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Joseph Hill's Dissertation PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 December 2009 08:19

Here is my dissertation, approved by Yale University in May of 2007.


Divine Knowledge and Islamic Authority: Religious Specialization among Disciples of Baay Ñas


“Taalibe Baay,” or Disciples of the Senegalese Shaykh ᵓIbrāhīm (Baay) Ñas, form a transnational network throughout and beyond West Africa defined primarily by relations of religious apprenticeship and co-discipleship. Whereas several major Islamic adherences in Senegal arose as quasi-political intermediaries between state actors and the population during a crisis of moral authority, Baay Ñas’s followers emerged later and have remained somewhat more disengaged from national religio-political culture. Taalibe Baay have extended diffuse networks of religious authority and community across cultural and national boundaries through cultivating several fields of religious knowledge among disciples. They define themselves primarily by their pursuit of Islamic knowledge, especially their unique access to ecstatic, mystical knowledge of God.

Mystical education (tarbiyyah) aims to cultivate direct experience of the unity of all things in God, revealing the hidden truth that distinctions are illusory. Hidden (bāṭin) truths coexist with the apparent (ẓāhir) truths of textual education and everyday experience. A tendency to juxtapose two apparently contradictory truths through paradox pervades many Taalibe Baay’s daily speech. Paradoxes are not simply linguistic word games but are part of practical repertoires of negotiating multiple imperatives, interests, and points of view.

One particularly productive paradox is the simultaneously equalizing and hierarchizing nature of Taalibe Baay knowledge-authority. Mystical education distributes charismatic experience and knowledge among lay disciples, awakening them to the unity of all beings. Yet religious knowledge comes through a soveriegn node of authority—Baay Ñas—and depends on transmission and validation through authorized channels. Taalibe Baay imaginations and practices of community simultaneously emphasize the unity of common religious experience and the concentration of authority in Baay’s official representatives.

This ethnography examines the role of informal spaces of Islamic education in extending transnational networks of religious authority and community, challenging widespread assumptions about modernity and globalization. Situating epistemic orientations in learned practical repertoires, it undermines modernist teleologies of religious “rationalization” and “secularization,” showing how practitioners cultivate multiple simultaneous approaches to rationality. Disciples engage with and disengage from the secular through cultivating spaces of religious knowledge and authority. This project globalizes religious knowledge through cultivating embodied dispositions through religious apprenticeship.

 For the rest of the dissertation please download the PDF here.