Paola Abenante

Università di Milano – Bicocca

Pious bodies and Sensuous spirits: Sufi experiences and vocabularies in contemporary Egypt

2012-2013: Fall and Spring

Alexander Bodini Research Fellow in Culture and Religion

Paola Abenante graduated from La Sapienza University in Rome and did her master's degree in Anthropology and Ethnography at the EHESS (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales) in Paris.
She received her Ph.D. in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Milano-Bicocca in 2010 with a thesis on Sufism and religious subjectivity in contemporary Egypt.
Ethnographically her work describes the vocabulary and semantic scenes that inform Sufi praxis today and explores how individual Sufi disciples concretely mobilize beliefs and ritual practices to make sense of their everyday life. This combined analysis sheds light on the hermeneutic openings and inner tensions of the Islamic living religious tradition, thus questioning conventional understandings of Islam as a coherent set of doctrines and rituals that impose on human beings. On a theoretical level, the research specifically deals with the relation between phenomenological modes of analysis -- centering on notions of time, embodiment and the constitution of the religious self -- and the analysis of the discursive dynamics within the religious field in Egypt.
During her post-doc at the Center for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Bergen, her work centered on how people's religious commitment is constrained and reshaped by the urgency of social, economic and political conditions. In particular, since she started her collaboration as associate researcher at the IREMAM (Institut de Recherches et d'Etudes sur le Monde Arabe et Musulman) in Aix en Provence in 2009, her work has dealt with the interplay between structural conditions of migration, religious networks and individual experience.