Current Institutional Affiliation
Charlotte W. Newcombe Fellow, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, City University of New York (CUNY) / Graduate Center
Authoritative Scriptural Interpreters: An Anthropology of Islam

Shortly after the collapse of the central government in Somalia in 1990, there began to sprout up clan-based Islamic or Shari'a courts in southern Somalia. The courts began a process of centralization which culminated in the formation of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in 2004. By 2006 the ICU was in control of all of southern and central Somalia. An Ethiopian invasion of the country in December 2006 resulted in the disintegration of the ICU as a governing entity and a unified political movement. The Shari'a courts did not only represent different clans and sub-clans but also distinct schools of thought and theological positions within Islam in Somali society. This project will approach the emergence of the courts and their unification as an entry point to conduct a historical and ethnographic study of how local Islamic practice and orthodoxy is established. It will do so by focusing on the role and position of authoritative scriptural interpreters in the formation of the Shari'a courts and in today's Somali society. How do kinship and politico-economic conditions influence who and how scriptures are interpreted, understood, and lived? This project will provide the first in-depth and explicitly theoretical attempt to understand how local cultural and political factors interact with foundational Islamic scriptures in the establishment of local Islamic practice and orthodoxy. In so doing this project will engage with and contribute to the general literature on political Islam and specifically the anthropological debate on how to conceptualize in a single analytical framework the relationship between Islam as a universal religion and the diversity of specific local Islamic practices.