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Performative failure among Islamic mystics in urban Macedonia

Oustinova-Stjepanovic, G.; (2011) Performative failure among Islamic mystics in urban Macedonia. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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Based on the field research among practitioners of mystical Islam in urban Macedonia, this thesis examines a modality of failure to perform one's religion. Having initiated a reform of their ancestral religious tradition, these practitioners experienced a peculiar dissatisfaction with their own accomplishments as Sufi saints. Self-critically, aspirants observed that their flair to perform rituals and to commit to spiritual exercises and techniques of ethical self-fashioning fell far short of the prototypical examples of the Prophet Muhammed and the ancient Sufis. Theological books about the lives of these figures captured people's intellectual imagination. These texts did not, however, yield concrete performative technologies that would enable aspirants to succeed in replicating the spiritual ontologies of the dead Muslim saints in the contemporary nation-state of Macedonia. People were convinced that their spiritual advancement depended on the enactment of theological propositions in formal rituals and interpersonal relations, yet they felt hindered by not knowing the 'correct' experiential methods of ritual training and ethical self-work (autopoesis) and by their physical disengagement from religious practices. Aspirants described themselves as incomplete mystics and proclaimed that they had failed to become intensely religious beings. Through detailed ethnography, this thesis explores people's experiences of performative failure and illuminates the themes of theological learning, ritual founderings, unavailability of bodies for rituals and religious training, and the search for the lost method of self-transformation into a saint. Performative failure is defined as a postponement of achievement under infelicitous historical conditions. Drawing on a variety of anthropological theories and comparative ethnographic cases, this thesis aims to contribute new ethnographic material to the anthropology of religion and to articulate critical insights into the difficulties of turning theology into performances. Furthermore, the thesis examines the possibility of failure that hovers over people's reflexive efforts to actualize their ambitions and desires and argues that failure is a productive analytical concept for the understanding of aspirations and barriers to excellence.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Performative failure among Islamic mystics in urban Macedonia
Language: English
Additional information: Permission for digitisation not received
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1334591
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