Glass painting of Shaykh Ibrahim (Baay) Ñas, flanked by Shaykh Ahmad at-Tijani and the Prophet Muhammad. Click here for more photos.
I am a cultural anthropologist focusing primarily on the intersections between Islamic movements, gender, secular governance, globalization, development, and religious authority and knowledge. I am particularly interested in how language and performance are used to accommodate apparently conflicting points of view, authorities, and institutions. I received my Ph.D. in 2007 from Yale University, where my dissertation examined how mystical discourses of hidden truths mediate between competing interests and points of view among members of a Sufi Islamic movement in Senegal.
I am finishing my fourth year at the American University in Cairo and will start in the Fall of 2012 as an assistant professor at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. I have previously taught courses on African religion and politics at the University of Rochester.
Since 2001, I have led an in-depth, multi-sited, and collaborative research project (http://medinabaay.org/) on a global Islamic movement, the Faydah Tijaniyyah, or the branch of the Tijani Sufi order that follows Shaykh Ibrahim Ñas, who call themselves "Taalibe Baay" in the Wolof language of Senegal. My Senegalese student collaborators and I have interviewed leaders and lay disciples in dozens of sites in the movement’s cradle of Senegal and Mauritania, with secondary research in other parts of West Africa, New York City, and Cairo. In addition to around two years in several sites in Senegal, I have studied Arabic texts with Bedouin Sufi scholars in the Mauritanian Sahara.
The Medina Baay Mosque, Kaolack, photographed in 2001. Click here for more about the Medina Baay Research Association.
Conceptually, my research centers around the political and social implications of mystical discourses of simultaneous truths, which Sufi Islamic speech contrasts in terms of apparent (ẓāhir) and hidden (bāṭin) realities. Through discussing these Sufis’ paradoxical approach to plural truths, I aim to shed light on larger issues of how people negotiate contrasting hegemonic regimes (secular states, global religious authority networks, transnational development institutions), coexistence with cultural others within a global community, and multiple claims of authority within the same religious community. My current book project shows how women redefine religious authority as a feminine attribute through creatively mobilizing liberal discourses of equality while at the same time accentuating roles conventionally associated with pious women, devoted wives, and good mothers. I am particularly interested in the performativity of using discourses in ways that may seem to contradict their manifest meaning through asserting hidden meanings.
- West Africa, Middle East and North Africa; global networks
- Islam, Sufism, and Religion
- Politics of Language and Semiotics
- Knowledge traditions and authority
- Transnationalism, Globalization, and Cosmopolitanism