Popular Preaching and Religious Authority in the Medieval Islamic Near East

Hardcover | June 1, 2001

byJonathan P. Berkey

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Islamic popular preachers and storytellers had enormous influence in defining common religious knowledge and faith in the medieval Near East. Jonathan Berkey’s book illuminates the popular culture of religious storytelling. It draws on chronicles, biographical dictionaries, sermons, and tales — but especially on a number of medieval treatises critical of popular preachers, and also a vigorous defense of them which emerged in fourteenth-century Egyptian Sufi circles.

Popular preachers drew inspiration and legitimacy from the rise of Sufi mysticism, with its emphasis on internal spiritual activity and direct enlightenment, enabling them to challenge or reinforce social and political hierarchies as they entertained the masses with tales of moral edification. As these charismatic figures developed a popular following, they often aroused the wrath of scholars and elites, who resented innovative interpretations of Islam that undermined orthodox religious authority and blurred social and gender barriers.

Critics of popular preachers and storytellers worried that they would corrupt their audiences’ understanding of Islam. Their defenders argued that preachers and storytellers could contribute to the consensus of the Islamic community as to what constituted acceptable religious knowledge. In the end, religious knowledge, and the definition of Islam as it was commonly understood, remained porous and flexible throughout the Middle Period, thanks in part to the activities of popular preachers and storytellers.

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Islamic popular preachers and storytellers had enormous influence in defining common religious knowledge and faith in the medieval Near East. Jonathan Berkey’s book illuminates the popular culture of religious storytelling. It draws on chronicles, biographical dictionaries, sermons, and tales — but especially on a number of medieval tr...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:155 pages, 9.26 × 6.24 × 6.82 inPublished:June 1, 2001Publisher:University Of Washington PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0295981261

ISBN - 13:9780295981260

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Table of Contents

Contents

PrefaceIntroductionOrigins and Early ControversyStorytelling and Preaching in the Late Middle PeriodThe Social and Political Context of PreachingStorytelling, Preaching, and KnowledgeConclusion: Storytelling, Preaching and the Problem of Religious Authority in Medieval IslamNotes Works CitedIndex

Editorial Reviews

Islamic popular preachers and storytellers had enormous influence in defining common religious knowledge and faith in the medieval Near East. Jonathan Berkey’s book illuminates the popular culture of religious storytelling. It draws on chronicles, biographical dictionaries, sermons, and tales — but especially on a number of medieval treatises critical of popular preachers, and also a vigorous defense of them which emerged in fourteenth-century Egyptian Sufi circles.Popular preachers drew inspiration and legitimacy from the rise of Sufi mysticism, with its emphasis on internal spiritual activity and direct enlightenment, enabling them to challenge or reinforce social and political hierarchies as they entertained the masses with tales of moral edification. As these charismatic figures developed a popular following, they often aroused the wrath of scholars and elites, who resented innovative interpretations of Islam that undermined orthodox religious authority and blurred social and gender barriers.Critics of popular preachers and storytellers worried that they would corrupt their audiences’ understanding of Islam. Their defenders argued that preachers and storytellers could contribute to the consensus of the Islamic community as to what constituted acceptable religious knowledge. In the end, religious knowledge, and the definition of Islam as it was commonly understood, remained porous and flexible throughout the Middle Period, thanks in part to the activities of popular preachers and storytellers.Jonathan Berkey has taken on one of the most challenging issues of medieval Muslim culture and done an exceptionally good job. His book represents the cutting edge of a new direction for Islamic studies that combines religious and social history. It adds an important element to our understanding of the social life of pre—modern Muslim society and opens up areas previously inadequately or never covered by others. - Jere Bacharach, University of Washington