Past events

RAI Research Seminar: Guangtian Ha
Wednesday 25 January 2017, 05:30pm - 07:30pm
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RAI RESEARCH SEMINAR

SEMINAR SERIES AT THE ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE

His Master’s Voice: Media, Sensory Politics, and Islamic Sociality in Northwest China

Dr Guangtian Ha, SOAS

Wednesday 25 January at 5.30 pm

Jahriyya Sufism in northwest China can be characterized by its juxtaposition of opposites: its name means “loud” and “public,” proclaiming the centrality of dramatic vocal recitation to its religious practice, yet it has also been known for its deliberate hiding from public sight, both to avoid political persecution and to cultivate mystical experiences; its followers insist almost obsessively on the “correct” performance of ritual protocols, and pride themselves on the presumed orthodoxy of their teaching, nevertheless the sound of their ritual Arabic belongs neither to the elevated register of Classical Arabic, nor to its numerous regional “dialects”. The gift that reveals the distinction of Jahriyya and forms the source of its self-esteem, namely, the rich and layered voices of its melodic recitation, also becomes the curse that renders suspicious and questionable its inclusion in the global Islamic umma.

Based on fourteen months of fieldwork in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, this presentation provides a detailed and globally contextualised ethnographic examination of the Jahriyya ritual voices, focussing in particular on one ritual, namely the Mukhammas recitation. What emerge from the daily performance of this ritual are distinct modes of voicing and listening, by means of which an abstract community based in sound becomes imaginable in specific ways. While weaving a Sufi sociality, these voices, in both their internal heterogeneity and their marked difference from “standard” Islamic voices, form dense nodes where politics are negotiated and global Islam disputed. No less than the circulation and inculcation of religious ideologies through texts, what counts as the canonical sound of Islam also becomes a fraught battleground where local voices intersect with mediatised global sounds. What one voices and how one listens are as important as what one writes and how one reads in transforming the transnational making of contemporary Islam.

Guangtian Ha is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at SOAS, University of London. He completed his PhD in cultural anthropology at Columbia University in 2014, with a dissertation that examines the intersection of Islam, gender, and politics of ethnicity in late socialist China. He is now a member of the SOAS-based research project “Sounding Islam in China.” Some of his written as well as media work can be found at www.soundislamchina.org. He is currently preparing a book manuscript titled Sung by the Praise: Voice, Gender, and the Sufi Mediascape in Northwest China.

This event is free, but tickets must be booked. To book tickets please go to https://guangtian.eventbrite.co.uk

Location 3