Piety and activism in Egypt : reflections on framing, motivation, contradiction and desire
Author(s)Lewis, Leslie R.
KeywordsUCSD Dissertations, Academic Anthropology. (Discipline)
Cairo Egypt Religious life Muslim women
Cairo Egypt Muslim women Psychology
Cairo Egypt Islamic sects History
Cairo Egypt History Islam
Spiritual life Islam
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AbstractThis dissertation contributes to the growing scholarship attempting to analyze and understand devout religious engagement, and to cull from its study insights about human motivation, complexity and desire. It considers the lives, goals and activities of pious Muslim women in Cairo, Egypt. Far from being a simplistic and easily-defined phenomenon, marked by homogeneous membership, strict and uncomplicated conservatism and the marginalization of women, the grassroots Islamic piety movement in Egypt encompasses diverse membership, multiple practices and complex and contradictory individual and social effects. Its internal diversity is revealed when the lives of individuals within it are examined. While the women have shared understandings of the importance and correct execution of pious acts, and while they are united in their worldview, as centered on the glory, beneficence and dictates of God, each woman's engagement with the practices of the movement is spurred by a distinct set of needs and circumstances, and achieves different ends. At the same time, at the root of these differences lay common human drives for meaning, connection and control. The specific aims of the dissertation are four-fold. The first is to provide an intimate view of the piety movement: its internal complexity and contradictions, and its effects, both for individuals, and for Egyptian society. A second goal is to capture and convey some of the internal diversity of the movement, and the multiple ways that individual women use the symbolism and idioms of Islamic piety to meet their social, practical and psychological needs: for expiation, for an ordered, purposeful life, for connection and belonging, for a sense of mastery and meaning, and as a way to adapt to sources of fear and anxiety in their lives. The third aim is to examine the ideals and practices of the piety movement through its own value lens in order to show why it "makes sense" within its historical and social context. The fourth goal is to propose a set of common human desires that transcend ideological and practical differences, and represent a point of commonality across diverse human projects and pursuits
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