Ismail Fajrie Alatas

Assistant Professor, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies

Award Information

2011 IDRF Program

Joint Doctoral Program in Anthropology & HistoryUniversity of Michigan

Traditional Bodies: Sufism, Knowledge Practices and the Making of the Modern Public

This project explores the conditions that enable a Sufi tradition with its spiritual legacy and original institutional form rooted in pre-modern societies, to thrive in modernizing urban settings. It attempts to address such a challenge by examining the Ba'alawi sayyids; a group of migrants in Indonesia from the Hadramaut valley of South Yemen, who has been acknowledged as descendants of Prophet Muhammad. It tries to understand how Ba’alawi scholars reconfigure their Sufi tradition, the Tariqa ‘Alawiyya through their interaction with Indonesian nationhood and Islamic reformism, which necessitated the observation of embodied practices involving Ba'alawi scholars and their students in the transmission of knowledge through time. The aim of this project is therefore (1) to understand how textual knowledge that makes up a religious tradition becomes embodied; and (2) to observe how the embodied knowledge enters into the larger public through other ways of interaction, such as various Sufi rituals that engage broader public. This requires an ethnographic approach that looks at different forms of knowledge practices as sites where the discursive tradition is transmitted, negotiated, transformed, manipulated through the interaction between scholars and students on one side and between them and the broader public on the other.