Signs of truth: enchantment, modernity and the dreams of peasant women



This lecture is in three sections. The first discusses the role of classificatory practices distinguishing magic from religion in social life and in narratives of modernity. Concepts of enchantment have been reintroduced into theories of modernity as the Weberian notion of ‘ridding the world of magic’ has been questioned. The second part sketches some of the characteristic tensions in the Qur’an concerning the signs of truth in the Islamic community. The final section reflects on modern Egyptian denunciations and defences of the dreams of peasant women, dreams that are claimed as direct experiential proofs of the sacred. These dreams command visits to the shrines that are centres for mass ritual, social, and economic activity and whose powers are resistant to regulation by worldly authorities. Such dreams, and the denunciations of them by those self-perceived as religiously orthodox and modern, are part of continuing contests over state and patriarchal authority, citizenship, and exchange with the divine.