Ritual Journeys and Devotional Niches: Ambient Sufism in Tunisia

Sponsored by the Spring 2016 Ethnomusicology Colloquium

Tuesday, March 22

Time: 4:10-6pm

Location: 701c Dodge Hall, Columbia University, 2960 Broadway, New York, NY 10027


Richard Jankowsky

Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology 

Tufts University

In Tunisia, trance rituals animated by praise songs to Sufi saints are not exclusive to members of Sufi orders or participants in Sufi ceremonies. Rather, a number of distinct healing and devotional musical traditions co-exist, each associated with particular social and devotional communities. 

In this paper, Professor Jankowsky brings together four such traditions, those of women, Jews, blacks, and hard-drinking laborers, to demonstrate how each of their musical practices serves as a musical, social, and devotional niche while contributing to a larger ecology of Sufi music that also includes the great variety of Sufi rituals as well as staged concerts. 

Based on ethnographic research between 2009 and 2015, this presentation takes as its starting point the changing politico-religious climate after the Tunisian Revolution of 2011 and the concomitant threats to the survival of musical practices associated with Muslim saints.