Historical Social Research

Samuli Schielke: Is Prose Poetry a Conspiracy Against the Noble Qur’an? Poetics, Humans, and God in Contemporary Egypt [Abstract]

There is a peculiar relationship between contemporary poetry and perspectives that are deemed to be heretical by conservative audiences. This relationship is not fully accounted for by current anthropological theories of the secular. The field of literature has been successfully studied as a secular institution – both in the sense of the differentiation of institutions as well as in the sense of the subordination of the religious to the political. Such secularity appears as a rather safe, less controversial way to claim the power of some human entities in relation to God. Some poetry, by contrast, may be accused of heresy or unbelief even when written with pious intention. This suggests a dimension to being secular that is more offensive to conservative societal sensibilities, as it contrasts with deeply-held views on the proper form of the God-human relationship and the associated imaginaries, languages, and aesthetics. Based on a combination of ethnographic research in historical context and a theoretical focus on aesthetics and imagination of divine power as a constituent of human lives, it is proposed in this article that in addition to looking at state power, institutions, and the creation of a secular aesthetic normality, it is also necessary to look more closely at issues of faith, including heretical faith.

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