Sacred Performances: Islam, Sexuality, and Sacrifice

Sacred Performances: Islam, Sexuality, and Sacrifice

by M. E. Combs-Schilling


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With penetrating insight Combs-Schilling illuminates the remarkable survival of one of the world's oldest monarchies, still ruling after 1200 years. The author unravels the paradox of this ancient yet progressive institution that has weathered invasion, economic collapse, and colonial assult. The pillars of stability for which political analysts typicaly search — military strength, bureaucratic control, and commerical prosperity — have often been absent in Morocco, sometimes for centuries. How then has the monarchy stood firm?

In this remarkable book, Combs-Schilling argues that the answer is to be found in the distinctive forms of ritual practice developed during times of great crises. Unique among Islamic governments, the Moroccan monarchy became cnetral to the popular celebrations of the most sacred rituals of Islam, cloaking itself in their sanctity.

Combs-schilling breaks new ground in thinking about ritual. The author explores the consequences of the replication and reinforcement of Morocco's national ceremonies in viallages and homes and the metaphorical equivalence thereby built. The author outlines how ritual metaphors simultaneously fuse the monarchy with the hallowed prophets of Islam and the mundane structures of family life.

In elucidating the forcefulness of ritual embodiment the book challenges anthropological theory. It demonstrates that rituals created realities by inscribing them deeply within the individual's body and mind. Rituals use eros and physical substance to build imaginative abstractions. Performances of exquisite beauty and grace make the monarchy intrinsic to definitions of male and female, to experience of birth, intercourse, death, and to the ultimate longing to break death's bonds.

Combs-Schilling creates a model for national political analysis that takes meaning as well as strategic power into account. The author applies the anthropological analysis of rituals to new arenas — the nation-state and the world political economy — without ever losing sight of the individual and the flow of daily life. The book clarifies a distinctive form of nationalism that expands the boundaries articulated by Anderson in Imagined Territories. Rituals rather than territory or administration came to define the Moroccan monarchy and the Moroccan nation under Western assault, and enabled them to survive.

For the novice, the book provides an unusual and compelling entry into Islamic culture and history. Yet it is provocative for the expert in its reinterpretation of the strategic dimensions of Muhammad's marriages and the political potency of the rituals of Islam where power, sacrifice, and sexual identity converge.

By revealing the link between national ceremony and individual identity, the author calls into question the popular view that sharply divides East and West and suggests commonalities in the structures of political-sexual power that are built into societies that operate within the cultural contexts of the world's three monotheistic faiths: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231069755
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 07/06/1990
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 377
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

M. E. Combs-Schilling is associate professor of anthropology at Columbia University.

What People are Saying About This

Muhammad al-Mansour

A penetrating analysis of the Moroccan political system which, unlike classical anthropological works, does not lose sight of the historical development that is essential to our understanding of a complex sociopolitical order.

Rashid Khalidi

This book embodies a striking and original anthropological approach to state and monarchy in Morocco in a sophisticated analysis which is sure to be highly appreciated by historians and social scientists alike.

Maurice Bloch

Exciting to read and a stimulating conjunction of ethnography, history, and theory.

James Peacock

A challenging and intriguing analysis that enriches conventional paradigms of feminism, statehood, and social history.

John P. Entelis

A majestic work, filled with insight, poetry, and passion...a bold and expansive undertaking which will both enrich and provoke.

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