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Expressions of Sufi Culture in Tajikistan

Folklore Studies in a Multicultural World

A perceptive look at ordinary men aspiring to become mystics

This eloquent ethnography reveals the daily lives and religious practice of ordinary Muslim men in Tajikistan as they aspire to become Sufi mystics. Benjamin Gatling describes in vivid detail the range of expressive forms—memories, stories, poetry, artifacts, rituals, and other embodied practices—employed as they try to construct a Sufi life in twenty-first-century Central Asia.

Gatling demonstrates how Sufis transcend the oppressive religious politics of contemporary Tajikistan by using these forms to inhabit multiple times: the paradoxical present, the Persian sacred past, and the Soviet era. In a world consumed with the supposed political dangers of Islam, Gatling shows the intricate, ground-level ways that Muslim expressive culture intersects with authoritarian politics, not as artful forms of resistance but rather as a means to shape Sufi experiences of the present.


Author. Photo credit, NameBenjamin Gatling is an assistant professor of folklore at George Mason University.





“A powerful, concise book that will be a good addition to the library of any folklorist looking to delve more into the complex role of spiritual seeking in contemporary global society.”
Western Folklore

“Benjamin Gatling’s Expressions of Sufi Culture in Tajikistan offers unique insights into contemporary Central Asian Islam….Gatling’s study of Sufism’s position in this context offers a richer and more nuanced picture of Islam’s recent history in Tajikistan.”
Reading Religion

“The value of the book lies as much in what it reveals about the risks, limits, and at times baffling ambiguities and complexities encountered in contemporary field research as it does in what it reports about an esoteric sector of Muslim life that is transmitted among initiates and so inevitably gives rise to rumors, misapprehensions, and popular mythologies spread among outsiders.”

“Drawing on tradition, poetry, and Sufi practice, Gatling shows how the present—and the nostalgia it facilitates—is always produced within a political context that tries to manage cultural expression. A lasting contribution to Central Eurasian studies and Islamic studies that deserves to be widely read.”
—David Montgomery, author of Practicing Islam: Knowledge, Experience, and Social Navigation in Kyrgyzstan

“Offers important insights into Islam, and Sufism more particularly, in Tajikistan, as well as to more general debates about tradition, social memory, temporality, and expressive forms.”
—Maria Louw, author of Everyday Islam in Post-Soviet Central Asia


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Book Cover: Expressions of Sufi Culture in Tajikistan

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August 2018
LC: 2017046465 BP
216 pp. 6 x 9
9 b/w illus.

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Cloth $69.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-31680-8
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