My New Article on State-Ulama Relations in Mauritania

At the Journal of Islamic Studies, I have a new article out titled “Clerical Independence and the Religious Field in Post-Colonial Mauritania.” Here’s the abstract:

Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of the ‘religious field’, this paper examines the roles available to Mauritanian clerics at different points in the country’s postcolonial history. The paper retraces the interaction between an imam, his students, and the postcolonial state. Buddāh Wuld al-Būṣayrī (1920–2009), the longtime official imam of Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott, had state backing for much of his career and was an interlocutor for heads of state. Yet he periodically wielded his symbolic capital to criticize state policies, and he acted as a mentor to Salafīs, Islamists, and other activists, all without facing repression. His students and successors, however, faced an environment that was increasingly hostile to clerical dissent from the 1990s onward. Fiercer electoral competition, fragmentation within the religious field, and the advent of the Mauritanian iteration of the ‘Global War on Terror’ all undercut possibilities for clerical independence, as the state became more concerned about the constituencies for which individual clerics were perceived to speak. This case study sheds light on global dynamics in the Muslim world in an era where clerical independence is often constrained by expanding state power—including forms of ‘official Islam’ that seek to co-opt certain clerics while branding others as dissidents and troublemakers. 

Hopefully a lot more of my work will look like this going forward, rather than more work on jihadists, a topic I’m tired of.

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