Re-casting the politics of Sufism in Pakistan

Re-casting the politics of Sufism in Pakistan

Farzana Shaikh is a political historian and an Associate Fellow of the Asia Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.Farzana Shaikh Pakistan Sufisim

She has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University and is a former
Research Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge. She is a specialist on Pakistan and
has worked extensively on the intellectual history of South Asian Islam.
She has held university lectureships in the UK, the USA and Europe and
senior research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and,
most recently, at the Institut d’Études Avanceés in Paris.  


Her books include Community and Consensus in Islam (1989, 2012) and the critically-acclaimed Making Sense of Pakistan (2009). She has published a range of scholarly papers on Pakistan and Islam in South Asia, the most recent of which appeared in 2015 titled, ‘Pakistan and the Languages of Islam’ in Michel Wieviorka, Laurent Lévi-Strauss and Gwenaëlle Lieppe, eds., Think Global (Paris: Editions de la Maison des sciences de l'homme, 2015).

Her current project, which is hosted by the Center of Asian Studies, analyses relations between the state and Islam in Pakistan through the prism of the country’s historically troubled engagement with popular Sufism. As a Fellow of the Center she will co-operate with colleagues in South Asian history and politics.

This project pursues three main lines of inquiry. The first seeks to understand whether the empowerment of Sufi Islam, often equated with the veneration of saints and shrines in Pakistan, may be inherently constrained by the terms of a dominant Muslim ‘modernist’ discourse that has been equivocal about, if not hostile to, popular Sufism. The second assesses the implications of the current appropriation of Sufism by the Pakistani state which, while by no means a novel development, has been transformed by a landscape more deeply informed by the vocabulary of sectarian Islam. Finally, the project will address broader questions arising from the intervention of Western policy think-tanks, whose prescriptions for widening the space for ‘moderate’ Islam have arguably encouraged the polemical use of Sufism and risked conflating the survival of the Pakistani state with the ‘defence of Islam’.