UCL Anthropology


Stefan Williamson Fa


UCL Email: stefan.fa.14@ucl.ac.uk 
Year of Start: 2014 
Supervisors: Dr. Ruth Mandel, Professor Martin Stokes (KCL) 
Subject: Social Anthropology 
Fieldsite: Turkey (Azerbaijan, Iran, Germany)

PhD Research

Voices of joy and regret: Sound, performance and listening in contemporary Turkish Shī'ism (Working title)

My research takes the sonic as a field of enquiry and methodology to listen to the ways that sound mediates between bodies, both somatic and social, and the divine in the lives of Turkish Ithnā 'Asharī Shī'i Muslims. By examining a range of sonic genres and events - such as public voicing and procession, ritual lamentation and studio recordings and videos -  I highlight the varied temporal, sensorial and material modalities of sounding and listening as well as the debates and discourse surrounding them.  In Turkish Shī'ism sounds are transmitted and shared, involve specialists and religious practitioners in particular practices of worship, in a way that, I argue, play a central role in forming religious subjects.

Ethnographically I follow sounds, their producers and listeners in the city of Kars in Northeastern Anatolia, where I conducted the majority of my fieldwork, and across a larger Azeri-Turkish speaking geographic area (Turkey, Iran, Republic of Azerbaijan) and into the diaspora communities in Germany. I situate these sonic encounters against a backdrop of important shifts in Turkey's politico-religious landscape and global Shi'ism.

By attending to sound in everyday life, as well as ritual context, my project brings into focus various forms of experience, knowledge and discourse that have largely been ignored in the study of modern Muslim societies.

Research Interests

  • Anthropology of Islam
  • Anthropology of Sound and Music
  • Material Religion
  • Shī'ah, Sufi, Alevi-Bektashi-Qizilbash studies
  • Anatolia, Caucasus and Iran


Edited book chapters: Williamson Fa, S. (Forthcoming). Transnational Lamentation in Azeri Shī'ism. Proceedings from The Shī'ah Institute Annual Symposium.
Book reviews: Williamson Fa, S. (2016). [Review of 'Iranian Classical Music: The Discourses and Practice of Creativity, by Nooshin, L.] The Middle East in London.

Presentations & Conferences

2017. Voices of Regret: Sound, Performance and Listening in Contemporary Shī'ism in Turkey. Paper presented at the British Association for Islamic Studies Annual Conference. Chester, UK.
2017. Mountains of Tongues: Music and Identity in the Caucasus. Seminar at Institut für Musikwissenschaft Goethe-Universität Frankfurt.
2016. Sounding Karbala in North-eastern Anatolia. Paper presented at The Shī'ah Institute Annual Symposium. London, UK.
2016. Loudspeakers and Chains: Public ritual and Shī'i soundscapes in Northeastern Anatolia. Paper presented at the Middle Eastern and Central Asian Music Forum, Institute of Musical Research and City University, London, UK.
2014. Questioning the Caucasus Barrier: Music and Islam in the North Caucasus. Paper presented at the Middle Eastern and Central Asian Music Forum, Institute of Musical Research and City University, London.

Education History

  • MMus Ethnomusicology SOAS, University of London 2013-2014
  • MA (Hons) Social Anthropology University of Edinburgh 2008-2012

Honours, Awards & Funding

  • Gibraltar Department of Education Full PhD Scholarship 2014-2018
  • John Taylor Travel Grant - SOAS, 2014
  • Gibraltar Department of Education Postgraduate Scholarship 2013-1014
  • Gibraltar Department of Education Scholar 2008-2012

Additional Information

  • Research Associate at The Shi'ah Institute, London, since September 2016.
  • Co-founder of 'Mountains of Tongues' NGO promoting musical diversity in the Caucasus, Tbilisi, Georgia, since 2013.