Divine Presence: Islam, Ontology, and Transcendence

Main investigators: Fabio Vicini (University of Verona); Lili Di Puppo (University of Helsinki)

From 01/10/2020 to 31/12/2023

The project explores both ethnographically and theoretically the question of divine presence and the relation between immanence and transcendence in the Islamic tradition to contribute to broader theoretical debates in anthropology (i.e. the ontological turn) and the anthropology of religion. In this regard, it aims to generate new theoretical and methodological insights on how to approach phenomena and experiences which make their presence felt in human life but which, because not immediately perceivable, are not easy to grasp through conventional methods. The researchers involved in the project shed light on how Muslims experience, understand, and approach saints, prophets, and other holy figures, dreams and dream visions, the relation between life and death, as well as any other state of being which renders the barrier between immanence and transcendence more porous. By doing so, they demonstrate that these Muslim encounters with divine presence – through light (Suhr), saintly voices (Alatas), istikhara practices (Schmeding), pondering on the end of life (Louw, Vicini) or sacred landscapes (Di Puppo) – all rest on an engagement with Muslim epistemologies and related cosmologies. Although rooted in transcendence, however, encounters with the divine also lead to a more profound engagement with the immanent world, in the dream-inspired communal choice of a spiritual leader (Schmeding), the pilgrimages across a sacred landscape (Di Puppo), the act of situating the Quran through saintly voices (Alatas), the nurturing feelings conveyed by light in everyday life (Suhr), the routine activity of getting dressed in the morning (Louw), and activism in society (Vicini). All these issues are explored in the project through ethnographies of Muslim life in regions as diverse as diverse as Egypt, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Central Asia, Russia, and Europe.

Other Participants:

Ismail Fajrie Alatas (New York University)

Maria Louw (Aarhus University)

Annika Schmeding (Harvard University)

Christian Suhr (Aarhus University)

Main outcomes:

In the framework of this project, the two main investigators are organizing a collective publication and an online workshop. See: https://sites.dsu.univr.it/creaa/progetto/divine-presence-workshop/

Flyer of the workshop: Divine Presence (January 14, 2022)