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Grant number like: FEL-262805-19

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Ariela Marcus-Sells
Elon University (Elon, NC 27244-9423)

Research Programs

[Grant products][Media coverage]

$35,000 (approved)
$35,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2019 – 12/31/2019

What is Magic? Debating 18th-Century Science, Sorcery, and Secrets in West African Sufi Texts

Research and writing a book on two Sufi Muslim scholars working in Africa in the eighteenth century.

In the late eighteenth century, a Sufi Muslim scholar from the Southern Sahara desert named Sidi al-Mukhtar al-Kunti rose to prominence, gained control over crucial trans-Saharan trade routes, and established a vast pedagogical network across the region. He and his son, Sidi Muhammad al-Kunti left a vast and influential corpus of Arabic manuscript texts. I am proposing an academic book project that will investigate descriptions of contested practices in the works of Sidi al-Mukhtar and Sidi Muammad. These practices included performing numerological operations on the names of God, constructing amulets, and communicating with spirit beings. These scholars both provided instructions for these practices, and argued against their classification as acts of sorcery. This book project will demonstrate how the Kunta scholars understood the relationship between these practices and their own social authority and interrogate the nature and role of what scholars have called "magic."