2021 Theses Doctoral
Dīn and Duniyā: Debating Sufism, Saint Shrines, and Money in the Lucknow Area
This dissertation asks how Muslims in north India today understand four paradoxical aspects of Sufi saint shrine traditions. The shrines of Sufi saints are sometimes regarded as apolitical, sacred, all-inclusive, and anti-elite religious spaces. At the same time, they are sites that are politicized, illegally bought and sold as commercial real estate, fuel for Islamic sectarian divisions, and often controlled by upper-caste Muslim elites. Based on the analysis of historical archival materials and twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh), this dissertation argues that shrines are sites that straddle the dīn-duniyā distinction in Islam. Dīn (understood as “religion” in the modern period) is the atemporal, immaterial domain of true spirituality, whereas duniyā (“world”) is the realm of this-worldly material concerns and temporal impermanence.
As sites imbued with the ethereal barakah (love of God manifest as the power of a blessing) of Sufi saints that aid individuals in drawing near to God by transcending “worldly” desires and also material commodities that are aggressively competed over by adversarial stakeholders (e.g., the state, real estate mafias, sectarian rivals), these shrines are paradoxically both of dīn and of duniyā. When asked how one can differentiate between dīn and duniyā—for example, when a Sufi politician is acting a religious manner or in a worldly manner—many of my interviewees explained that one can distinguish between these two domains based on the material presence of money. In this dissertation, I argue that the concept of money (paisā; also, “money” in English) acts as a symbol to help Muslims in Lucknow navigate this paradoxical quality. By attributing to the materiality of money those aspect of shrine operations associated with duniyā, interviewees effectively identified the boundary line dividing dīn from duniyā, thereby resolving the ostensibly contradictory nature of, for example, the politicization of an apolitical space. As a key signifier in the broader neoliberal context of Lucknow and the global politics of Sufism, money is an important concept by which Muslims make sense of the social, economic, and political complexities of Muslim life in the north India.
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More About This Work
- Academic Units
- Thesis Advisors
- Ewing, Katherine
- Ph.D., Columbia University
- Published Here
- July 16, 2021