Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic

Incomplete Islamic Mystics in Skopje: Religious Failure and Religious Experience


Curriculum Vitae

Current Project

PhD dissertation outline:

In my dissertation, I will consider people's aspirations to be Muslim mystics, or Sufis, in an urban locality of today's Macedonia.

Predominantly Romas by ethnicity, these self-designated Sufis have been looking for ways to reform their inherited Muslimness shaped in filial and family relations and to come up with viable methods to cultivate more accurate religious habits, i.e. orthopraxy, and subjectivities and lifeworlds of religious mystics. During the period of my research, these 'incomplete Sufis', fasik, purposefully explored, evaluated and contrasted alternative methodologies and pedagogical techniques to become 'real' Sufis, which included reading the Quran and a multitude of theological texts, convening disciplinary meetings, organizing and abandoning lessons in Islamic doctrine, rehearsing rituals, imitating historical role-models and each other or claiming and narrating inspirational insights obtained in dreams and through communication with spiritual beings. However, despite repeated attempts, their efforts to attain much desired religious spirituality were faltering, and solutions were sought out amidst disappointments, scepticism and speculations about obscure mystical and prosaic reasons for such a religious frustration.

This ethnographic material draws attention to how people work on their longing to learn how to know and experience religion under their existential conditions. In their case, people were aware of what it takes to be a good Muslim but they couldn't find effective ways to fashion themselves in order to put abstract theological guidelines into practice. Through the material obtained in the
course of my fieldwork, I would like to pore over the staple anthropological concept of 'experience' together with its inflection 'religious', and consider whether it is possible to speak of 'religious failure'. Furthermore, I will reflexively interrogate my pre-field expectations to find ready-made religion and its 'uses' during my fieldwork while trying to highlight my own bewildered endeavours to live as a non-theistic anthropologist among Muslim mystics.

Key words: religious experience, religious failure, anthropological atheism, holiness, mystical religiosity