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Lecture | LUCIS What's New?! Series

Sufis in Afghanistan: Contemporary Navigations of Religious Authority across Political Changes

Thursday 18 April 2024
What's New?! Spring Lecture Series 2024
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

Despite its pervasive reputation as a place of religious extremes and war, Afghanistan has a complex and varied religious landscape where elements from a broad spectrum of religious belief vie for a place in society. It is also one of the birthplaces of a widely practiced variant of Islam: Sufism.

Based on long-term ethnographic field research among multiple Sufi communities in different urban areas of Afghanistan, the book “Sufi Civilities” examines navigational strategies employed by Sufi leaders over the past four decades to weather periods of instability and persecution.

It offers a rare on-the-ground view into how Sufi leaders react to moments of transition within a highly insecure environment, and how humanity shines through the darkness during times of turmoil. In this talk, we will explore how Sufi communities adapted to changing conditions in novel ways that crafted Sufism as a force in the civil sphere.

Annika Schmeding

Dr. Annika Schmeding, a Cultural Anthropologist and former Harvard Fellow, is a Senior Researcher at NIOD - Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam. Drawing on more than a decade of research and professional experience in Afghanistan, her book “Sufi Civilities: Religious authority and political change in Afghanistan (Stanford University Press, 2024) explores the dynamism of Afghanistan’s Sufi communities as both centers of spiritual learning as well as nodes for social action. The book encompasses areas such as minority relations, oral literature, and cultural memory in the context of wartime. Dr. Schmeding's work provides insights into the complex dynamics of religion, politics, and societal shifts in Afghanistan. Furthermore, she is currently working on the Afghanistan inquiry into the Netherland’s engagement in Afghanistan (2001-2021).

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