The poetics of “Sufi” practice: Drumming, dancing, and complex agency at Madho Lāl Husain (and beyond)

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Abstract

I develop an approach to the “poetics” of music and movement, vis-à-vis language, in the context of popular Sufism in South Asia. Bringing Michael Herzfeld's notion of “social poetics” into creative dialogue with Katherine Ewing's notion of the experiencing subject as a “bundle of agencies,” I attempt to cope with the problem of “meaning” in a highly heterogeneous event, the ‘urs in Lahore, Pakistan, commemorating the death of the Sufi saint Shah Husain. My pragmatic approach to navigating through an excess of meanings is to focus on what I call “common terms of understanding.” The analysis illuminates how Islam is popularly grounded in South Asia, more generally, and is suggestive of how music and movement might be construed as forms of religiopolitical “embodiment.”

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