Erin PettigrewJul 23, 2023
Invoking the Invisible in the Sahara
Islam, Spiritual Mediation, and Social Change
Cambridge University Press 2023
In Invoking the Invisible in the Sahara: Islam, Spiritual Mediation, and Social Change (Cambridge UP, 2023), Erin Pettigrew utilizes invisible forces and entities - esoteric knowledge and spirits - to show how these forms of knowledge and unseen forces have shaped social structures, religious norms, and political power in the Saharan West. Situating this ethnographic history in what became la Mauritanie under French colonial rule and, later the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, Pettigrew traces the changing roles of Muslim spiritual mediators and their Islamic esoteric sciences - known locally as l'ḥjāb - over the long-term history of the region. By exploring the impact of the immaterial in the material world and demonstrating the importance of Islamic esoteric sciences in Saharan societies, she illuminates peoples' enduring reliance upon these sciences in their daily lives and argues for a new approach to historical research that takes the immaterial seriously.
Erin Pettigrew is an associate professor of History and Arab Crossroads Studies at NYU Abu Dhabi. She is a historian of Africa specializing in West African colonial and postcolonial history with a focus on Muslim societies. Her research has focused on the cultural history of Islam, slavery, race, gender, and nation in what she calls "the Saharan West," or what is today primarily the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
Ahmed Yaqoub AlMaazmi is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, Near Eastern Studies Department. His research focuses on the intersection of law, the occult sciences, and the environment across the western Indian Ocean. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Ahmed_Yaqoub. Listeners’ feedback, questions, and book suggestions are most welcome.