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Women in Pilgrimage: Senses, Places, Embodiment, and Agency. Experiencing Ziyarat in Shiraz

From: Journal of Shi'a Islamic Studies
Volume 6, Number 4, Autumn 2013
pp. 383-410 | 10.1353/isl.2013.0037



This paper is based on fieldwork that explores the social, cultural, and embodied organization of Shi‘a pilgrimage practices in Shiraz, Iran, specifically the ways in which women interact with the shrine. Pilgrimage (ziyarat) in Iran is a daily practice that carries an important role in cultural interactions and gives life to the religious experience. While places of pilgrimage usually contain a gendered division, women tend to hold a role of power in (non-Western) conventional dimensions of the religious practice. This is due to the informal nature of shrines, which, unlike other religious settings, offer a deep-seated intimacy and freedom of movement. In a timeline of six weeks, I investigated the culture of the shrine by focusing on three specific shrines and observed the role of women in relation to expressions of power and agency. An integral part of this research has been the exploration of Shi‘a Islam as a sensorial experience, specifically the practice of touch to the physical pilgrimage sites as a means of becoming closer to God. How are women’s relations with the shrine embodied? What are the various modalities of agency that are operative in these interactions? I have engaged with ethnographic material, which consists of interviews, informal conversations, personal observations and photographs of women and religious spaces. By participating in pilgrimage, and observing the way aestheticized space is created and divided, I have attempted to display the role and power of women in Iranian society.

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