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Feeling the Way Through With Sound: Social Warmth, Critical Feeling, and Affective Trance in North African Popular Islamic Rituals

The research project investigates the fundamental role of feeling in Sufi and popular Islamic rituals in contemporary North Africa. "Feeling," in this context, enfolds what we parse out in English as "atmosphere," "emotions," "sensoria," and "affects" and, in these ritual worlds, it functions systematically as an entire orientation to and organization of the world, as a kind of "affective scaffolding." Because the way things feel is what makes any given moment intelligible, feeling ways of knowing and acquiring knowledge—sensibility and "sense ability"—are therefore meticulously cultivated and prioritized.

For example, in Algerian dīwān, a popular Islamic ritual, cultivation of feeling begins with the affective laboring of atmosphere so that trance states can emerge. From an anthropological and ethnomusicological vantage point, the project pays particular attention to the functions of music in ritual—first, as the primary setter-in-motion of this vibrant, vibrating atmosphere of "social warmth." With dīwān music creating this critical warmth, adepts suffering from mental-emotional pain are triggered into varying states of trance, which are locally ordered through taxonomies of feeling intensities: that is, ordered by their affective qualities. Rather than "altered states of consciousness", an idea that implies something of "the mind" in Western philosophic traditions, here, trance is an affective-bodily process that fluctuates, sometimes over hours. As musical mottoes precipitate and intensify bodily sensoria and emotions, adepts feel into their pain through the sound, and, with the sound, physically move and thus, come to fully inhabit their suffering.

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