For an anthropology of reading: Islam, reflection and modernity in the Suffa community in Istanbul

Fabio Vicini


This paper explores reading practices of an Islamic text, the Risale-i Nur, within the Suffa community, one of the many that emerged from the most influential reformist movement of modern Turkey, the Nur movement. The article tackles main anthropological debates about the impact of modern secular education and new media on pedagogical practice within Muslim contexts. Whereas works on the topic have generally focused on the implications of these major transformations for the redefinition of religious authority, the paper draws attention to forms of reflection (tefekkür) and related views of the world, or cosmologies, that are generated by reading practices of the Risale. As some have argued, the direct access to religious knowledge by the individual believer that is allowed by this text may recall dynamics that took place in Europe within the Protestant Reformation. However, the paper suggests that such a perspective prevents the analysis of the lines of continuity between past and present paths to cultivating Muslim faith. Moreover, it argues that a new anthropology of reading, both in Islam and in other traditions, should pay more attention to the specific kind of intellectual exercises that are attached to reading practices in different cultural settings.

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