Arguing Sainthood

Modernity, Psychoanalysis, and Islam

Arguing Sainthood

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 13 b&w photographs Published: October 1997

Anthropology, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies, Religious Studies

In Arguing Sainthood, Katherine Pratt Ewing examines Sufi religious meanings and practices in Pakistan and their relation to the Westernizing influences of modernity and the shaping of the postcolonial self. Using both anthropological fieldwork and psychoanalytic theory to critically reinterpret theories of subjectivity, Ewing examines the production of identity in the context of a complex social field of conflicting ideologies and interests.
Ewing critiques Eurocentric cultural theorists and Orientalist discourse while also taking issue with expatriate postcolonial thinkers Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak. She challenges the notion of a monolithic Islamic modernity in order to explore the lived realities of individuals, particularly those of Pakistani saints and their followers. By examining the continuities between current Sufi practices and earlier popular practices in the Muslim world, Ewing identifies in the Sufi tradition a reflexive, critical consciousness that has usually been associated with the modern subject. Drawing on her training in clinical and theoretical psychoanalysis as well as her anthropological fieldwork in Lahore, Pakistan, Ewing argues for the value of Lacan in anthropology as she provides the basis for retheorizing postcolonial studies.


Arguing Sainthood is [an] intellectually highly original and significant contribution. . . . A unique blend of theory and narrative and written in a highly lucid style, this is a fascinating book that reveals not only the incoherent and enchanted world of traditional mysticism, but also the hegemonic and exploitative empire of modern rationality.” — S. Parvez Manzoor, Muslim World Book Review

“[A]n intriguing ethnography based on two years of fieldwork among Sufi teachers, religious mendicants, and middle-class Pakistani in the city of Lahore. Ewing draws creatively on the work of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan to understand Sufi religious meanings and practices.” — Antonius C. G. M. Robben , Anthropology Quarterly

“[T]he culmination of Katherine Ewing’s pioneering work among Sufis located in Lahore, Pakistan. . . . Arguing Sainthood is a splendid entry point into the ‘twilight zone’ of contradictory middle-class religion in Lahore.” — Arthur F. Buehler , Journal of Religion

“Ewing has thought deeply about the nature of subjectivity, and her book raises some important questions for future research.” — Pnina Werbner , American Ethnologist

"This book is based on two years of anthropological observation of practices and discussions surrounding Sufi pirs (teachers of Sufism) in Pakistan. The author uses both psychoanalytic theory and anthropology to theorize about the influence of the competing ideologies of modernity and Sufism. This study counters the postcolonial assumption that local values had been completely disrupted by modernity and technology. Rather, the author argues that Sufism was marginally affected but not ultimately determined by modernity. Instead of showing Sufi pirs as part of a dying tradition, this book shows them to be foci around whom political discourses about the place of Islam in Pakistan and individual consciousness come together." — , Middle East Journal

Arguing Sainthood can and should be used in courses on modernity, postcolonialism, the Middle East, South Asia, and in other courses—cultural studies, religion—where Lacanian ideas are not unfamiliar.” — Michael M. J. Fischer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“This is an important book, one that is significant for the discourses of Pakistani modernity and the dilemmas it creates, the internal differentiations in Pakistani society, and the historical forces that brought them about.” — Gananath Obeyesekere, Princeton University


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