “Storytelling, Sincerity, and Islamic Televangelism in Egypt.” In Global and Local Televangelism, ed. Pradip Ninan Thomas and Philip Lee, 21–44. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Moll, Yasmin. 2018. “Television Is Not Radio: Theologies of Mediation in the Egyptian Islamic Revival.” Cultural Anthropology 33 (2): 233–265.
Mueggler, Erik. 2001. The Age of Wild Ghosts: Memory, Violence, and Place in Southwest China. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ong, Aihwa. 1987. Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Palmié, Stephan. 2002. Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Pandian, Anand, and Stuart McLean, eds. 2017. Crumpled Paper Boat: Experiments in Ethnographic Writing. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Robbins, Joel. 2013. “Afterword: Let's Keep It Awkward: Anthropology, Theology, and Otherness.” Australian Journal of Anthropology 24 (3): 329–337.
Rytter, Mikkel. 2019. “The Hair of the Prophet: Relics and Affective Presence of the Absent Beloved among Sufis in Denmark.” Contemporary Islam 13 (1): 49–65.
Salomon, Noah. 2013. “Evidence, Secrets, Truth: Debating Islamic Knowledge in Contemporary Sudan.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81 (3): 820–851.
Salomon, Noah. 2016. For Love of the Prophet: An Ethnography of Sudan's Islamic State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Schielke, Samuli. 2015. Egypt in the Future Tense: Hope, Frustration, and Ambivalence before and after 2011. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Suhr, Christian, and Rane Willerslev. 2012. “Can Film Show the Invisible? The Work of Montage in Ethnographic Filmmaking.” Current Anthropology 53 (3): 282–301.
Talebi, Shahla. 2012. “From the Light of the Eyes to the Eyes of the Power: State and Dissident Martyrs in Post-Revolutionary Iran.” Visual Anthropology 25 (1–2): 120–147.
Taneja, Anand Vivek. 2015. “Saintly Animals: The Shifting Moral and Ecological Landscapes of North India.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 35 (2): 204–221.
Taneja, Anand Vivek. 2017. Jinnealogy: Time, Islam, and Ecological Thought in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Turner, Edith B. 1993. “The Reality of Spirits: A Tabooed or Permitted Field of Study.” Anthropology of Consciousness 4 (1): 9–12.
Tylor, Edward Burnett. (1871) 2010. Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Custom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Vagianos, Alanna. 2019. “Teen Climate Activist Greta Thunberg to EU Lawmakers: ‘I Want You to Panic.’” HuffPost, 17 April. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/teen-climate-activist-greta-thunberg-to-eu-lawmakers-i-want-you-to-panic_n_5cb7344ce4b0ffefe3ba6287.