Technologies of Islamic piety: Cassette-sermons and the ethics of listening
Author: Hirschkind-Charles-Kendal Date: 2000 Institution: The-Johns-Hopkins-University (0098) Subject:Religion Language: English
Abstract: This dissertation addresses a range of questions about language and the body through an ethnographic study of cassette-sermons in Egypt. Three dimensions of cassette-sermon practice were central to my project. First, I examined cassette-sermon listening as an ethical exercise aimed at cultivating a modern form of Islamic piety, one rooted in a long tradition of moral self-cultivation. My analysis focuses on contemporary sermon rhetorics and the demands of proper audition which these place on listeners, among them, a familiarity with a variety of classical and modern knowledges, certain forms of concentration and responsiveness, as well as competence in a particular affective-gestural repertoire—the embodied dispositions which undergird well-informed reasoning within contemporary traditions of Islam. Secondly, I locate the new practices of cassette-sermon audition in relation to the historical trajectory of the broader Islamic movement in Egypt since the 19th century. As a technology of individual piety, these tapes join the individual's task of cultivating Islamic virtues with broader social concerns of the Islamic awakening, including issues of societal transformation, state legal reform, and national and international politics. Thus, my dissertation explores how tapes provide a medium for public discussion of a wide variety of issues relevant to contemporary Egyptian society, a discussion, however, conducted on the basis of the ethical capacities, orientations, and goals toward which the act of sermon audition is geared. Lastly, I argue that the cassette-sermon provides an opportunity to explore the impact of mass media and modern print-oriented literacies on the forms of contemporary piety, and the conditions of religious practice within Egypt more generally. Of particular concern to me here is the question of how the virtues listeners sought to cultivate were mediated, on the one hand, by functional possibilities of cassette technology, such as mobility, replay, and discontinuous listening; and on the other, by the discursive conventions of the modern print and televisual-based public sphere. To this end, my work explores the complicated interplay between the cassette medium and the institutional, cultural, and religious contexts within which it is employed.