A sustained and compelling critique of the doubt/belief binary in the anthropology of religion and Islam, Nicholas H. A. Evans’ Far from the Caliph’s Gaze: Being Ahmadi Muslim in the Holy City of Qadian
(Cornell University Press, 2020) presents a riveting ethnography of a community’s strivings to materially embody and establish the certainty of its religious identity. An organizational ethnography of the Ahmadi community in its founding city of Qadian in Panjab India, this book charts the multiple ways in which the Ahmadiyya cultivate their fidelity to the caliph that combine bureaucratic operations, polemical encounters with Muslims and non-Muslims, and the expression and dissemination of piety through technology like satellite television. In our conversation, we engage a range of themes including the Ahmadi-caliph relationship as the antidote to secular politics, “enchanting bureaucracy” and utopian counter-publics, “heroic polemicism,” the productive outcomes of ritual failures, and global outreach through technology as a mode of theological success. This lyrically written book brings together just the perfect dose and mixture of intellectual history, ethnographic brilliance, and theoretical nuance and sophistication. While centered on South Asia, its conceptual intervention in the anthropology of religion will and should spark conversations among scholars of Islam, religion, and anthropology more generally. It will also make a delightful text to teach in various undergraduate and graduate courses.
SherAli Tareen is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall College. His research focuses on Muslim intellectual traditions and debates in early modern and modern South Asia. His book Defending Muhammad in Modernity
(University of Notre Dame Press, 2020) received the American Institute of Pakistan Studies 2020 Book Prize
. His other academic publications are available here. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listener feedback is most welcome.