WiP: Sonic Dimensions of Azeri-Turkish Shi’i Islam

CRRC, ARISC and American Councils are proud to present the 22nd talk of the Spring/Summer 2019 Works-in-Progress Series!

Voices of Sorrow and Joy: Sonic Dimensions of Azeri-Turkish Shi’i Islam.

By Stefan Williamson Fa, University College London

Date: July 24, 2019, at 18:30 pm
Venue: CRRC Georgia, 5 Chkhikvadze Str. (Former 5 Chavchavadze ave.), I floor.

Devotion to the Household of the Prophet – the Prophet Muhammad, his daughter Fatima and the Twelve Imams, collectively known as the Ehli Beyt – is central to Shi’a Islam. Various genres of vocalised lament and praise for these figures are of particular importance in the acoustic worlds of Shi’i Muslims amongst other shared articulations including the recitation of the Qur’an. These sounded forms constitute a central way in which Muslims come to know and make present these divine figures in both ritual context and everyday life as they seek to cultivate love and attachment to them. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted across Northeastern Turkey, Iranian Azerbaijan and the Caucasus, this paper focuses on intimate ritual spaces of small-scale gatherings commemorating the births and deaths of the divine figures of the Household of the Prophet. This annual cycle of celebration and mourning is shown to be a way of cultivating love for these figures which relies on the staging of atmospheres and various sensory forms and practices. In these gatherings voice, sound, material objects and the senses play an instrumental role in the process of establishing relationships between ordinary individuals and the divine.

Stefan Williamson Fa is an anthropologist and ethnomusicologist whose academic interests focus broadly on the anthropology of Islam, sound and religion. He has conducted extensive research in Turkey, the Caucasus and Iran as well as in his home region of Gibraltar and Andalusia. He received a PhD in Social Anthropology from University College London in 2019 and is currently working on a manuscript and ethnographic film based on this work tentatively titled “Living with the Household of the Prophet”. Beyond his academic research and publications Stefan is also a record, concert and tour producer, working closely with musicians and artists from the Caucasus, West and Central Asia and the Mediterranean. He is also the co-founder of Mountains of Tongues a project promoting musical diversity in the Caucasus.

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W-i-P is an ongoing academic discussion series based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that takes place at the CRRC office at 5 Chkhikvadze Str. It is co-organized by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC). All of the talks are free and open to the public. The purpose of the W-i-P series is to provide support and productive criticism to those researching and developing academic projects pertaining the Caucasus region.

PRIVACY POLICY: In order to assure the free and open discussion of ideas and sensitive issues, unless otherwise specified the WiP series holds to the Chatham House Rule: participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed, without the explicit permission of said speaker(s) or participant(s) in the press or other public media. Journalists may attend the sessions, but the contents are not for publication or broadcast without the explicit permission of the speaker(s). This is to enable all involved to openly discuss their views in private while allowing the topic and nature of the debate to be made public and contribute to the broader scholarly and academic conversation.