Flagellation and Fundamentalism: (trans)Forming Meaning, Identity, and Gender Through Pakistani Women's Rituals of Mourning



In addition to the expansion of their ritual involvement resulting from the growth of religious transnationalism, Shi'a Muslim women in Peshawar, Pakistan have increasingly faced restrictive ritual constructions of femininity and fundamentalist ideology. In mourning rituals they have encountered symbolic complexes that reinforce men's role as repositories of holy power and succor and remind them of their own unworthiness to shed blood on behalf of Imam Husein and his cause. Because of binding ties to family, religious group, and representatives of the sacred, the women have not been inclined to protest overtly male authority and dogma. Rather than denying or contradicting symbolic and verbal deprecations of femininity outright, they have devoted themselves to the commemorative rites for the Shi'a martyr, Imam Husein. They have used these rituals to develop their own self-confidence, performance abilities, entertainment, fame, and social support, disclosing through the performative aspects of their ritual activity their agency and transformative achievements. When we examine what individuals make of religion and rituals in practice, self-flagellation and religious fundamentalism may present potential for agency and individual creativity, together with renewal of cultural and power structures, [gender, ritual performance, Pakistan, Shi'a Muslims, the body, agency, fundamentalism, religious transnationalism]