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Pilgrimages in Late Ottoman Southern Bilâd al-Shâm

About the Lecture: 
Both Ottoman administrative archives and the accounts of Western travellers reveal a rich sacred topography of sanctuaries in southern Bilâd al-Shâm at the end of the Ottoman period. A large number of shrines were dedicated to walî-s that were highly respected by the inhabitants of the region. This lecture presents the complexity of the sacred topography of southern Bilâd al-Shâm and shows how its hierarchy was dominated by the two major mausoleums of Ja‘far b. Abî Tâlib and Nabî Harûn. These sites are linked with tribal histories and visited by Muslims as much as Christians, as well as Bedouins and town dwellers. They were locii of power where local notables marked their authority through renovation, donations or the organization of a pilgrimage.

In the early 20th century the Ottoman administration renovated some of these mausoleums, including that of Ja‘far b. Abî Tâlib in 1906. The renovations were a symbolic and strategic investment in major regional religious sites during a period when Sultan Abdülhamid II intended to spread his pan-Islamic ideology. As part of this, the renovations were accompanied by the establishment of new schools that allowed the dissemination of a controlled religious education. This presentation highlights the complexity of local sacred topography during the Ottoman period and shows how its study provides an opportunity for the analysis of official religious politics in southern Bilâd al-Shâm and the ways in which local notables resisted them.

About the Speaker:
Dr Norig Neveu has been a research fellow at the Ifpo, Amman, since September 2014. A specialist in the contemporary history of the Middle East, she has conducted both archival research and interviews with the witnesses of history for the last ten years. She holds a PhD in history from EHESS (Paris). Her present research focuses on sacred topographies, religious politics and religious authorities in Jordan and the Palestinian Territories between the 19th and 21st centuries. This approach has enabled her to observe the long-term evolution of tribal and kinship networks and confessional boundary building processes in the region. She has published several articles on local pilgrimages, sacred topographies, religious tourism and its impact on local societies. Since 2008, she has contributed to research programmes focusing on borders and mobility such as the Lajeh programme funded by the French Agency for Research.